Ariella Azoulay


On her book The Civil Contract of Photography

Cover Interview of January 22, 2009


The book analyzes the limitations of citizenship but also tries to invite the readers to imagine other possibilities that were embodied in the invention of modern citizenship.  After all, to invent modern citizenship in the 18th century required a lot of imagination.  There is no reason to assume that the work of the imagination must remain the possession of past thinkers and that we are condemned to live within the limits that their imagination drafted.  The French Revolution created a political community.  This could have developed and taken shape in various forms of partnership and solidarity relationships among the individuals who constitute it.  But in a single instant, in a snatch, these possible relationships were all pushed aside in favor of one form of relations, centered on subjection and loyalty to the regime, which became the principal focus of citizenship.  The women, who had struggled beside the men for the liquidation of the monarchy, did not receive citizenship, and continued being governed, without citizenship.

Since I was interested not only in a critical move that would show the shortcomings of citizenship, I looked for a space of political relations that are not mediated by a unitary sovereign regime.  Over the years photography has been understood as existing in a framework of distinct dominance relations between a photographer, working as a sovereign subject, and a photographed person, who serves the former as an object.  It’s true that in many cases this description is close to the power relations existing in a photography situation.  But even then this is only a partial description, one that misses other dimensions of the situation, in particular photography’s civil space, which is wide-open, dynamic and fluid, and not subordinated to a pole of sovereignty.  It’s true that imagination is needed for distinguishing this space, for enlarging the horizon of citizenship in a world where citizenship is constantly considered in relation to the state and sovereign power.  But from the moment you distinguish it, I think it becomes impossible not to see its potential and to be tempted to actualize it.

© 2009 Ariella Azoulay