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On the Abuse of Photographs by Kevin Lewis O’Neill

Monday 20 February 2023
Pieter de la Court
Wassenaarseweg 52
2333 AK Leiden

On the Abuse of Photographs

From his first trip to Guatemala in 1974 until his death there in 2003, Father David Roney of New Ulm, Minnesota (USA) not only ministered to a remote Indigenous town but also became the primary author of its visual history. He was often the only person with a camera. Unbeknownst to most everyone at the time, though now painfully obvious, his vast archive of images from Guatemala supports what lawyers in the United States have since established: Roney sexually abused children throughout his ministerial career. The content of his images, to be clear, is not pornographic, but Roney would gift them to families so as to gain access to their children. Amid an ongoing conversation between theorists of photography and visual culture, about the near-invisibility of sexual violence, this talk reflects on an ethnographic fact that Roney understood all too well: photographs are not just meant to be seen but also touched, held, and gifted. 

Bio Kevin Lewis O’Neill

Kevin Lewis O’Neill is the Director of the Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies and Professor in the Department for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto. A cultural anthropologist, his work focuses on the moral dimensions of contemporary political practice in Latin America. O’Neill has written several books on the politics of Pentecostalism in Guatemala City – City of God (University of California Press, 2010); Secure the Soul (University of California Press, 2015); and Hunted (University of Chicago Press 2019) as well as a bilingual photography book titled Art of Captivity / Arte del Cautiverio (University of Toronto Press, 2020) with Benjamin Fogarty-Valenzuela. A 2021 John Simon Guggenheim Fellow, his current research considers clerical sexual abuse in Central America, with a focus on U.S. priests who moved (or were moved) to Guatemala to evade suspicion and, at times, prosecution.

This event is open and free for all. 

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