Ariella Azoulay, on privileged citizenship

by | Dec 20, 2013 | Photography | 0 comments

“Breaking out of this circular relationship [where victims are always the ones pictured as victims and must demand rights in the face of their violation, and where perpetrators and the laws responsible for these violations are never directly pictured] requires that we treat photographs taken in a disaster zone as the basis for reconstructing the photographic situation, whose boundaries never correspond to the frame of the photograph. Using photographs differently allows us to imagine a new—or renewed—human rights discourse, which besides the traditional assistance to a population designation as violated, stands also to benefit the citizens ruled alongside the violated population. This new form of intervention would help the privileged citizens to identify and acknowledge the inherent flaw in their citizenship, a flaw that makes them accomplices to the crimes of a regime that does everything in its power to keep from appearing to be criminal.”


— Ariella Azoulay, Civil Imagination: Political Ontology of Photography (New York: Verso, 2012) 245.

This, to me, is the constant challenge: how to recognize the flawed structures that allow me to operate as a privileged citizen as they continuously place others in a position of precarious and weak citizenship. And how to do that in a way that acknowledges my complicity with this flawed system.

See also Mark Reinhardt’s excellent review of Azoulay’s book (alongside titles by W.J.T. Mitchell and Susie Linfield) in Theory and Event (paid access only, sadly, or through a university library account).