September 2017

Tina Campt: Black Feminist Futures and the Practice of Fugitivity

Spectatorship, Race, and Citizenship

Tina Campt’s 2012 book, Image Matters: Archive, Photography, and the African Diaspora in Europe, skillfully describes the aurality of vernacular images, such as snapshot photographs produced by black diasporic subjects in the prewar era, and considers how these images speak and how viewers learn to “hear” them. This lecture masterfully extends these ideas into the post-1948 context, examining how “quiet and quotidian image-making practices,” such as the production of identification photographs by Caribbean subjects living in Manchester, are used by black subjects in diaspora to “create possibility within the constraints of everyday life.”

Histories of the passport—John Torpey’s analysis of it as a “punitive document” immediately come to mind—usually recount the ways the passport functioned as a technology for regulating mobility, an instrument of biopower used to govern subjects. But here Campt asks whether passport images are inseparable from state power, and whether we can appreciate these images’ alternative enactments of futurity. Like Sukanya Banerjee, Campt is interested in thinking photographic citizenship beyond national laws, and her focus on the passing of the British Nationality Act—the law that transformed colonial British subjects into citizens of the Commonwealth—and how this precipitated a different kind of mobility for black bodies, allows her to read these images through another temporal lens. For their subjects, Campt suggests, these images were part of an affective and political circuit that facilitated their transfiguration of Britishness: a transformation accelerated by the reverse flows of migration made possible by the 1948 act. These subjects arrived in the United Kingdom as citizens, and are now exercising their right to arrive, to stay, and to return again that this category of belonging had for so long promised. She concludes by thinking about how the frequency of these photographs might best be captured through the notion of fugitivity, a state of being marked by the refusal to stay in one’s proper place (Judith Butler), and to be subject to a law that refuses to recognize you (Fred Moten).

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