Sunday, July 12, 2009

Citizenship of images

Ariella at opening

Opening experience

This is a multilayered experience, an encounter, as curator Ariella Azoulay called it. A series of affective moments crafted in the interaction of gazes looking at each other in multiple temporalities. In the exhibition Act of State, A Photographed History of the Occupation, different trajectories coalesce, with the intention of sparking if you wish, the numbing of the history of the Israeli occupation. This silence here takes a stance through color and in black in white, in strong faces and desolate spaces, in blood and tears, in flames and water spilled over pavement, under dust and rocks full of meaning—even if only for some. But it is this same multiplicity that sometimes makes this a difficult space to travel at once. There are many things going on here, in various levels and registers—even in the quantity of images themselves—that we are to deal with.

First of all there is the political implication of the photograph as a form of creating citizenship for those who are constantly denied of it. The visibility of the invisible subject is a stance that is taken directly and sets forth the possibilities of the image for the filling of voids. Voids that are, as Ariella reminded us of in her opening talk, the effects of state acts, that otherwise would be crimes. And still this filling of the voids of citizenship is an act that walks along the line of the victim as subject. However plausible this thin line is, I do want to take a step back from the critiques of visual representations of violence, and recall what Alan Klima has written about this critique of the visual. That despite the colonial and violent history of photography, we should also ask ourselves why, even if one can never do justice to the act of true witnessing through technologies of image reproduction, “if one was not there, then why are the flecks of the unaccountable political murders one has witnessed still ‘sticking to the heart?’ Just look” (The Funeral Casino; 2002: 226).

Other aspects of this multiplicity that spark reflection are those regarding the politics of photographing, presented not only in the image as image, but in the act of the photographer as part of the context as well. I am thinking of an image of a photographer being attacked and photographed, in an encounter with colonist-settlers, under the gaze of both the soldier and the Palestinian—while others snap the moment.

I am thinking as well of the politics of the image as seen in the series of Israeli soldier’s giving water and the captions that warn us of the invention of its humanitarianism through the crafting of the photographic moment itself.

There is also the moment of reflection of the public—public here as the visitor to the exhibition—which in this case is much more of a private moment that takes the viewer deep into her own personal memories. This moment can be a sensual form of memory in becoming, as a sensual form of memory making and experiencing the past in the present (see Nadia Seremetakis, The Senses Still, 1996). Undertaking the effects of the images and in this case of their location as they are merged in the exhibition implies a relationship as well with the space itself. Walking under the old prison’s barbwire to see images of more barbwired moments, or engaging the colors of decay on the walls where panels hang and of the images hanged above them, is part of a series of interactions that add layers to the experience of traversing silence and invisibility in multiple forms. These are moments that have the potential of generating sensual reactions through the images that surround us, and in some cases can then unsettle, delimit, excite, activate, and even, resuscitate.

This brings to the fore the role of the personal through the sensual and the aesthetic to the grounds of politics. I thus want to end this reflection by not letting go of the personal. A personal that, from what I have been hearing in recent discussions, is wanting to be disciplined—both in academic and in Foucauldian meanings of the term. Something that it was actually never intended to be. The personal whether through the medium of photography itself as form of writing, in the encounter, or in the represented being, comes to this stage of the political as a vehicle for the practice of poetics, imagination and the affective as politico-theoretical projects. Why should we limit its potential?

Juan Orrantia

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