This letter turns to late-nineteenth-century understandings of photography in Arabic as al-taswir al-shamsi—which translates roughly as “solar imaging”—to read a suite of photographs by Ahlam Shibli that depicts the ways in which martyrs of the second intifada are remembered in Nablus. Drawing on connotations embedded in the Arabic term taswir and in a careful study of the way light works in Shibli's photographs, the letter—addressed to you from a person who identifies as a pillar of salt, stuck, looking back but wanting to move forward—makes the argument that, far from indexing a past built on death and displacement, the photographs give light to an alternate social reality in which the Palestinian lives free from the constraints of life as the Israeli's have allowed it, which is to say life as a condition of death.

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Author notes

*Publication of this essay is made possible in part by a gift from Elizabeth Warnock to the Department of Art History at Northwestern University.