Fillip 16 — Spring 2012

The Right to Share 
the Public Archive: 
A Conversation about Ariella Azoulay’s 
Different Ways Not to Say Deportation
Ariella Azoulay and Elle Flanders

Georgette told me she left on one of the convoys with her mother and aunts. Her father had been taken away as a prisoner with her uncles. “Huwaje,” her aunt said, “please stop, my niece is not with us. I must go back and get her.” In the chaos, the one-year-old child was left under a tree. “Huwaje is the name for a Jew,” Georgette explains. “My aunt was braver than my mother to speak with the driver—he waited.” They drove from Ramle to Latrun, where they were left, no shelter, no food. “We walked for many kilometres; some children died along the way. A mother left her child because she couldn’t feed her. We slept in a field for days until we found an old barn. Most slept under the olive trees. We only had nothing with us, just some clothes for the children; we thought we would be home in two weeks. Many weeks later the UN came, and the Red Cross. We didn’t have food. They set up tents.”

Elle Flanders – I look at your images and I imagine Georgette amongst the well-dressed deportees of Ramle. She is a tiny woman, maybe seventy. She is our neighbour in Ramallah. She hands me ma’amoul, date-filled cookies she baked for Easter, over our shared fence. She invites me in and tells me her story. “Bring your camera next time,” she says. “I can tell it again so it is recorded.” Her picture appears on page 140.

When I first saw your photo essay, I was stunned. The levels at which this all unfolds are astonishing. Your traces are indeed photographs akin to the first apparatuses. One cannot ignore the camera lucida inference on both levels in your work: the tracings that reference the mechanical source and the reference of course to Barthes’s text of the same name. The shading in your images reminds me of something the poet Mahmoud Darwish said in reference to the condition of Palestinian exile: “What remains of the garden behind us is the power of the shadow.” It also reminds me of course of the shadows cast in the camera obscura.

The stories embedded within the photos that have been kept from our gaze, allowing for a collective blindness, are here resurrected by you as tracings accompanied by a text about your interaction with the images that not only brings them to light but reveals the violence done twice. In its attendance at the deportation, its documentation of it, and then in its suppression of these photographs in relation to your work, the Red Cross exposes its complicity in the deportation, and, in effect, the transfer, of a civilian population.

In choosing to defy the Red Cross’s prohibition against using these images further, you enact a form of civil disobedience. Can you talk more about your choice to sketch, or what I prefer to think of as “trace,” these images? What did that act symbolize for you?

Ariella Azoulay – My act may be interpreted as one of “civil disobedience,” but that understanding of it mistakenly assumes that I recognize the constituent violence of the regime that acted against the local population as the law. While the violence of the law cannot be forgotten anymore and the legality of the law is rejected, we cannot speak anymore simply of a civil disobedience. Archives that prevent citizens from sharing their pasts preserve this same violence. The law of archives whereby pictures of our past are kept by others who exclude us is closer to a surrender declaration perpetuating unequal power relations, than it is to a common law that is supposed to protect all of the parties involved. Common documents are supposedly deposited in the archive for safekeeping, not to become its property. The handling by archives of common documents as private property contradicts a fundamental right that should be formulated as the right to share the public archive.

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About the Authors

Ariella Azoulay is the director of Photo-Lexic Research Group at Minerva Humanities Center, Tel Aviv University. Among her recent books are Civil Imagination: The Political Ontology of Photography (forthcoming, Verso, 2012), From Palestine to Israel: A Photographic Record of Destruction and State Formation, 1947–1950 (Pluto Press, 2011), and The Civil Contract of Photography (Zone Books, 2008).

Elle Flanders is an award-winning filmmaker and artist based in Toronto. She was raised in Montreal and Jerusalem and holds both an MA in Critical Theory and an MFA from Rutgers University. Her work has been exhibited at museums and festivals internationally, including the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, and the Berlin International Film Festival. She directed the award-winning feature documentary Zero Degrees of Separation (2005), which has screened worldwide and has been broadcast on the Sundance Channel, the Documentary Channel, and MTV. Flanders is a PhD candidate in the Visual Arts Studio Program at York University, where she also teaches.

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