Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Sontag, Photography (Victor)

name: Susan Sontag
title: On Photography
pub date: 1973
length: 208 pgs.

Sontag’s basic premise in this text is to define the meaning of photography; what it is. How it traverses from a non-artistic mimetic medium to a socially impacting/aware artistic form.

Is it an art form? Mechanical, soul-less, a violation, a method of control (government), acquisition, etc.? Yes.

Sontag runs the gamut from Arubs’ work on documenting/abstracting even further the “victims” of society, down to the differences between American and European photographic endeavors. A discussion on how pht is more wholly American in the sense that pht makes the now old, today yesterday, so on and so forth—“a less stable connection with history”.

“…you’ve lost your identity. You’ve fallen through the cracks of our quick-fix, one-hour
photo, instant oatmeal society”. – Lisa Simpson

Photography furnishes instant histories (and memories); a society becomes “modern” when it produces and consumes images; preferring image to the thing, copy to the original, the representation to reality, appearance to being (Feuerbach in the Essence of Christianity). It confirms and consumes reality.

Photography is not only a record of the world, but an evaluation, makes everything beautiful, even the humble, no one ever said, “isn’t that ugly”; yet it struggles between beautification and truth-telling.

Is a transgression not only upon the subject, but upon the spectator as well; robs the spectator from a deeper appreciation/connection of/with the “real” thing. The “real” thing fails in comparison to the feelings evoked by the “realities” of the photo.

Does not create the real, it merely recycles the real.

The camera is the ultimate too/weapon of the tourist. Photography/camera makes everyone a tourist, a voyeur. It is phallic, a predatory weapon, a fantasy machine.

Because a photograph is a fixed point in time, it becomes a message from the past. Giving rise to (photographic) memories, or memories dependent upon photos. Because a photo is a material object, by possessing this material object, the experience captured therein is possessed as well, an imaginary possession.

Photography = captured experience.


On Photography is a “perfect” example of how to understand photography, as well as thinking photographically. It also serves a primer of sorts to visual theory and culture. If you want a good read that won’t leave you going “huh?”, but will leave you going “hmmm”, then this is the text to pick up. Sontag covers each and every single base, with slight hints to her bias, but does so well. Even includes, as a final chapter, quotes on photography.

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