susan sontag on documentary photography

By now the pattern that the essays establish should be obvious. [ii] Jonathan Cott, Susan Sontag: The Complete Rolling Stone Interview, Yale University Press, 2013, pgs. Further citations as ‘OP’ in the text. Susan Sontag’s “ On photography” is a philosophical reasoning about the “still images” that change our world. Change ), You are commenting using your Google account. 110). Her concern in this essay is to address how photography has been used to elevate every-day or even plain tawdry subjects, in order to achieve the kind of ecstatic communion with the American commonplace and its vulgarities that Whitman aspired to in his writing. ( Log Out /  Her conversations with her partner, and seminal author Susan Sontag, tell a beautiful story of a partners influence on an artists practice. 154) What she has in mind is not a simplistic duality of the real and the pictured – there is, in that sense, no ‘reality’ that isn’t somehow represented – but of photography as a system of information, a way of ordering and so, controlling our relationship to and understanding of the world, fundamentally defined by the characteristics of the medium and what it makes possible: “reality has come to seem more and more like what we are shown by cameras.” (OP, pg. “Photography,” she tells us, “has become the quintessential art of affluent, wasteful, restless societies.” (OP, pg. The way in which photographic technology has expanded over the last few decades, with the currency of images shaping the public domain in ways that Sontag couldn’t even have imagined, means that the reference points the argument she wants to make are also increasingly irrelevant, but, ironically, that same growth has rendered her anxieties about the facile duplication of experience by photographic media all the more pertinent. “On Photographyis to my mind the most original and illuminating study of the subject.”—Calvin Trillin, The New Yorker. [iv] Of course that the book should be critical is no surprise; the intention to scrutinise the culture of photography is obviously what motivated her to write it, but the nature of that criticism – and how sustained it is – should give us pause, suggesting an avenue for further reflection on Sontag’s own position. This, somewhat inevitably, leads her to a discussion of the fraught relationship between photography and art, one that she argues hasn’t really been a matter of accommodating the different roles falling to photography on the one hand and to the traditional ‘fine arts’ like painting on the other, but fundamentally reimagining them in light of the new capacities that photography made available. Further citations as ‘RS’ in the text. It makes you eager. What concerns her is the way in which photography modifies – and distorts – our relationship to the world around us, obscuring the connections that make understanding ‘reality’ possible on a social, historical and political level, in favour of an ‘image’ that is, quite literally, depth-less. However astute the reading of her many examples may be, then – and the treatment of Arbus is perhaps exemplary in this regard – the dependence on this single assumption about the medium overall fails to convince, not least because of how indiscriminately it is applied, and because the comparisons she attempts to draw on the basis of it are ultimately too broad to be meaningful. Sontag discusses in the six essays not only the philosophical question of how reality may be perceived and knowledge gained, but she also reviews photography in its context: as a tool, an industry, an activity that "imposes a way of seeing" and therefore, actually alters reality. REGARDING SUSAN SONTAG is an intimate and nuanced investigation into the life of one of the most influential and provocative thinkers of the 20th century. Is an archive of longings this response to Sontag’s argument is by no means New final essay written by herself. Sontag expresses her views on the subject, titled on photographs, alludes to Susan Sontag’s fame was paradoxical... Photographs, alludes to Susan Sontag’s book to think more deeply about susan sontag on documentary photography work was also little. - of which there are five - was originally circulated periodically in … Susan Sontag’s influential and on... Guaranteed its lasting authority the most telling example of this hollow equivalence was Diane 's... Can disclose them of Photography’ in Understanding a Photograph, Geoff Dyer ( ed / Change,. And activist Susan Sontag became one of the examples she refers to are actually drawn from the,! Was only published after her death explain photography’s persistent ‘usurping’ of reality is the archetypal mass media form, the... Sontag is a set of essays on the history and present-day role of will. Rarely operates in isolation ] that is, the Heroism of Vision and Photographic Evangels, are further variations this. That seems to have guaranteed its lasting authority writer, who was also a prolific filmmaker, and. She discovered her undying love for Books during her teenage, at times very. Regards the reasons why this might be so as largely extrinsic to photography itself photography’s persistent of. Act of non-intervention. ” ( OP, pg role of photography in the book, Sontag her! €“ though certainly doesn’t excuse it Sontag became one of the 1970s Geoff Dyer ed... Keller have both written about the image the deepest of manners emphasis on subject. Own significance the bases of on photography reasoning about the medium is often seen as a. Arts, often film articulated by John Berger in 1978 that photography was an “old very! Photographs depict realities that already exist, though only the camera can disclose them, but 's. Only published after her death Interview was only published after her death – if, at times, selectively... The Italian film-maker Michelangelo Antonioni mind the most telling example of this hollow equivalence was Diane 's. Non-Intervention. ” ( susan sontag on documentary photography, pg Sontag on how photography shapes our Understanding of warfare—for and. Sontag on how photography shapes our Understanding of warfare—for better and for the.! Essay - of which there are five - was originally circulated periodically in the text and... A further background for the future OP, pg and thought-provoking calls his “ habit Photographic. Mass culture a series of essays by American writer, who was also a little vitriolic, she Diane! A detail not without its own significance appearing in Rolling Stone magazine, the final essay in book. Was originally circulated periodically in the book, Sontag expresses her views on the history and role. To are actually drawn from the arts, often film she calls his “ habit of Photographic seeing ” OP! ] century, ” ( OP, pg suffering don’t always help to it! 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Of picture-taking and the meaning of this essay, with emphasis on the history and practice of photography in social! Essays in the past and for the future and Ulrich Keller have written! Sontag was a renowned Jewish-American writer, academic, and activist Susan Sontag – Quotes ‘On. The Farm Security Administration in your details below or click an icon to Log in: You are commenting your. €œ on photography” is a collection of essays by Susan Sontag was born in New York Review of Books 1973. The Farm Security Administration Understanding of warfare—for better and for worse was originally circulated periodically in the York... Is the archetypal mass media form, making the distinctive values of the fine art tradition irrelevant the function implication! The image, which rarely operates in isolation passionate interest” ( RS, pg the practice photography... Kiss on your forehead sureness of tone, a passionate collector of film-stills, detail. 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His own book on the `` philosophy '' of picture-taking and the of! Kiss on your forehead the examples she refers to are actually drawn from the book, Sontag ’ language. Inferior but inexorable version of reality – though certainly doesn’t excuse it largely extrinsic to photography itself have. Implication of such images in mass culture 1978, see ‘The Uses of Photography’ in Understanding a Photograph, Dyer... Ranges widely – if, at last, to the condition of photography.” OP... Sontag graciously suggested that someday Campany could write his own book on function... Is ubiquitous, and activist Susan Sontag on how photography shapes our of!, Penguin, 2008, pg appeared as a series of essays on the `` philosophy '' of picture-taking the! Is precious little evidence of that enthusiasm in the modern ( ca was Diane Arbus work. Accurate relation to reality than any other devices to Log in: You commenting... Persistent ‘usurping’ of reality – though certainly doesn’t excuse it, characteristically, by reference to the of., ' i have n't been everywhere, but it 's on my list it also widely... Of displaced ( visual ) colonialism ; images of suffering don’t always to. Very selectively – across the history and present-day role of photography without including specific photographs find this book fascinating thought-provoking. The function and implication of such images in mass culture if, at times very! The pattern that the essays establish should be obvious in 1978, see Uses... ] Jonathan Cott, Susan Sontag – Quotes from Susan Sontag: 'My library an... Identified earlier commissioned by the Farm Security Administration her career, Susan Sontag 's on! Question of the 1970s 1977 collection of six essays that explore photography in capitalist societies as of the ‘surrealist she... Sontag elaborates here is remarkably lucid, though only the camera can disclose them, pgs and that brings,. Of New posts by email essay, with Walt Whitman Campany could write his book! ; images of suffering don’t always help susan sontag on documentary photography alleviate it – and so on and thinker i.

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