Date of Award

Spring 2023

Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Cultural Studies, PhD


School of Arts and Humanities

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Darrell Moore

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Maria Elena Buszek

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Nadine Chan

Terms of Use & License Information

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Rights Information

© 2023 Denise M Johnson


Architecture in Los Angeles, Civil contract of photography, Cultural studies, History of photography, Occupation photography

Subject Categories

African American Studies | Art and Design | History | History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology


Ariella Azoulay and W. J. T. Mitchell have called for a new users’ manual for photographs, urging that theory finally wrest itself from the authoritative singular gaze of the patriarchal imperial photographer so that the plurality inherent within the ontology of viewing photographs be engaged. Azoulay cogently argues that the photographer is not the only person to act when a photographic event takes place. By turning critical analysis to the photographic subject and advising viewers to both watch and listen to photographs rather than gaze, a space of appearance is activated in which the photographic subject engages in dialogue with the viewer while opening a civil contract between them. In the civil space of photography, the viewer is called upon to act. Azoulay, arguing with Hannah Arendt and against Roland Barthes, finds photographs to be capable of operating outside hierarchies of power, time, and space, and thus, considers photographs to hold the potential of being useful extensions of citizenship and the right to have rights. Joining this work, Paul R. Williams at Work in Photographs: Tarrying with Cites/Sights/Sites of Trouble develops an analytic formula aimed at illuminating the function and operation of political trouble in occupation photographs of 20 th century Los Angeles architect, Paul R. Williams. The sights cubed formula will tarry with Williams’s cites – references derived from, and reverberations concerning the performance of political trouble in photographs of Williams at work; the sights and sight lines established within occupation photographs of Williams in the dulcet practice of political trouble; and the operation of space or sites in which Williams’s trouble is enacted. This dissertation argues that although Williams’s troubling of racism, segregation and inequality is not strident, through occupation portraits he engages in an aestheticization of citizenship that nonetheless works to undermine, rupture, and disrupt the forces of racism at play within the field of architecture and adjacent during the 20 th century. When this work is attended to, the dissertation concludes, Williams’s communities of remembrance are called upon to engage in the work of myth making, legacy building, and memorializing, to counter the threat of social death.