Opacity in Transparency: A Decade of Photography and Political Communication in Argentina (1999-2010)

Article excerpt

Introduction

When used together, the words communication and politics have multiple meanings, all of them related to different ideas of what communication and politics are, and what they imply when used together. As Sergio Caletti (2001) argues, the usual approach to the field in mass communication research gives an idea of politics as apparatus and communication as technology. Such an approach supports the more instrumental notion of communication, conceived as strategy, and leads to two extreme positions (but based on the same premises) about their incidence in the political field. On the one hand, some researchers emphasize the 'spectacularization' of politics, which thus loses its rationality. On the other hand, there are some authors who believe in the potential of realizing the Internet permanent assembly utopia.

Adopting a different position, this work advocates the idea of communication as condition of possibility for politics, in two ways: firstly, because politics entails a kind of social relationship essentially based on the sharing of socially recognizable meanings, by means of the word and the action -namely, on communication. Secondly, because it is communication that allows "the common" as a constitutive attribute of politics (see Caletti, Op. Cit.).

The public sphere articulates par excellence politics and communication. Although not everything in politics nor all in communication occur in public space, communication is embedded within politics just as much as politics is embedded in communication. This implies also that any society becomes visible for itself--namely, public--by the dominant technical media that the social relationships produced for its own representation. Based on these premises, the general aim of this work was to analyze the relationships between the use of pictures in graphic political discourse and their contexts of meaning in the last ten years in Argentina.

The categories of analysis employed belong to the Socio-semiotics theoretical and methodological frame. The empirical referent is constituted by a sample of different sorts of pictures used in graphic political discourse:

* A selection of posters of the electoral campaigns of the period (for President in 1999 and 2007, and for legislative positions in 2005). The pictures used there are usually designed and chosen by campaign teams of each candidate as part of his/her electoral strategy.

* A selection of photographs published in the political news section of two largest circulated Argentinean newspapers (1999-2001, 2005 and 2007). In this case, pictures are a significant part of the informative discourse of that media.

The 'Illfare' State

Trying to give a synthesis of Argentinean political life in the last ten years is not easy. Maybe a fact is enough to show its complexity: there were seven Presidents of the Republic between 1999-2005, even though the Constitution establishes a four year term length. In other words, seven presidents where there should have been only three.

The general background of the decade was a widespread disappointment with democracy presumably caused by the critical consequences of neoliberal politics and subsequent State retraction led by the government of Carlos Menem and followed also by his successor Fernando de la Rua. An increasing discredit about politicians ended in the December 2001 riots, a period of civil uprising known as "cacerolazo" (pot banding), and was synthesized by the slogan "politicians go home". The institutional crisis caused the dismission of De la Rua and a vertiginous succession of presidents until the transitional period conducted by Eduardo Duhalde between 2002-2003. After the 2003 elections, Nestor Kirchner assumed the Presidency of the Country, followed by his wife Cristina Fernandez (since 2007 and continues).

It is necessary to mention that the general disappointment with both politics and politicians grown during the decade of the nineties clearly contrasted with previous moments of political life in Argentina. …