CVAC and IAS Visual Evidence Series: Understanding Visual Evidence 1 Workshop – 27 – 28 October 2015

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What constitutes “Visual Evidence”? In what ways do images, visual objects and visualizations help us to broaden our horizons and facilitate our understanding of the world around us? How do we define visual evidence and how do we relate to, employ and interpret it? These questions, among others, were addressed and discussed in the first CVAC and IAS workshop of the “Visual Evidence Series”.

The workshop series are facilitated by the Centre for Humanities Engaging Science and Society (CHESS) and the Centre for Visual Arts and Cultures (CVAC) at Durham. The workshops are offered in conjunction with the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) and provide an excellent framework for the interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary exploration of the theme “Visual Evidence”.

Four panels addressing the fields of “medicine”, “environments”, “economics” and “history/documentary” were held, followed by a plenary discussion after each panel. A wide range of departments and staff members from the University of Durham were involved with stimulating presentations on such diverse topics as visualisations of sexuality and reproduction in biology teaching books; visualisations of weather and climate in meteorology; the socio-historical periodisation and aftermath of propaganda and commentary in political cartoon and caricature; and the “seductive powers” of visual and material evidence in archaeology.

Particular highlights of the workshop included the talks by external speakers Professor Mary Morgan (LSE and Amsterdam) on statistics and data used as visual evidence in economics and Professor Lisa Cartwright’s exploration of visual evidence in analysing and categorising viruses. Lisa Cartwright, who is professor of Visual Arts at the University of California, San Diego, raised questions of intersectionality as well as drawing the audience’s attention to the performance and decision-making process that applies to the use and understanding of visual images. All panels reflected on the question of what constitutes visual evidence and whether we are able to distinguish between visualizations of evidence and visual evidence itself.

Following from this first workshop, awareness for key terms and the vocabulary we use to describe and interpret visual evidence has been fostered. Furthermore, the workshop has clearly contributed to our understanding of how evidence is understood and employed across a range of different fields and departments. Thus, the workshop has successfully given us a platform for future events as well as providing a basis for a continuous interdisciplinary dialogue on “Visual Evidence”. The series will be continued with the next workshop on “Visual Evidence, Museums and Knowledge” on 17th and 18th November 2015.

Lara Ehrenfried

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