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Civil Imagination: A Political Ontology of Photographyby Ariella Azoulay
Synopses & Reviews
Understanding photography is more than a matter of assessing photographs, writes Ariella Azoulay. The photograph is merely one event in a sequence that constitutes photography and which always involves an actual or potential spectator in the relationship between the photographer and the individual portrayed. The shift in focus from product to practice, outlined in Civil Imagination, brings to light the way images can both reinforce and resist the oppressive reality foisted upon the people depicted.
Through photography, Civil Imagination seeks out relations of partnership, solidarity, and sharing that come into being at the expense of sovereign powers that threaten to destroy them. Azoulay argues that the "civil" must be distinguished from the "political" as the interest that citizens have in themselves, in others, in their shared forms of coexistence, as well as in the world they create and transform. Azoulay's book sketches out a new horizon of civil living for citizens as well as subjects denied citizenship--inevitable partners in a reality they are invited to imagine anew and to reconstruct.
Beautifully produced with many illustrations, Civil Imagination is a provocative argument for photography as a civic practice capable of reclaiming civil power.
The "Copernican Revolution" in studying photography brings to light how images can both reinforce and resist power regimes.
Photography, writes Ariella Azoulay in Civil Imagination, is an event and encounter, irreducible to its end product: the photograph. This shift in focus to the practice of producing photographs (the "Copernican Revolution" in studying photography) brings to light how images can both reinforce and resist power regimes. Azoulay engages with Arendt and Benjamin, arguing that art-world concerns regarding authorship, intention and framework should be replaced with a discussion of the agency of subjects and viewers, the political delimitation of what can be seen, and where the imagination can break through political boundaries.
Showing how photographs from the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank recognize or deny the Palestinian disaster, Azoulay reconstructs the narrative of the responsible, ruling regime--and in so doing, also demonstrates how its power can be renegotiated through acts of imagining. Packaged beautifully with many color photographs, Civil Imagination is a provocative argument for photography as a civic practice, capable of reclaiming power for the purposes of critique, freedom and resistance.
About the Author
Ariela Azoulay teaches political thought and visual culture at Brown University. She is the author of From Palestine to Israel: A Photographic Record of Destruction and State Formation, 1947-1950, The Civil Contract of Photography and Death's Showcase.
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