Tina Rowe

The Civil Contract of Photography

I am reading this and it is difficult but also rewarding.

The Civil Contract of Photography by Ariella Azoulay
The Civil Contract of Photography by Ariella Azoulay

I am reading it because I am photographing other TRAs, creating portraits and having discussions about the experience of transracially adoptive/fostered lives.  I am not investigating tracing or tales of reunion with the unnerving prospect of Davina McCall and Nicky Campbell hoving into sight and engineering tearful reunions.  I’m after what the lived experience of being in a world that cannot recognise you as part of what you know to be your family without verbal and written explanations.

Azoulay focusses on citizenship, the implication of equality that this term has and the points where this notion breaks down.  Her central focus is on both the Palestinian noncitizens of Israel and women in Western societies.  She is extremely thorough and I am finding it a difficult read because of the breadth of her scholarship and my own poor understanding around many of the things she talks about.  However, the work is extremely enlightening as there are points of parallel with the experience of a TRA particularity in terms of the way the state views an individual and how this view is disseminated through the population who see themselves as citizens.

In her writing I am finding an unexpected articulation of experiences shared by transracial adoptees.   I am not trying to draw and equivalence between the life of most adoptees and the horrors of Intifada or ingrained misogyny in western society.  However, from the outset she zones in on the notion of citizen and non-citizen, of individuals with ideas of their own rights and position in what they would call their country and compares it with those other people who share the same land are subject to the same rules and regulations, but who are marginalised because all of the structures of the state which provides citizenship are restricted or entirely removed from the non-citizens because the state does not recognise them as a citizen.  This does have some equivalence with the experience of being transracially adopted, part of a loving family, treated as a member of this family, birthdays, presents, holidays, everything normal that you would expect, in the context of the family, but once, taken out of that context, then you become something else, subject to benign interest and dangerous hostility because according to the questioner, who is a citizen of your state, you do not properly belong where you most patently are.

Furthermore, as someone with a practice that is mainly photographic, this book has another pull.  Azoulay’s thesis chimes with my feelings about the savant photographer conjuring up the decisive moment with a shutter click.  She is more interested in exploring all of the participants in photography and identifying them as a distinct community and in doing so, unpacks so much that, again, I had never been able to articulate.  So it’s a hard but rewarding read and it’s giving me so much space to think in.

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