Susan Sontag – On Photography

On Photography

Susan Sontag (1933 – 2004)

  • Commented 9/11 attacks and was heavily judged by public. Although there might be people who could agree with it still not brave enough to put it on a paper.
  • Se was brave to express herself; she was gripped by the problems, principally aesthetic, of interpreting images. The further she explore, the stronger become her doubt.

Book published in 1977.

It received the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism.

Her essays explored the value

We have come much more of a visual society and the way she wrote the book in 1977 is different to what we are now. She still talks about stuff that was patronized over and over again.

Her quotes have been used over and over again.

“Photographs furnish evidence. Something we hear about, but doubt, seems proven when we’re shown a photograph of it…. The camera record incriminates…. Photographs become a useful tool of modern states in the surveillance and control of their increasingly mobilde populations. In another version of its utility, the camera record justifies. A photograph passes for incontrovertible proof that a given thing happened. The picture may distort, but there is always a presumption that something exists, or did exist, which is like what’s in the picture”. (Sontag, 1977, p4)

– is photograph absolute truth

Sontag did predicted that photography will change a lot for people and social media.


Diane Arbus, “Sideshow Freaks” –

Diane Arbus killed herself, aged 48, on 26 July 1971. On the 40th anniversary of her death, it’s worth reconsidering her artistic legacy. Her work remains problematic for many viewers because she transgressed the traditional boundaries of portraiture, making pictures of circus and sideshow “freaks”, many of whom she formed lasting friendships with.

If Arbus undoubtedly felt at home among the outsiders she photographed, she also experienced a frisson of guilty pleasure when photographing them. “There’s some thrill in going to a sideshow,” she once confessed of her nocturnal visits to the circus tents of Coney Island, where performers were still earning a living in the 1960s. “I felt a mixture of shame and awe.”

Her works make us question not just her motives for looking at what the critic Susan Sontag – with typical hauteur – called “people who are pathetic, pitiable, as well as repulsive”, but also our own. In perhaps the most angry essay in her book On Photography, Sontag insists that Arbus’s gaze is “based on distance, on privilege, on a feeling that what the viewer is asked to look at is really other”.

“I always thought of photography as a naughty thing to do – that was one of my favotire things about it,” Diane Arbus wrote, “and when I first did it I felt very perverse.”  (Platos Cave, p12)

Is it fine for use to observe such information, does person who holds a camera has a little bit of license to observe what other people don’t? And where are the limits? Should images like “Sideshow freaks” sould be hidden from society?

She is talking about the importance of what we do, and the value of the things. And that we should step back and appreciate things. (Susan Sontag with her book made people question times like these.)

Susan Sontag – On Photography (lecture/discussion notes)

Favorite quotes:

“Being educated by photographs is not like being educated by older, more artisanal images.”

“To collect the photographs is to collect the world.” (I felt that this quote links to p4) – “Newspapers and magazines feature them, cops alphabetize them, museums exhibit them, publishers compile them.”

– By these quotes she represents the importance of visual representation and photographs themselves. The way we use them daily to promote, introduce, inform people and archive them so we could link back to the history.

“What is written about a person or an event is frankly an interpretation, as are handmade visual statement, like paintings and drawings. Photographed images do not seem to be statements about the world so much as pieces of it, miniatures of reality that anyone make or acquire.”

– Although she talks about the truth behind the images, Eddie Adams, war photographer, said to the Time magazine: “The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapons in the world. People believe them, but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truth.” (Photo Box p84)

“Photography is not practiced by most people as an art. It is mainly a social rite, a defense against anxiety, and a tool of power.”

(something for “Family Album.”) – “According to a sociological study done in France, most households have a camera, but a household with children is twice likely to have at least one camera as a household in which there are no children.” And “A family’s photograph album is generally about the extended family – and, often, is all that remains of it.”

“It seems positively unnatural to travel for pleasure without taking a camera along.” – from my experience, I have my camera with me 24/7, and when I am with my family I am dragging it along everywhere. Mainly because I am expected to and secondly because I want to capture moments where we are most happy, relaxed and maybe not so happy, it is like a treasure of happiness we are capable looking back at. It isn’t unnatural to travel with out a camera, it is natural to have it with me!!!

“Using a camera appeases the anxiety” and “having a camera has transformed one person into something active, a voyeur: only he has mastered the situation.”– Communication with others might seem easier when you’re hiding behind a frame and your capable of directing them, as you’re the one in charge. Some people use the camera as a mask to avoid any unnecessary communication.

“Picture-taking is an event in itself.”

“After the event is ended, the picture will still exist.” – Documentary photography, a sign that something has happened, the moment has passed, but we have that record of it.

“To take a picture is to have an interest in things as they are,”

“there is something predatory in the act of taking a picture. To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them the can never have; it turns people into objects that can by symbolically possessed.” – reviewing people from a side and taking image of them is like taking a part of their soul.

“When we are afraid, we shoot.” – photography is center of experience.

“It is a nostalgic time right now, and photographs actively promote nostalgia.”