“No one after a certain age has the right to this kind of innocence, of superficiality, to this degree of ignorance, or amnesia.”

“Perhaps too much value is assigned to memory, not enough to things. Remembering is an ethical act, has ethical value in and of itself. Memory is, achingly, the only relation we can have with the dead.”

“To make peace is to forget. To reconcile, it is necessary that memory be faulty and limited.”



In photography – and this is evident in every single photo – there is something that extends beyond the photographer’s action, and no photographer, even the most gifted, can claim ownership of what appears, in the photograph. Every photograph of others bears the traces of the meeting between the photographed persons and the photographers, neither of whom can, on their own, determine how this meeting will be inscribed in the resulting image.


  • civil space
  • the gaze
  • civil
  • citizenship
  • threshold catastrophe
  • catastrophe
  • contract
  • civil contract
  • phantom picture

“While I remember this image as if it were a photograph I actually saw, I know it was planted in my brain, courtesy of my mother’s tongue as she tried to embody her working.

“The photographed persons went on looking out of the photographs and demanding something else, even then the gaze turned them into a sign to be drawn on in speaking out against the occupation”  

“This civil political space… is one that the people using photography – photographers, spectators, and photographed people – imagine every day.”

“The photograph bears the seal of the photographic event”

“One needs to stop looking at the photograph and instead start watching it”

to watch – usually used for regarding phenomena or moving pictures. It entails dimensions of time and movement that need to be reinscribed in the interpretation of the still photographic image.

A viewing of the photograph that reconstructs the photographic situation and allows a reading of the injury inflicted on others becomes a civic skill, not an exercise in aesthetic appreciation. The skill is activated the moment one grasps that citizenship.. is a tool of struggle against injuries inflicted on those others, citizens and noncitizens alike – others who are governed along with the spectator. The civil spectator has a duty to employ that skill; in order to negotiate the manner in which she and the photographed are ruled.

“I employ the term “contract” in order to shed terms such as “empathy,” “shame,” “pity,” “compassion” as organizers of this gaze” Photographed persons are participant citizens. The point of departure cannot be empathy or mercy.

“Why are they looking at me?”

The consent of most photographed subjects to have their picture taken… presumes the existence of a civil space in which photographers, photographed subjects, and spectators share a recognition that what they are witnessing is intolerable

The photographed person’s gaze seriously undermines the perception that practices of photography and watching photographs taken in disastrous conditions can be described and conceptualized as separate from the witnessed situation.


What is the civil contract?

Earliest form is seen in the photograph by Southworth and Hawes, The Branded Hand of Captain Jonathan Walker, daguerreotype, 1845. He proceeded to distribute as a protest against a court ruling, Walker was caught trying to smuggle slaves out of Florida. The challenge was: to the content of the court ruling; to the stable meaning of the punishment; and to the boundaries defining the community authorized to reinterpret the court ruling. reminiscent of still life of the time, “this hand was not meant to stay still and silent.” It was meant as a symbol for action.

It takes into account all the participants in photographics acts – camera, photographer, photographed subject, and spectator – approaching the photograph (and its meaning) as an unintentional effect of the encounter between all of these. The Civil Contract of Photography seeks to develop a concept of citizenship though the study of photographic practices and to analyze photography within the framework of citizenship as a status, an institution, and a set of practices.



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