Dr Harry Wu (University of Hong Kong): 'Seeing trauma: from invisible reality to emotional imagery'

Seeing trauma: from invisible reality to emotional imagery

In the Hollywood film, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, the director Ang Lee explores the effect of combat exemplifies the complexities of war trauma by his experiment in constructing reality with RealD technology. Such “over-pursuit” reveals the century-long efforts cineastes and experimental psychologists have been trying to unravel. Since mid-19th century, psychologists have been using image technologies to visualise the “stigmata” of trauma in individual’s mind. These images, produced by photography and videography, have been used not only to study mental illnesses, but also as an archiving method and a medium to deliver knowledge.

In this presentation, I first survey the history of the documentation of traumatized soldiers to look at the efforts made by filmmakers to better capture the manifestation of trauma in front of their camera. And then I refer to scientists’ attempts in developing methods, including emotional mental imagery to better understand the neurophysiological mechanism of PTSD from 1970s onwards. Finally, I argue, a more complete picture of trauma in images, including various individuals’ conceptualization and interpretation of trauma and how the narrative forms of interpretation produce meaning for those who experience the events, will only transpire when one finally ignores the excessive quest of the cinematic reality or imagery.