In her seminal book, Civil Imagination: A Political Ontology of Photography (2015) curator and theorist Ariella Aisha Azoulay reframes photography as a relational practice and elucidates an emerging new paradigm that integrates photography with political theory and visual culture. Rejecting art historical readings of aesthetics and ethics, Azoulay proposes an understanding of photography as having a political ontology through the way it brings people into relation, and the ‘civil’ potential to do so over matters of shared concern. Civil intent, she argues, allows us to recognise that “every citizen bears responsibility toward a common world and proceeds on the understanding that if citizens neglect their responsibilities, or incite others to do so, damage will ensue” (Azoulay 2015, p. 105).

This paper explores the implications for education practices in art and photography of this new paradigm by exploring how photography and creative practice can function as a form of democratic participation when framed through the lens of relationality and the civil. It asks, how can the civil potential of photography and creative practice be activated in educational contexts?

The paper reflects on the collective learning arising from a series of educational experiments developed by the Doing Visual Politics Network which have sought to connect cultures of creative practice and democracy in Naarm/Melbourne, Australia; Kathmandu, Nepal; and Dhaka, Bangladesh. For almost a decade, this network has been interrogating and expanding disciplinary understandings of what we refer to as visual politics — the practices and discourses at the intersection of photography, visual activism, art and social practice, and public pedagogy. Through exploring the various articulations between creative practice and political theory a pedagogic framework comprised of two key elements has emerged: the adoption of civil intent and the aim to establish civil discourse. We propose that the cultures produced through these practices open possibilities at the intersection of democracy, creative practice, and education to motivate political action, intercultural understanding, and civil possibility.

Azoulay, A. A. (2015). Civil Imagination: A Political Ontology of Photography. Verso UK.

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Stream A: Panel One