On Photography
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On Photography

3.87 of 5 stars 3.87  ·  rating details  ·  12,355 ratings  ·  276 reviews
First published in 1973, this is a study of the force of photographic images which are continually inserted between experience and reality. Sontag develops further the concept of 'transparency'. When anything can be photographed and photography has destroyed the boundaries and definitions of art, a viewer can approach a photograph freely with no expectations of discovering...more
Paperback, New Edition, 224 pages
Published September 27th 1979 by Penguin (first published 1973)
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Ansel Adams by Ansel AdamsIn Focus by Leah Bendavid-ValChina by Tom  CarterAnnie Leibovitz at Work by Annie LeibovitzBrassai by Brassaï
Exceptional Photography Books*
28th out of 336 books — 93 voters
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas AdamsWatership Down by Richard AdamsThe Stand by Stephen KingInterview with the Vampire by Anne RiceThe Shining by Stephen King
Best Books of the Decade: 1970's
425th out of 810 books — 732 voters


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Amari
I found this book utterly maddening. I'm giving it four stars not for the content itself, but for the quality of thinking I did while reading.

I'm rather surprised not to have found any comments in other reviews regarding Sontag's horrific tactlessness in her discussions of "freaks" (in the context of Diane Arbus' work). Less shocking but also disappointing: her wholesale dismissal of the Surrealists, or as she calls them two or three times, the Surrealist "militants", which they decidedly were...more
Trevor
This was terribly interesting, but I think you needed to know a little more than Sontag explained to understand where she is coming from in all this. The important thing to remember is that Plato wanted to banish the artists and he wanted to do this for a very good reason. To Plato the world we live in isn’t really the real world – the real world is a world we cannot have access to, the real world is where things never die, things remain the same and don’t change. Change and death, to Plato, are...more
Mackenzie M-B
Step one: buy this book.
Step two: find a writing utensil
Step three: go on the subway/metro/pvta and go!

you will want to underline just about every sentence because it is life changing. You will want to hug your camera and then throw it into a fire. You will never approach the world the same again.
Get ready.
Just do it.

And then go read Regarding the Pain of Others, because it will be like playing Candyland.
Robertisenberg
Q: Why is this book called "On Photography"? Given that not one word of this book says sustains a single positive sentiment about cameras and their usage, why wouldn't it be called "Against Photography," or maybe "Photography is the Downfall of Human Kind."

This is not at all the book I thought it was. Given its most quoted statement, "To collect photographs is to collect the world," I expected a somewhat romantic vision of the photographic craft. Little did I know that Sontag credits photography...more
Diana
Feb 16, 2014 Diana rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: interest in photography or society
This is a classic book of essays about how photography reveals so much about society, politics, history, and our attitudes towards preserving the image and the potential "truth" inherent in a photograph.

I don't read much nonfiction, and this was originally for a class, but there isn't a single person I wouldn't recommend this to.
Hadrian
A dense and theoretical book on a subject I know very little about. She refers to a vast collection of exhibits, and all I knew before is 'point a camera at a thing and press a button'.

Sontag is very forceful and eloquent in her opinions. I can see her turning Plato's idea of forms and representation right on its head, but the question of 'stealing' life or emotion by photography is a more puzzling one. Would it be possible to 'steal' others experiences and suffering in writing?
Katie
On hold. While fascinating, 'every sentence contains a thought' is not as fun as it sounds.
Eladio
The most inspired vision about a media that changed the world.
I miss a Sontag to analize Internet, Facebook, Twitter...
Jamie
The first 2-3 essays of the book are just astonishing. I've been perusing Sontag's journals for the past year or so, and her intellectual range leads you perilously near to pure jealousy, but then you concede her anomalous mind and simply admire it instead. This seemingly limitless curiosity and brute capacity for knowledge is best exhibited in those first 2-3 essays (particularly the first two, which is why I keep saying "2-3"), and also remains less cloyingly didactic there. For example, her c...more
Jeremy Allan
Like many people before me, I felt a certain dread the next time I tried to pick up my camera after reading this book. Susan Sontag's incredible, penetrating critique of photography doesn't just cast into doubt the value of the activity of taking a photograph, but it posits some of the irrevocable changes that the advent of this technology has had on our world and how we experience it. Anyone who reads this having previously nurtured an interest in photography at any level should experience a de...more
Jana
Jan 17, 2008 Jana rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: theory
I first read the article from which this book was born when I was doing my MFA (2000), picked up the book at a used book store several months ago and have been reading chapters in the midst of other reads, projects, etc.

Sontag's ideas are so culturally important and have been so assimilated into what we "already know" that it may be difficult at first glance to see how remarkable her contributions were back in the day (1977?) when she first began to articulate them... or how relevant they conti...more
Sketchbook
Out of focus.
B-MO
Nov 06, 2008 B-MO rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Art Majors...creative photographers...media/communication people
I picked this book up at a library booksale about 6 months ago, the first thing that popped out to me when I opened it up was a couple of Kodak Photo's from 1976....about 6 years before I was even born, and a bus schedule card for the same year....for Atlanta/Macon Georgia.....

What interesting history the book must have....I can tell by the quotes that were already underlined the previous owner would have been interesting(underlined any reference to Kerouac etc)....

I wish there was a name on the...more
Ally Armistead
"On Photography" is the most brilliant book on photography I have ever read, or ever will read. 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.

Of her string of brilliant observations, my favorites include the notion that taking someone's picture is akin to participating in their mortality, the idea that as soon as a photograph is taken, we've witnessed a second of their life ex...more
Katty
I felt drawn to Sontag’s writing after reading excerpts of her essays from one of her other works for a class. Her writing is filled to the brim with critical thought, keen observations, and passion. It’s difficult reading (as mentioned by other reviewers, everything seems to contain a new point, and I wanted to take my highlighter to every other sentence), yet it still remains engaging and is rarely dry. As I read Sontag’s essays, I feel like I can imagine her fiercely arguing for the many idea...more
Jason
Frank

Every paragraph sounds like the end of a chapter, a summation filled with nuance and aphorism, but it's too much. It's a superhighway jammed with loaded information. It's good stuff, except i wish it had been more concise or I had had the photographs she was mentioning to cut up the incessant babel of her reflection. Her introspection needs more concrete.

Sontag attempts to isolate the photograph as an art form, to insist that photography is the inventory of morality. But because of the objective...more
Gabriel
Sontag occasionally confuses (intentionally, to be sure) still photography, which is at the core of her argument, with film and video, even while she acknowledges that the two are completely separate and distinct, with distinct effects on the public conscious.

And even more insidiously, Sontag manages to get in a few digs at "Realist" writers through her comments on photography. I found myself nodding and smiling, even while cognizant that I was distorting her argument (an argument meant to be d...more
Jimmy
Jul 01, 2012 Jimmy marked it as to-read-nonfic
"In the battered Penguin paperback edition that I’ve been reading there were no examples of the many photographs which Sontag referred to in the text, photographs that are freely available, though scattered, around the internet. So for my own benefit and hopefully that of others, I’ve put together links to as many of the images (and photographers) as I could find online with the corresponding page references and quotes from her work (copyright restrictions prevent me from posting them directly h
...more
Florence
Mar 07, 2012 Florence rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Florence by: Miquixote
Shelves: photography
This book is a great analysis of how photography has changed and how we relate to those changes. Are images just a reproduction of reality, something to keep things alive that have gone before, or are they really an art form?
Some of her keen observations on photography are:
"Photography does not simply reproduce the real, it recycles it."

"To photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed. It means putting yourself into a certain relationship to the world that feels like knowledge and theref...more
Fahad
حول الفوتوغراف

كنت قد قرأت كتاب سوزان سونتاغ (الالتفات إلى ألم الآخرين)، والذي تناول الصور الملتقطة والتي تمثل آلام الآخرين، في الحروب خاصة، جمال ذلكم الكتاب جعلني أعود لقراءة كتابها الأقدم (حول الفوتوغراف) والذي تناول التصوير بشكل عام، محاولاً تحليل تحولاته ومدى تأثيريته على الإنسانية، من خلال مصورين مختلفين كانت لهم مشاريع تصويرية متعددة.

الكتاب جميل ولكنه يحتاج إلى نفس قرائي عالٍ
Lisa Jones
Susan Sontag, is just brillant. Any photographer should read this book if they ever think they need a boost. She has so many ideas and thoughts in her essays that I will probably be reading this book several times throughout my life. I am sure that I will learn something more from it every single time I read it. A must-read for any type of photographer. It will help make your pictures better when the principles are practiced.
Andrea Paterson
This was a brilliant book in many ways. I didn't enjoy it as much as I might have because I really didn't agree with Sontag on a number of points. She compares photography a number of times to rape and cultural appropriation. I think such comparisons are overblown and I had a hard time with the argument because of it. She is also vehement in her criticisms of the activity of photographing and never points out an instance where creating photographic images is a worth while pursuit. I found her at...more
Jacobmartin
I’ve always thought that essays and non-fiction are strange narrative forms because they never have spoiler tags like novels, movies and comic books/manga are supposed to have. Even video games have spoiler tags. However academic and intellectual work never has spoiler tags.

Susan Sontag (SPOILER: she doesn’t have all the answers and doesn’t pretend she has them all) has written with On Photography what is likely to be the most riveting read of art criticism I have read this year. It’s the beginn...more
Ara Lucia Ashburne
As Jana states in the review (two before mine) this book was written so long ago much of Sontag's thinking is already a part of what is thought today about photography. But reading it now, all I could think throughout is what would Sontag have thought about photography issues today such as social sharing of photography through facebook, flickr, tumblr, instagram and others and how that has changed content or not. As well as what would be her thoughts about iphoneography which is close to gaining...more
Walter Underwood
This is the worst book I've read about photography. It isn't even about photography, it is about Susan Sontag consistently misunderstanding photographs. It isn't intellectual, either. It is her emotional responses to the shallowest possible reading of photographs.

The defining moment is in the appendix of quotations, the only good part of the book. The first quote is from the notebooks of William Henry Fox Talbot, one of the earliest photographers. He wrote, "Make picture of kaleidoscope." This...more
Sian Lile-Pastore
Sontag writes 'Recently, photography has become almost as widely practiced an amusement as sex and dancing'.... huh.

This took me quite a while to read - I kept it in my bag and just read little bits every now and then. This book has so much in it, that it felt good to read it so slowly, and also, now that I have finished it, I know that I'd like to read it again sometime and buy myself a copy too (I was reading a library copy).

Even though photography has changed quite a bit - what with digital '...more
Aya
This book was a must read at the art academy for the department of photography. After reading it i can understand why, it was insightful. For anyone that is interested in, or works in the field of photography i would certainly recommend it. The content is slightly dated. Bare in mind that when it was written Sontag was probably on of the first to write down these remarks and ideas. By now almost everyone has opinions and ideas about the subject matters. I for example did not agree with all her i...more
Mykola
Дочитав, і ось уже справді можу пошкодувати, що не маю свого примірника, бо якщо читати, то вже й перечитувати: попри прозорий стиль, щільність викладу дуже висока. І назва у збірки така, щоби можна було відповісти на питання, про що вона — та ж про фотографію.
Цікаво було дізнатися десь у процесі, що книжка ця цікавить не лише гуманітаріїв-теоретиків, але й фотографів-практиків, хоч від практичної сторони там нічого нема. Може, саме тому до есеїв Зонтаг можна апелювати й тепер, коли фотографії с...more
Andrew
Susan Sontag is one of the few nonfiction writers-- a list to which I'll add Walter Benjamin and Roland Barthes-- who can simultaneously be intellectually provocative as all hell while still crafting gorgeous prose.

In this volume, she doesn't merely look at photography and describe the experience. Well, she does do that. And then she takes that description and tears it apart and rearranges it into a totally new vision. And she does it all without flashiness or melodrama. Her ideas about the natu...more
Ayn
Every sentence is reading fireworks. I have responded to and then tried photographs inspired by those passages. I'm going to apply my own homework, and make photographs inspired by the book.


What is worth looking at? And what do we have a right to observe?


As I research various styles and trends in photography both in the art world and the applied commercial world, I am often bored or disenchanted by the images I see. Current trends don't excite me, and for the most part I'm left questioning the r...more
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Jewish American literary theorist, novelist, filmmaker, and feminist activist.
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“To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them that they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed. Just as a camera is a sublimation of the gun, to photograph someone is a subliminal murder - a soft murder, appropriate to a sad, frightened time.” 325 likes
“Photographs are a way of imprisoning reality...One can't possess reality, one can possess images--one can't possess the present but one can possess the past.” 84 likes
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