20 June 2019

Rutger van der Hoeven in the media with doctoral research on global visual memory

Links: Guerrilero Heroico / Che Guevara (Alberto Korda, 1960). Rechts: Migrant Mother (Dorothea Lange, 1936)

Last week Dr Rutger van der Hoeven (Cultural History) defended his PhD thesis on global visual memory. The Guardian, as well as Trouw and De Volkskrant published articles in response to Van der Hoeven's research. 

Drs. Rutger van der Hoeven
Dr Rutger van der Hoeven

Almost everyone knows the picture of the second plane that flew into the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. There are more pictures that seem to be known all over the world. Are these photos actually known worldwide? And can we conclude from this that there is a global visual memory? Van der Hoeven researched these questions by showing people from different population groups and 25 countries different 'well known' photographs. 

shared recognition, different interpretation

The research shows that there are photos that almost everyone recognizes. However, these photos are not always interpreted in the same way: "We assume that an image speaks for itself, or that our interpretation is consistent, but that is not the case at all. Where one says: this is what hunger looks like, another says: this is a commentary on inequality in the world and our inability to solve it", says Van der Hoeven in De volkskrant.

Global visual memory

The shared recognition of photographs therefore presupposes a global visual memory: "People all over the world therefore share a visual memory, but have a different thought for that image. That's what I find so fascinating about photography," says Van der Hoeven in Trouw.