Leading up to Theorizing the Web 2013, we’ll be posting a series of previews of some of the papers we’ll be showcasing at the conference. This is one of those. Stay tuned for more!

In this year’s Theorizing the Web, I will present a research that originated from my preoccupation with volatile encounters between photography and moments of social strife, as these are seen and mediated by traditional and social media. Homeless people in Libya, demonstrators’ confrontations with armed forces in Syria and Egypt, Kurd refugees in Northern Iraq, check points in Gaza, or Sudanese refugees in Sinai are just a few examples of current photographic undertakings, which are continuously mediated in independent and corporate media outlets. In this work in progress, I venture into documented ruptures while aiming to destabilize their initial appearance: to go beyond the immediate danger and visual narratives of an emergency in order to negotiate the apparatuses and discourses in which the photograph circulates, in which this practice is shaped and received.

My interest in these moments is propelled by photography’s conflicted relation to the formation of the civic subject and (the absence of) civic disobedience in my native country of Israel. Following Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in 1995, Simon Faulkner recognized a turn to photojournalism in the Israeli arena, which he associated with a move toward realism, viewing photography as a vehicle for documentation. Although this dominance is indeed present in Israel, I argue against this invocation of the search for an imagined “real.” Rather, I suggest this involvement exposes an inherent crisis of national identity that was developed, recognized and articulated by a turn to photography: an identity premised on the visual image it sought to implement in a given territory while distributing that image worldwide in order to affirm its validity.

I try to demonstrate how these intersections expose a crisis that goes beyond what is seen in the frame: they reveal a crisis of nationality, of shared language, revealed through attempts to rupture authorial structures, in a system that internalize and appropriates any such efforts. These moments, then, show what is at stake in this photographic moment. I ask to re-visit past encounters of photography, social conflict and crisis that uncover the heterogeneous nature of the photograph as a discursive event, and contextualize our current daily engagements with photographic technologies. The photograph is viewed as a hybrid, which is always already textualized and embedded in signifying modalities. This research examines the mechanisms that mobilize the photograph, while viewing who outlines its narratives and how, who captures the frame, who is caught in it and who is left outside: silenced out of the frame, of the institutions that regulate the frame. Therefore, a crisis will also be seen as that of exclusion: being left outside of the photographic machinery that constitutes the civic subject.

Rotem Rozental is web and blog editor for The Shpilman Institute for Photography and the Jerusalem Season of Culture, where she is also co-artistic director of We – Festi-Conference for Creative Collectives. She is a PhD student at the art history department of Binghamton University, where she currently researchers the interrelations of Zionist photographic archives, nation-state and communication.