13 January 2009

The Civil Contract of Photography

Yesterday I was at the University library and came across what promises to be a fascinating a new book - Ariella Azoulay's The Civil Contract of Photography (MIT Press/Zone Books, 2008). It is a substantial work (500 pages!) so I have not yet made my way very far into it, let alone through it. From what I can determine, Azoulay is using photography as a tool for refashioning notions of citizenship and solidarity. Azoulay, an Israeli, is doing so on treacherous terrain, focusing primarily on relations between Israelis and Palestinians. In that sense she approaches photography less as a matter to think about than as a technology that we use to think with. This is a theme on which I've posted here before (in what turns out to be a remarkably related context). I will no doubt be back to do so again once I've had the chance to read Azoulay's book.


From the Introduction:
"I began working on this book at the beginning of the second intifada. In hindsight, I can say that observing the unbearable sights presented in photographs from the Occupied Territories, encountering them in the national context within which they were presented and enduring the difficulty of facing them day after day, formed the main motives for writing this book. The Civil Contract of Photography is an attempt to anchor spectatorship in civic duty toward the photographed persons who haven't stopped being "there," toward the dispossessed citizens who, in turn, enable the rethinking of the concept and practice of citizenship."

I employ the term 'contract' in order to shed terms such as 'empathy,' 'shame,' 'pity,' or 'compassion' as organizers of this gaze. In the political sphere that is reconstructed through the civil contract, photographed persons are participant citizens, just the same as I am. Within this space, the point of departure for our mutual relations cannot be empathy or mercy. It must be a covenant for the rehabilitation of citizenship in the political sphere within which we are all ruled, that is, the state of Israel. When the photographed persons address me, claiming their citizenship in photography, they cease to appear as stateless or as enemies, the manners in which the sovereign regime strives to construct them. They call on me to recognize and restore their citizenship through my viewing. At issue in this book is more than my insistence on using the term 'citizenship' in analyzing the act of photography or in understanding the ways in which some populations are more exposed to catastrophe than others. At issue is an effort to disclose the inextricable relationship between the populations facing pending catastrophe and the citizens with whom they are governed, doing so by means of an examination of the civic space of the gaze, speech and action that is shared by these governed populations."

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3 Comments:

Blogger Public Squalor said...

You recommend the best titles! Thanks very much.

- peace

13 January, 2009 14:08  
Blogger stansivlav said...

Looking forward to your further thoughts as and when...

14 April, 2009 17:20  
Blogger John Johnson said...

A contract is THE agreement your client and photographer relationship will be built on.


John@E-signatures

19 May, 2015 04:38  

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