Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Communications and Arts


Education and Arts

First Advisor

Professor Lelia Green

Second Advisor

Associate Professor Panizza Allmark


Photographs of the victims of Argentine state terrorism from 1972 to 1983, and most prominently those of the detained-disappeared victims of the Proceso de Reorganización Nacional dictatorship (1976-1983), have had a significant role in elucidating the demands of human rights activists since the aftermath of the Trelew Massacre in 1972. In this thesis I examine the role of photographs of victims of state terrorism in the construction of unofficial, or counter, narratives critical of those produced by two dictatorships and by elected democratic administrations in the demand for truth and justice, and in the construction of social memory. I discuss how the photographs have operated during distinct historical periods and the threads that have emerged in response to the longer timeframe of state terrorism (1972-1983), in terms of what sociologist Daniel Feierstein (2011) calls explanatory frameworks. Feierstein’s term looks at how state terrorism has been approached in distinct political periods. Those explanations include war and genocide

In order to answer the questions; how do bodies of photographs articulate and at times drive political and social debates regarding state repression in Argentina, and how are they used to frame an understanding of state violence during changing political conditions?, the study embeds the use of photographs by artists and activists within an extensive historical narrative constructed from the data retrieved from a number of key publications from the 1970s and 1980s and archival documents and photographs held by human rights organisations in Argentina.

The study addresses significant gaps in existing scholarship. Much existing literature focuses on the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo’s use of photographs of the detained-disappeared victims of the Proceso de Reorganización Nacional during that dictatorship. These analyses are dominated by the application of Barthesian photographic theory that rests on photography’s capacity to simultaneously represent absence and presence (Barthes, 1981; Longoni, 2010; Tandeciarz, 2006; Taylor, 2002). That period is one significant part of a longitudinal campaign conducted in Argentina from 1972. This thesis furthers the discussion, particularly in the examination of the continued use of photographs by one of the two factions of the organisation; the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo: Founding Line, following the organisation’s 1986 split, and by an examination of the role of a small number of photographs of victims taken in a Clandestine Detention Centre (CDC).

From the Proceso the use of photographs has been informed by the imposition of limits with respect to information on the fate of victims and by the demand for information on the victims. The small number of state produced photographs or repressive photographs (Sekula, 1986) emerged into the public realm in 1984 and formed part of the records produced for all victims held in Clandestine Detention Centres.

Allan Sekula’s honorific and repressive photographic poles underpins my analysis of the importance of photographs during distinct political periods and their uses in art works, the legal arena, and in demonstrations. I examine how those repressive and honorific (Sekula, 1986) and disciplinary photographs (Tandeciarz, 2006) which originated in the family realm or non repressive state agencies have underpinned the pursuit of truth and justice. Only through an extensive examination do core aspects of the uses of photographs of victims of state terrorism emerge with clarity.


Paper Location