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Dr Ileana L. Selejan ‘Citizens of photography: the camera and the political imagination’

A selection of portrait photos on a table shot from above
A selection of portrait photos on a table shot from above
Photo by Ileana J. Selejan
Written by
Cat Cooper
Published date
09 December 2020

Citizens of photography: the camera and the political imagination’ is a European Research Council-funded research project based at the Anthropology Department, University College London (UCL). Ileana L. Selejan, Research Fellow at the UAL Decolonising Arts Institute and Associate Lecturer on BA Culture, Criticism and Curation at Central Saint Martins, UAL is a member of the research team.

This project began in 2016 and has now entered the writing-up stage. Its starting point is recent work by photographic theorists – most notably Ariella Azoulay - who propose that photography makes possible a new form of "civil imagination" because of its inclusiveness and contingency.

Ileana and the project team have been studying how local communities use photography to represent individuals, families and other identities and exploring whether this plays a role in the manner in which people articulate their political hopes and demands.

In-depth ethnographic investigations and fieldwork have been conducted in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Greece, Nigeria and Nicaragua.

Ileana’s research

Ileana is currently completing a monograph that explores the intersection of photography and politics in Nicaragua. Her research topic, Citizens of Photography in Nicaragua, examines how citizens and communities engage with photography in their everyday.

My research investigates Nicaraguan citizens’ engagement with politics through photography, and how photographs are circulated across the public sphere.

It may be that photography is summoned to perform subtler actions, that are indirectly political, especially in a context as deeply enmeshed in Cold War revolutionary ideology as that of Nicaragua.

To an even greater extent, I am interested in exploring how photography enters the private realm, or rather how it straddles the private and the public - areas that have been marginally discussed in recent scholarship - and how these practices help users devise, or imagine possibilities for their future.

I want to understand how photography and politics are interrelated. I ask how do citizens and communities engage with photography in their everyday. And I seek to map out relationships between the 3 (politics, photography and citizenship) – an issue that lies at the core of the overarching project.

— Ileana L. Selejan
Inside a photo studio
Photo by Ileana J. Selejan

Ileana's wider work

Ileana has presented on the topic in international settings, including the Reina Sofia Museum, Tate Modern and the Graduate Institute in Geneva; and has conducted workshops in Nicaragua and Guatemala.

She has organised international exhibitions including ‘Me duele respirar / it hurts to breathe’ at Strange Edition Studio and Arts Center: May 24 - June 6, 2019 in New York. The title references a phrase uttered by 15-year-old secondary school student Álvaro Manuel Conrado Dávila, when he was shot and mortally wounded by the Nicaraguan police during a protest in Managua, on April 20 2018. His words have been resonating since, stencilled onto city walls and streets, reverberating across borders, inspiring hope.

Biography

Dr Ileana L. Selejan is a Research Fellow at the UAL Decolonising Arts Institute and Associate Lecturer on BA Culture, Criticism and Curation at Central Saint Martins. She is an Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Anthropology at University College London.

Previously the Linda Wyatt Gruber ’66 Curatorial Fellow in Photography at The Davis Museum at Wellesley College, she curated the exhibition "Charlotte Brooks at LOOK: 1951-1971".

Ileana received her PhD in Art History from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, and was granted the 2012–13 Joan and Stanford Alexander Award from the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, for her research in Nicaragua.

As an adjunct instructor, she taught in the Photography and Imaging Department at Tisch School of the Arts, and in the Art History Department at New York University, at the Parsons School of Design in New York, and in the Fine Arts Department at West University, Timisoara, Romania.

Parallel to her research and academic work, Ileana writes independently, and is a contributing member of the experimental arts collective kinema ikon.