A review of a chapter in susan sontags book on photography

The book itself does not include a single picture. What fills the space is a progress of six essays followed by an album of verbal insights into the picture-making mystique by famous men and women, most of them writers. Nowhere does the author take us on a tour of the Rochester mansion of George Eastman, although she does provide an etymology of the ugly word kodac. Each of her paragraphs is itself a photograph, in fact; one placed after another in a long series.

A review of a chapter in susan sontags book on photography

Sontag is concerned with photography's prurient intrusiveness, its surreal dislocation of reality, its irrelevant aestheticism. Actual photographs are of less interest to her, and are mentioned, in stern verbal paraphrase, only to be reproved for their untrustworthiness.

Her earlier book concluded with a call for 'an ecology of images', censuring and perhaps censoring the visual stimuli with which a consumerist society assaults us. She remembers that resonant, impotent demand in Regarding the Pain of Others, and admits that it will never happen.

No 'Committee of Guardians' is going to reform news media that enjoy disaster, gloat over horror and operate on the principle that 'If it bleeds, it leads'. Those media have trained us only too well, and we now instinctively transform an intolerable, unintelligible reality into fiction.

People who watched the planes slice through the World Trade Centre, or witnessed the collapse of the towers, agreed that the scene was 'unreal' and compared it with an action movie; the Pentagon caters to this craving for scenarios that are apocalyptic but ultimately harmless by deciding in advance on blockbusting titles for its wars, such as Operation Desert Storm.

Sontag retells the familiar stories about photographs that sanitise or falsify the conflict they are supposed to be documenting. In the Crimea, Roger Fenton represented war as a 'dignified all-male outing', avoiding all evidence of carnage: Inthe Russian victors hoisting the Red Flag over the Reichstag in Berlin took direction from a Soviet war photographer who dreamt up this iconic moment.

Having been drip-fed fantasies and outright lies, how can we properly respond to the remote, exotic miseries on which photographic journalists report? In our 'culture of spectatorship', have we lost the power to be shocked?

A review of a chapter in susan sontags book on photography

The pain of others titillates us, so long as it is kept at a safe distance. The victims of famine and massacre are always, as Neville Chamberlain dismissively said of the Poles, people we do not know; when genocide recurred during the Bosnian war, we were reminded that the Balkans should not be considered part of Europe.

The young Afghan refugee photographed by Steve McCurry for National Geographic became, a poster girl for atrocity; we could see her pain but not feel it.

Sontag blames the eyes' indiscriminate lust, claiming 'the appetite for pictures showing bodies in pain is as keen, almost, as the desire for ones that show bodies naked'. Her book, unillustrated, caters to neither hunger though she does tantalisingly describe a photograph that obsessed the perverse philosopher Georges Bataille, in which a Chinese criminal, while being chopped up and slowly flayed by executioners, rolls his eyes heavenwards in transcendent bliss.

Words are Sontag's antidote to images. Hence her argument that the war photographs of Robert Capa or David Seymour belong in newspapers, where they are 'surrounded by words', rather than in magazines, which juxtapose them with glossy advertising images: If you ask me, she has too much faith in the veracity of scribbling hacks.

I'm also unconvinced by her contention that images can easily be conscripted as the 'totems of causes', because 'sentiment is more likely to crystallise around a photograph than around a verbal slogan'. Again, her self-denying ordinance prevents her showing any evidence. Before photography, revolutions were instigated by verbal slogans, contagiously chanted by crowds: Sontag gives us nothing to look at, so I cannot see that anything has changed.

At the end of the book, she proposes that 'photographs with the most solemn or heart-rending subject matter' - Matthew Brady's dead soldiers from the Civil War, the walking cadavers at Buchenwald and Dachau photographed by Margaret Bourke-White and Lee Miller, perhaps also Nicholas Nixon's Aids victims - should not be exhibited in galleries or museums, where like 'all wall-hung or floor-supported art' they become incidental to a stroll, displayed as if they were plates on a sushi railway which we can sample or ignore as we please.

The 'weight and seriousness' of images like these is more aptly honoured privately in sober silence, she believes, in a book.

A review of a chapter in susan sontags book on photography

I hope she does not mean the book - or booklet - she has written. Regarding the Pain of Others is serious enough, but hardly weighty. It is short, and by rights should be a good deal shorter: Perhaps I am not being entirely just to a writer I usually admire.

The book, I should admit, does contain a single photograph. The photographer is her close friend, Annie Leibovitz, who specialises in the glamorous consecration of celebs for the covers of Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair.

In her starchy text, Sontag says that 'beautifying is one classic operation of the camera', and regrets the vanity of people who are 'always disappointed by a photograph that is not flattering'.

By including Leibovitz's portrait, she has exempted herself from her own rule. Do her 30, words really balance or outweigh the missing images? It all depends on how you regard the vanity of others, or how much pain you want to cause by telling the truth.May 09,  · Photography, according to Sontag, is a form of acquisition in a number of ways.

When you photograph something, it becomes a part of certain knowledge system, adapted to schemas of classification and storage starting from family photographs up to police, political and scientific usage.

Photography, in other words, is a form of timberdesignmag.com: אני. Feb 02,  · Susan Sontag' book, On Photography, is a unique book examining society's relationship to photographs. In my analysis of the first chapter, "In Plato's Cave", I elaborate on what Sontag is trying to say and argue against some of her statements.

It all comes down to a Reviews: 1. Reviewing Susan Sontag's book is analogous to printing in the darkroom. The forming image is sharp, trenchant - a good picture; but it isn't exactly the photo you had in your head.

Photography's inferior but inexorable version of reality is the bases of On Photography. "On Photography" is the most brilliant book on photography I have ever read, or ever will read.

On Photography - Wikipedia

Questioning the nature of photography--its purpose, meaning, future--Sontag forces us to consider revolutionary ideas about the simple act of "snapping" up the world/5. Susan Sontag's monograph On Photography is composed of six named chapters, or essays, which form a weakly related progression from conceptualization through history and implementation, to the then-current understanding of photography as a process and an art form.

Regarding the Pain of Others by Susan Sontag Hamish Hamilton £, pp This is Susan Sontag's second book on photography and, like the first, published in , it contains no photographs.

Observer review: Regarding the Pain of Others by Susan Sontag | From the Observer | The Guardian