Volume 9, Issue 2, Fall 2012
Eyes Through Oil
Witnessing the Nonhuman Victims of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill
This paper evaluates Jacques Derrida’s startling claim that “the relations between humans and animals must change . . . both in the sense of an ‘ontological’ necessity and of an ‘ethical’ duty,” through an assessment of the ethical appeal emitted by nonhuman witnesses of catastrophe. Drawing upon contemporary theories of ethics, photography, and animality, it analyzes Charley Riedel’s iconic 2010 photograph of a bird covered in oil in the Gulf of Mexico, arguing that attending to visual testaments to disaster is one way to begin to challenge an anthropocentrism that has rendered life outside “the human” unworthy of ethical and political consideration.