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Civil Imagination Hardcover – 3 Sep 2012

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More About the Author

Ariella azoulay Director of Photo-Lexic, International Research Group, Minerva Center, Tel Aviv University
2010 Gladstine Visiting Professor, Human Rights Center, UConn

She is the author of Civil Imagination: The Political Ontology of Photography (2010, in hebrew, Resling, in english 2011, Verso), Constituent Violence 1947-1950 (Resling in Hebrew, 2009, in english From Palestine to Israel: A Photographic Record of Destruction and State Formation, 1947-1950, Pluto Press), Act of State (2008, in Hebrew - Etgar publisher, in Italian Atto di Stato in Italian Bruno Mondadori), The Civil Contract of Photography (2008, Zone Books, 2007 Resling), Once Upon A Time: Photography following Walter Benjamin (Bar Ilan University Press, 2006, in Hebrew), Death's Showcase (MIT Press, 2001 - Winner of The Affinity Award, ICP) and TRAining for ART (Hakibutz Hameuchad and The Porter Institut Publishers, 2000, in Hebrew).

She is co-author with Adi Ophir of This Regime Which Is Not One: Occupation and Democracy between the Sea and The River - (1967 - ), [2008, Resling, in hebrew; 2011, Stanford University Press]; Bad Days, 2002, Resling (in Hebrew).

Curator of Untaken Photographs (2010, Winner of the Igor Zabel Competition, The Moderna galerija, Lubliana, Zochrot, Tel Aviv), Constituent Violence 1947-1950 (Zochrot, Tel Aviv), Architecture of Destruction (Zochrot, Tel Aviv), Act of State: 1967-2007 (Minshar Gallery, 2007), Everything Could Be Seen (Um Al Fahem Gallery, 2004), The Angel of History (Hertzela Museum of Art, Mishkan Le-Omanut, Ein Harod, 2001).

Director of documentary films, At Nightfall (2005), I Also Dwell Among Your Own People: Conversations with Azmi Bishara (2004), The Chain Food (2004), The Angel of History (2000) and A Sign from Heaven (1999).


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"This book is a major intervention in the field of political philosophy, visual cultures, photography and architecture. The new ontology of photography developed by Azoulay builds upon, but also decisively challenges, articulated relations between the aesthetic and the political from Kant through Benjamin, Arendt and Ranciere. Here, Azoulay uses her theory to suggest an alternative politics based on the re-reading and reinterpretation of photographs of the Nakba in 1948 and of the architecture of the Israeli occupation since 1967. "Civil Imagination" is nothing less than a proposal for a new form of politics now made ever more relevant throughout the Middle East."--Eyal Weizman, author of "Hollow Land" and "Least of All Possible Evils" "This remarkable book enhances Ariella Azoulay's position as the most compelling theorist of photography writing today. Photography, she argues, must be understood as a collective event in which vision, speech and action are intertwined and inseparable from ongoing global struggles between sovereign violence and civil society."--Jonathan Crary, Meyer Schapiro Professor of Modern Art and Theory, Columbia University "Takes on the state of our contemporary visual culture and takes aim at the many received ideas that march under the banner of 'art and politics.'"--"The Brooklyn Rail"

About the Author

ARIELLA AZOULAY teaches contemporary philosophy and visual culture at Bar Ilan 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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
gives us a why 19 April 2014
By C. Scanlon - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Sontag rendered a certain typically lower Manhattan arrogant disdain for the miraculous art and science of photography fashionable in her On Photography and elsewhere, setting the tone for other critics to poopoo this most verisimilitudonous yet (particularly in the post-Adobe Photoshop age) potentially deceptive art. In her later writing, The Civil Contract of Photography this precise, scholarly and insightful author, Ariella Azoulay, most directly addresses the points raised by Sontag and others. Here the simple summary of those points reveals their parochial limitations, followed by their transcendence in the deepest meaning of applied photography.

In particular Azoulay's revelation of Hannah Arendt's angry dismissal of the powerful series of photograph's of a black girl walking home with quiet dignity through jeering white masses after integrating the high school in Little Rock shows that critique as sneering through a scholarly veneer, without Azoulay needing to waste time explicitly to say this. Rather Azoulay takes us further to explore other, present applications equally as compelling, equally as meaningful, even more deadly than this offense to dignity.

Azoulay therefore begins with a general thorough applied philosophy of photography, with examples, and ever more precisely focuses on the most pressing and hidden application of our times, the total destruction of Palestine. Her presentation remains undeniable, scholarly, indispensable, and must be read.

My one qualm lies in the poor reproduction of the photographs in this volume, which, reprinted on the text pages, come across as cloudy and rather indistinct, whereas they are the central loci of Azoulay's thesis. I wish the publisher had printed these essential photographs on separate glossy pages in order to study them carefully as intended.

Azoulay in brief presents a compelling case for photography in fully examining the phenomena of sight, of vision, of shared vision, of participation of the viewer with the photographer, and of the content which is seen. We with cameras (which now includes nearly anyone with a phone) are given not only WHY but also a great burden and responsibility to record, and to publish, the injustice and suffering we see.

Those of us dismayed and discouraged by the formidable title in itself must not fear, but read this eminently readable text throughout. An ontology is the nature of being; a political ontology of photography reveals how photography is political, and how civil. Azoulay gently, carefully, thoroughly and very readably leads us through these intimidating waters, and the translation by Louise Bethlehem is excellent in reflecting the clarity of the text.

Please read. Any photographer finding this, our great art and burdensome responsibility of faithfully reproducing reality, must take heart in this wonderful revelation, that what we are striving to accomplish has meaning, despite Sontag calling us a violation, and that what we do expands the human consciousness and compels others to action for peace, for justice, for truth, for compassion. We who work so hard to reflect reality find ourselves considered here a portal to empathy, and not the apart abomination so easily dismissed in the Sontag school.

I urge you truly to read this book.
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