The Civil Contract of Photography is an important work examining the special role photography can play in understanding contemporary political and humanitarian struggles. Azoulay’s argument runs counter to the prevalent notion of the viewer’s desensitization towards images of catastrophe (as presented by the writings of Barthes and Sontag). She convincingly argues for the continued importance of photography in creating a space of discourse around these depicted events and in opposition to oppression.
From Chapter Two:
“…photography is one of the distinctive practices by means of which individuals can establish a distance between themselves and power in order to observe its actions and to do so not as its subjects. Injury to this right, which is simultaneously injury to both the photographer and the photographed, as two citizens of photography- but fundamentally against all of the citizenry of photography- establishes a duty to protect it. If it is not protected, citizens will be deprived of the protection that can be granted by photography as an instrument that employs power that is in the hands of the governed and not only in the the hands of the sovereign or those seeking to win sovereign power.”
Though a couple chapters of Azoulay’s book strayed a bit off-topic, overall it remains a strong and timely statement on photography’s continued importance. An engaging read and worth the time.
Recommended by Matthew Ducmanas, Circulation Supervisor.