Article: Face of a Dead Bird—Notes on Grief, Spectrality and Wildlife Photography (2012)

My concern in this essay lies with exploring the possibility of grief for the loss of a nonhuman animal beyond the cozy domestic assemblages where such grief is conventionally situated, some might say confined.

Parallel to the entangled intimacy of pets, livestock and companion species, I am interested in developing (or recuperating) a notion of grief for the nonhuman stranger — for an unknown other, remote but specific.

Situating this possibility within the visual economy of conservation, the essay begins with a specific photograph of one nonhuman individual — now dead — and ends with another. I read the first image against Roland Barthes’ moving meditation on photography and the death of his mother, Camera Lucida. The links between haunting, photography and spectrality that this text throws up then form the coordinates for the remainder of the argument — which, through a combination of theoretical reflection and ethnography, addresses itself to one central question (perhaps two): does the nonhuman have a face? Does this nonhuman have a face?

The essay closes on a hopeful note, identifying the disruptive potential of nonhuman photography to render manifest modes of perception that are not yet supported, that are still virtual — transforming, in other words, the spectrality of the nonhuman photograph into a promissory condition, foreshadowing new economies of being and, possibly, of loss.


Reinert, H. 2012. Face of a Dead Bird — Notes on Grief, Spectrality and Wildlife Photography. Rhizomes: Cultural Studies in Emerging Knowledge (23), no pagination