Susan Sontag’s – On Photography


Susan Sontag’s ‘On Photography’ is a collection of essays on the power of capturing images. Throughout history photography has been seen as a way of representing reality and time. According to Sontag, photography is a form of acquisition or storing in a number of ways. When you photograph something, it becomes a part of certain system, or classification starting from family photographs up to police, political and scientific usage.

My first thoughts when I started reading the book was that, it may be quite challenging to take in all the information Sontag was firing at her audience. However, as I carried on reading I found that the information presented within the essays was quite interesting. Sontag explains in the opening of the novel that ‘…photography is not just the result of an encounter between an event and a photographer’ but ‘…picture-taking is an event in itself’. The capturing of photographs itself gives the photographer a ‘peremptory’ right to invade and interfere with the event whilst completely ignoring whatever else is going on. At the end of it all, the photographer has captured the event and somewhat given it immortality that didn’t exist if it weren’t for the power of photography. Immediately, Sontag shows how powerful photography is in keeping a piece of history frozen in time. Whether this is family or political history. She does go on later to talk about the importance of a camera in a family stating that ‘a family with children is a twice as likely to own a camera than a couple or an individual’. I found this quite interesting because it held quite a lot of truth within in it. ‘Through photographs, each family constructs a portrait chronicle of itself-a portable kit of images that bears witness to it’s connectedness’.

Throughout the Novel, Sontag emphasises the importance of imagery. How images decay over time, and how their significance and importance is tarnished by over-exposure. This is very true. Sontag says photography ‘…is widely accepted in modern culture which is constantly engaged with producing and consuming images to such a degree…that …has been made essential for the health of the economy and the stability of social structures’.   In this modern western culture, images of malnourished children in third world countries are constantly being bombarded on us. We are overly exposed to these advertisements (moving images and stills) everywhere we go. On the underground in London, on TV at home, this really makes one wonder if the population generally care. If you’re over exposed to something you essentially begin being desensitized toward that and just see it as just another normal thing in the world, when its not. These images exist everywhere as insight to how bad the situation is in these places yet people do no react. It’s very interesting that Sontag is able to create this awareness through the novel. She jumps from point to point but in between it all theres content and understanding within each point she makes.

Although, I found this to be a interesting read, at times it was quite challenging. I learned a lot about the power of photography; the great photographers behind the most powerful images in the world and that photography is a means of capturing reality by freezing it. Because, though you can hold reality, you can hold a photograph. Susan Sontag explains that photography is not a mere copy of reality but rather a recycled copy. We consume photographs at an ever increasing rate, even more so now with the rise of social networking. Photography is digital now, we no longer print pictures and make photo albums but store them on our computers. Photography is no longer physical. We don’t hold reality anymore, we store it, ensuring its immortality in this digital world.



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