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On Photography

3.84 of 5 stars 3.84  ·  rating details  ·  17,230 ratings  ·  335 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 July 1st 1977)
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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
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.
I approached On Photography expecting a sense of warmth and intellect that Maria Popova paints Susan Sontag with. One essay in, I was slightly disappointed to feel no warmth. So, I read an interview of hers where the interviewer says the "yes and no" attitude is typical of her writing, something that I had experienced as well. She responds by saying that it is not yes and no, rather this but also that. She argues in defence of the premise of seriousness, an idea both close to my heart and valuab ...more
I've never read anything by Susan Sontag, but encountered mentions of her book On Photography numerous times in various contexts. It's hailed as "one of the most highly regarded books of its kind". I like taking photographs myself, and thought I would find it interesting.

Those seeking a well-constructed history of photography, its development and an introduction to various schools and movements of photography - as I did - are likely to be disappointed. On Photography has no central thesis, and i
Luís Blue Yorkie
Throughout history reality has been related through images and philosophers such as Plato have made efforts to diminish our reliance on representations by pointing at a direct ways to grasp the real. Susan Sontag quotes Feuerbach in saying that our age prefers the photograph to the real thing, the appearance before experience. This argument, Sontag says, is widely accepted in modern culture which is constantly engaged with producing and consuming images to such a degree that photography has been ...more
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.
أصبحت الصور جزء من حياتنا, ذكريات مرئية نحتفظ فيها بلحظات وأشخاص وأحداث مرت بنا
على المستوى العام التصوير يكشف الكثير عن المجتمع والسياسة والتاريخ, ينقل لنا العالم ويقرب الأحداث
الصورة جزء من المعرفة, عندما نسمع أو نقرأ عن شيء نتأكد منه أكثر حين نرى الصورة

الكاتبة سوزان سونتاج لا تُدين التصوير الفوتوغرافي أو تقلل من أهميته, لكنها تنقد بعض مساوئه وسلبياته وتكشف عن التغيرات التي أحدثها في العالم وطريقة رؤيتنا للأحداث
العلاقة بين الصورة والواقع, فهل الصور دائما صادقة وتنقل الواقع فعلا, أم أن استخدام
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
On hold. While fascinating, 'every sentence contains a thought' is not as fun as it sounds.
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?
Amina - أمينَة.
هذا ما أحبّه في التصوير الفوتوغرافي ، الجميع متساوون ، القبيح يتحوّل بقدرة قادر إلى فائق الجمال . وهذا ما طرحته سوزان في كتابها .
أنا لستُ بالفوتوغرافر ، لكنّي أستمتع جدا بالتأمل في الصور الفوتوغرافية ، الغريبة الجميلة اللي فيها فكرة ... و إستمتعت أيضا بقراءة الكتاب ، تسرد فيه سونتاغ الصورة الفوتوغرافية ، تأثير الصورة في المجتمع ، و قد ايش ماتغيّر في حيوات ناس ، ناهيك عن تجارب المصورين المختلفين في التصوير الفوتغرافي ، تتحدث عن الصورة من الكاميرا إلى تعليقها على الحائط ، تنهيها بإقتباسات قيلت في
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
Nov 06, 2008 B-MO rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Art Majors...creative 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
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
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
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
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

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
A.M. Catarino
Demorei mais do que seria previsível a ler este livro. Como diz a própria Susan Sontag nestas páginas, o tempo de leitura dum livro depende do leitor, enquanto o dum filme depende do realizador... Para justificar a demora posso apenas alegar que as ideias são bastante interessantes e levam o seu tempo a processar.

Os diversos ensaios ramificam-se em tantas direcções que obrigam a uma meditação aturada sobre o que é a imagem, o fotógrafo, a realidade, o real, a representação do real e o próprio mu
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
Eseurile lui Sontag sunt melancolice și meditative. Depărtându-se la rândul său de obiectivul camerei, de reacția celui fotografiat și de subiectivismul celui care vede produsul finit, lui Susan Sontag nu-i rămâne decât să observe și să noteze, în eseuri relativ scurte, observații care astăzi sunt la fel de valabile ca și la momentul scrierii lor. Și la fel de adânci și, pe alocuri, nedorite, aș putea adăuga.

Citeste continuarea pe
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.
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
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
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
This book is oozing with brillance and provocation, analysis and question-making. Unfortunately, if you aren't already familiar with many of the works (*On Photography* has no photos) or with the state of photography and art theory in the 1970s, you become a bit of a bystander - getting the feeling with you're witnessing something penetrating, but remaining on the surface. Luckily, I have a passing familiarity with many of these photographers - Arbus, Atget, Man Ray, Lange - but not enough to cr ...more
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
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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.” 391 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.” 100 likes
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