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On Photography

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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 what it means. This collection of six lucid and invigorating essays, the most famous being "In Plato's Cave", make up a deep exploration of how the image has affected society.

224 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1973

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About the author

Susan Sontag

201 books3,662 followers
Susan Sontag was born in New York City on January 16, 1933, grew up in Tucson, Arizona, and attended high school in Los Angeles. She received her B.A. from the College of the University of Chicago and did graduate work in philosophy, literature, and theology at Harvard University and Saint Anne’s College, Oxford.

Her books include four novels, The Benefactor, Death Kit, The Volcano Lover, and In America; a collection of short stories, I, etcetera; several plays, including Alice in Bed and Lady from the Sea; and nine works of nonfiction, starting with Against Interpretation and including On Photography, Illness as Metaphor, Where the Stress Falls, Regarding the Pain of Others, and At the Same Time. In 1982, Farrar, Straus & Giroux published A Susan Sontag Reader.

Ms. Sontag wrote and directed four feature-length films: Duet for Cannibals (1969) and Brother Carl (1971), both in Sweden; Promised Lands (1974), made in Israel during the war of October 1973; and Unguided Tour (1983), from her short story of the same name, made in Italy. Her play Alice in Bed has had productions in the United States, Mexico, Germany, and Holland. Another play, Lady from the Sea, has been produced in Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany, and Korea.

Ms. Sontag also directed plays in the United States and Europe, including a staging of Beckett's Waiting for Godot in the summer of 1993 in besieged Sarajevo, where she spent much of the time between early 1993 and 1996 and was made an honorary citizen of the city.

A human rights activist for more than two decades, Ms. Sontag served from 1987 to 1989 as president of the American Center of PEN, the international writers’ organization dedicated to freedom of expression and the advancement of literature, from which platform she led a number of campaigns on behalf of persecuted and imprisoned writers.

Her stories and essays appeared in newspapers, magazines, and literary publications all over the world, including The New York Times, The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, Art in America, Antaeus, Parnassus, The Threepenny Review, The Nation, and Granta. Her books have been translated into thirty-two languages.

Among Ms. Sontag's many honors are the 2003 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, the 2003 Prince of Asturias Prize, the 2001 Jerusalem Prize, the National Book Award for In America (2000), and the National Book Critics Circle Award for On Photography (1978). In 1992 she received the Malaparte Prize in Italy, and in 1999 she was named a Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government (she had been named an Officier in the same order in 1984). Between 1990 and 1995 she was a MacArthur Fellow.

Ms. Sontag died in New York City on December 28, 2004.

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Profile Image for Trevor.
1,283 reviews21.5k followers
September 29, 2014
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 proof that the world we live in isn’t the real world. So, Plato saw the world we live in as a world of shadows, that is, one step away from reality. Art was therefore two steps away from reality and was therefore a copy of a copy. For Plato what we needed to do was get closer to reality, not further away from it. Therefore, he needed to banish artists from his ideal society as they move us away from reality towards images - that is more shadows.

So, for as long as we have had idealist philosophy we have had a problem between images, reality and how we can go about understanding the differences between the one and the other. This might sound like quite a trivial problem, but it is actually incredibly important. As Margaret Wertheim shows in her The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace: A History of Space from Dante to the Internet, how we have understood space has fundamentally changed how we have understood reality. Prior to the Renaissance space in artworks was depicted not to represent an ‘accurate’ picture of what people saw – but rather to show relative importance. So, God is huge and the angels are somewhat smaller and the king is smaller still, and the rest of us are tiny. The Renaissance developed perspective painting and with it helped to create the revolution in science that required a revolution in how we saw space, not as a frame for morality to be played out within, but as a plane for the unraveling of amoral and disinterested forces. As Sontag says in this work, “But the notions of image and reality are complementary. When the notion of reality changes, so does that of the image, and vice versa. “ Page 125

In many ways Sontag wants to turn Plato on his head. Plato would have had serious problems with photography. His main problem would have been the seeming accuracy of photographs. As Sontag says, “Photographs furnish evidence. Something we hear about, but doubt, seems proven when we’re shown a photograph of it.” Page 3 Or perhaps more importantly, “Photography is the reality; the real object is often experienced as a letdown. Photographs make normative an experience of art that is mediated, second-hand, intense in a different way.” Page 115

She plays with this idea of photographs being more real than reality throughout the book. Hard to put this point more pointedly than when she says, “Ultimately, having an experience becomes identical with taking a photograph of it, and participating in public event comes more and more to be equivalent to looking at it in photographed form.” Page 18 And breathtakingly, "It is common for people to insist about their experience of a violent event in which they were caught up—a plane crash, a shoot-out, a terrorist bombing—that 'it seemed like a movie.'” Page 126

Photography gets to be ‘evidence’ because, “In the fairy tale of photography the magic box insures varacity and banishes error, compensates for inexperience and rewards innocence.” Page 41 The problem is that not only can photographs lie – something we still struggle to believe – but they lie on every level. They lie because they are a selective choice of what reality we intent to show. They lie because most photographs are anything but what people think they are – an accurate representation of what is photographed. This point needs a bit of explaining. Think about what happens to you when someone holds a camera up towards you. It is nearly impossible not to pose. But that means that what you get a photograph of isn’t really ‘you’, but instead an image of you posing in front of a camera. As she points out, “That photographs are often praised for their candour, their honesty, indicates that most photographs, of course, are not candid.” Page 66

We like to think that photographs explain the world to us and help us to understand it, but again she is savage in debunking this idea. “Photography implies that we know about the world if we accept it as the camera records it. But this is the opposite of understanding, which starts from not accepting the world as it looks.” Page 17 To really understand the world involves seeing the world as a process, in action, in time. But a camera – a still camera at least – cannot capture the process of life. The problem is that to understand a thing means, “understanding … how it functions. And functioning takes place in time, and must be explained in time. Only that which narrates can make us understand.” Page 18 However, the veracity of images gives them an authenticity that confuses and bewilders us. And this is where the caption comes in. We look at the image and we see time frozen. We see a captured instant in what, to be understood, needs to be a continuum. The ‘context’ to understand this instant is added often by words, by language, by a caption. The relationship is a difficult one, but one that needs to be acknowledged: “’This photograph, like any photograph,’ Godard and Gorin point out, ‘is physically mute. It talks through the mouth of the text written beneath it.’ In fact, words do speak louder than pictures. Captions do tend to override the evidence of our eyes; but no caption can permanently restrict or secure a picture’s meaning.” Page 84

And this brings us to what I think is the main point – and back to Plato again. For Plato ‘the truth’ is what we need to spend a lifetime seeking, even if we are sure of only one thing – that we will never find that truth. The Greek word for truth is Aletheia. It means to uncover, unconceal. While Plato is seeking to get us to turn away from reality to see the reality beyond the apparent, photography also gets us to turn away from the real world, but as a way to get us to see the real world that is hidden in plane sight. Sontag again, “All that photography’s program of realism actually implies is the belief that reality is hidden. And, being hidden, is something to be unveiled.” Page 94

A lot of this book concerns the relationship between painting and photography. Painting is clearly an art form – and not just for the snobbish reason that it has a history going back as far as people go back, but also because to paint is to interpret. To paint is to put something of yourself into a painting. But it is very hard for a photographer to be truly original in the way painters can be. And this makes sense of something she points out about paintings and photographs, “It makes sense that a painting is signed but a photograph is not (or seems bad taste if it is). “ Page 104 But also that, “there is no internal evidence for identifying as the work of a single photographer…” Page 105

Painting is also a high-art form. She makes the point that art is hard work, “Classical modernist painting presupposes highly developed skills of looking, and a familiarity with other art and with certain notions about art history. “ Page 102 But photography presents itself as realism – realism in the sense that all you need are a pair of eyes to understand what is being shown to you. Of course, this is anything but the case, but we will get to that in a second.

Photography isn’t so much interested in the beautiful, she says at one point, “In photography’s early decades, photographs were expected to be idealised images. This is still the aim of most amateur photographers, for whom a beautiful photograph is a photograph of something beautiful, like a woman, a sunset.” Page 22 Rather photography makes the mundane and even the ugly ‘beautiful’ – beautiful in the sense that the very act of photographing it gives it an interest and fascination. Worse than this, not only have photographs turned everything into the potentially beautiful, but by presenting so many objects before us as objects of erotic or voyeuristic pleasure (I mean this in the broadest possible sense) photography is guilty of dulling our senses to the truly horrible. “Much of modern art is devoted to lowering the threshold of what is terrible.” Page 32

But even this is only partly true. Sometimes the opposite is also the case. At one point she describes going to see an operation performed in a Chinese hospital – she observed this and although it sounds gruesome in all the ways we expect operations to be, she was able to watch the whole thing with more fascination than revulsion. But, amusingly enough, she wasn’t able watch a film made of nearly exactly the same thing. She explains this by saying, “One is vulnerable to disturbing events in the form of photographic images in a way that one is not to the real thing. That vulnerability is part of the distinctive passivity of someone who is a spectator twice over, spectator of events already shaped, first by the participants and second by the image maker.” Page 132

The ideological role photography plays in a particular society depends on the nature of the guiding ideology of that society. She makes wonderful use of a few stories from China about what makes a good photograph. She discusses a series of photographs taken by a Western photographer that the Chinese protested against. These showed rather candid photographs of the Chinese going about their daily lives. The Chinese critic found that idea repulsive about the photographs. The people photographed had been violated because they had not been given the opportunity to present themselves to the camera. Also, the images focused on parts of objects and of people. This too was seen by the Chinese as disrespectful. The images the
Chinese government approved of were more likely to be of the ‘Unknown Citizen Lei Feng – someone too good to be true and therefore worthy of emulation. As Sontag says, “In China, what makes an image true is that it is good for people to see it.” Page 137 That is, not the images literal truth – which everyone probably knows is almost certainly staged - but rather the truth as it ‘ought’ to be. Yet again, another hidden truth.

But if she is savage about Communist propaganda photography, she is hardly soft on Capitalist propaganda photography either. “A capitalist society requires a culture based on images. It needs to furnish vast amounts of entertainment in order to stimulate buying and anesthetize the injuries of class, race, and sex. And it needs to gather unlimited amounts of information, the better to exploit natural resources, increase productivity, keep order, make war, give jobs to bureaucrats. The camera’s twin capacities, to subjectivize reality and to objectify it, ideally serve these needs and strengthen them. Cameras define reality in the two ways essential to the workings of an advanced industrial society: as a spectacle (for masses) and as an object of surveillance (for rulers). The production of images also furnishes a ruling ideology. Social change is replaced by a change in images. The freedom to consume a plurality of images and goods is equated with freedom itself. The narrowing of free political choice to free economic consumptions requires the unlimited production and consumption of images.” Page 140

I am going to end with something – as someone who was born in Belfast – I found utterly fascinating. It is a quote she has at the end of the book – the last chapter is actually just a series of interesting quotes from famous people and ads about the nature of photography. The best of these is a quote from Kafka. But this quote from the New York Times literally stopped me: “The people of Belfast are buying picture postcards of their city’s torment by the hundreds. The most popular shows a boy throwing a stone at a British armored car.” Page 156 (from New York Times 29 Oct 1974)

I said before that Sontag doesn’t believe we can use photographs to understand – that photographs show the apparent, and to understand means to go beyond the appearance. But I think this quote on Belfast shows that photographs can help us to reach some kind of understanding. The people of Belfast in 1974 (with nearly 30 years of the Troubles ahead of them) were confronted by something that must have seemed completely alien to them – civil war in the streets of their home town. That is, they would have been confronted daily with the bizarre, surreal, unreality of what was a new reality forever ready to assert its own all-too-real-ness. How does one come to terms with this new ‘reality’? Photographs helped them to make sense of such a surreal world.

“Neil Shawcross, a Belfast man, bought two complete sets of the cards, explaining, ‘I think they’re interesting mementoes of the times and I want my children to have them when they grow up.’” Little did he know his children would have far more mementoes of those times in their own growing up.

This is a fascinating book and rightly a classic on photography.
Profile Image for Amari.
348 reviews67 followers
December 4, 2013
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 not.

Overall, I found the writing -- while at times illuminating -- overwhelmingly and groundlessly judgmental. Sontag's logic is often very, very dubious; she is as dangerous as Camus (I'm thinking of Le mythe de Sisyphe) when it comes to the seductiveness of fine, well-articulated prose which uses its own music to trick the reader into believing the message. Beware.
Profile Image for Sawsan.
1,001 reviews1,291 followers
March 8, 2021
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
تعرض العلاقة بين الصورة والواقع, هل الصور دائما صادقة وتنقل الواقع فع��ا؟
أم أن استخدام الصور في وسائل الإعلام يخدم أهداف ومصالح معينة سياسية أو ثقافية أو دينية ... وغيرها
عرضت مراحل التصوير الفوتوغرافي ومناهجه المختلفة وكتبت عن تجربة الفوتوغراف في أمريكا
وأيضا ذكرت العديد من المصورين وأسلوبهم في التصوير وأمثلة له
فالبعض يبحث عن الجمال أو حتى عن القبح والغرابة وآلام الآخرين
المهم البحث عن المختلف والمؤثر
استمتعت بقراءة أفكار سوزان مونتاج وتحليلها للموضوع وعرضها لآراء المفكرين والكُتاب والمصورين
ورغم ان الكتاب نُشر في سنة 1977, إلا أنه لا يزال مناسب لعصرنا الحالي
لكن ما ينقص الكتاب - الذي يتكلم عن التصوير الفوتوغرافي - هو الصور لتوضيح الكثير من الأمثلة المطروحة
Profile Image for Steven Godin.
2,323 reviews2,198 followers
March 20, 2019
In Plato’s Cave - 5/5
America, Seen Through
Photographs, Darkly - 4/5
Melancholy Objects - 5/5
The Heroism of Vision - 4/5
Photographic Evangels - 5/5
The Image-World - 5/5

The above six essays simply make up of the most highly regarded and thoroughly interesting books of its kind. I'm a big fan of Roland Barthes's 'Camera Lucida' (although about photography it's more a personal book dealing with the loss of his mother) and this was equally as good if not better.
Sontag raises important and exciting questions about photography and raises them in the most readable and thought-provoking way. I always have fears when approaching essays, like will they turn into a bore-feast or feel like a homework assignment, but no, there was never a dull moment, Sontag didn't make me feel like nodding off.

Photography, unlike painting, does not only address and represent its object and does not only resemble it; it is also a part of the object, its direct extension. 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 supervision.

Throughout time reality has been related through countless images, and philosophers such as Plato have made efforts to diminish our reliance on representations by pointing at a direct way to grasp the real. Sontag quotes Feuerbach in saying that our age prefers the photograph to the real thing, the appearance before the experience. This argument, she points out, is widely accepted in modern culture which is constantly engaged with producing and consuming images to such a degree that photography has been made essential for the health of the economy and the stability of social structures. Photography, holds an almost unlimited authority in modern society. Such photographic images are capable of replacing reality by virtue of being not only a mirror or interpretation of in, but also a relic of reality, something that is taken straight from it. We seem to consume photographs at an ever increasing rate and they are therefore consumed and simply need to be replaced. Meaning, the more we take photographs the more we need to take photographs, and this accounts for what is known today as the pictorial turn.

I could rabble on for ages on this book, but will just say it's simply a brilliant and groundbreaking analysis of the profound changes photographic images have made in our way of looking at the world and at ourselves. I doubt I will read a better piece of writing on the subject.
Profile Image for Luís.
1,828 reviews480 followers
January 30, 2022
I was fond of photography (no disappearance on that side!) It was the first book dealing with photography, which is not technical, that I read. I remember something profound complex, which helped me better penetrate this image's world even if the subject was not treated only under its artistic side. Good memories.
Profile Image for Maciek.
558 reviews3,271 followers
July 23, 2022
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 is a collection of essays "about the meaning and career of photographs" as described by Sontag herself. This isn't a book on photography - it's a book on Susan Sontag.

Although she writes about a wealth of photographers, Sontag doesn't explore any of them in depth - she moves from one to another very quickly, and often they are reduced to backgrounds for her own thoughts and opinions on photographs, which often include comparisons and references to other media. This can make for some very dense reading - I thought that the book suffered painfully from a lack of a central thesis.

My biggest gripe with the book is that while by nature it has to be a polemic - it contains no bibliography or citations - Sontag constantly makes sweeping generalizations about both photography and photographers without offering any explanation. She presents her opinions as if they were facts, entirely without nuance, leaving no room for disagreement. To give her credit she has a multitude of opinions, and to praise or dismiss them all completely out of hand would be unfair, but many of her claims are very dubious: such as stating that tourists who enjoy taking snapshots of what they see do it because they know no other response, and for some it's the only way to appease their anxiety about not working (citation needed, unless we're going to stereotype whole nations).

There are other claims that Sontag makes, which do real harm to all the otherwise good ideas she might have presented as they howl at us straight from loon territory. Although Sontag writes that the camera doesn't rape, or even possess, there is nonetheless an aggression implicit in every use of the camera, as it may presume, intrude, trespass, distort, exploit, and, at the farthest reach of metaphor, assassinate - all from a distance. And are you thinking dirty thoughts when you see a long-focus lens? Apparently you're not alone, and you're not even aware that you're doing it:

The camera as phallus is, at most, a flimsy variant of the inescapable metaphor that everyone unselfconsciously employs. However hazy our awareness of this fantasy, it is named without subtlety whenever we talk about “loading” and “aiming” a camera, about “shooting” a film.

(We all know that phalluses shoot, but how does one load a phallus?)

Like guns and cars, cameras are fantasy-machines whose use is addictive. However, despite the extravagances of ordinary language and advertising, they are not lethal. In the hyperbole that markets cars like guns, there is at least this much truth: except in wartime, cars kill more people than guns do. The camera/gun does not kill, so the ominous metaphor seems to be all bluff—like a man’s fantasy of having a gun, knife, or tool between his legs.

I don't know about others, but I never had a fantasy of having a gun or knife between my legs - I like what's there just fine the way it is! But it gets worse:

Still, 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 they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed. Just as the camera is a sublimation of the gun, to photograph someone is a sublimated murder—a soft murder, appropriate to a sad, frightened time.

Melodramatic writing like this strikes me as beyond silly; the idea that people might not only consent to be photographed but want to have their photograph taken and actively seek that opportunity is never considered. While it's a good paragraph from a literary perspective - cameras become guns, people are possessed by celluloid voodoo, and taking their photos is just a slightly better way of murdering them - it's the kind of writing that George Orwell famously described as being designed to "give an appearance of solidity to pure wind".

All these essays have been written in the 1970's, long before the advent of both the internet and digital photography - which has transformed the medium completely, as it's now surrounding us completely, included in everything that we do. What would Susan Sontag say about people chuckling at funny cat pictures? I'm afraid the thought didn't even cross her mind. The malicious motives that Susan Sontag gives to all photographers have been largely replaced with people sharing the joy of taking photographs with others: people take photographs of themselves and share them with each other, connecting in ways which were previously impossible. I've read that Susan Sontag later turned back from some of the views that she held while writing On Photography - it's a shame this self-dissent was not included.
Profile Image for Michael.
657 reviews966 followers
July 7, 2018
Written in cool and caustic prose, On Photography consists of seven meditations on the medium's ethics, social uses, and history. Sontag drops epigram after epigram, aphorism after aphorism, in these contentious essays, as she speeds through considering the subjects of photography's most famous practitioners, be it the rural towns of Roy Stryker or the "freaks" of Diane Arbus. Despite the essays' fast pace, the work as a whole lacks anything approaching a coherent direction or central thesis. It meanders, excessively. Far from wanting to develop a cogent argument, Sontag so often seems most concerned with provoking thought and daring her readers to challenge her assertions. Unsympathetic readers likely will find Sontag to be imperious, but those willing to engage with her thought will find themselves rewarded.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews56k followers
May 6, 2021
On Photography, Susan Sontag

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 what it means.

This collection of six lucid and invigorating essays, the most famous being "In Plato's Cave", make up a deep exploration of how the image has affected society.

تاریخ نخستین خوانش روز پنجم ماه می سال 2012میلادی

عنوان: دربارۀ عکاسی؛ نویسنده سوزان سونتاگ؛ با گفتاری از جان برجر؛ مترجم نگين شيدوش؛ ویرایش متن و گزینش تصاویر فرشید آذرنگ؛ تهران، حرفه نویسنده، چاپ اول و دوم 1389، 1390؛ در 400ص، مصور؛ چاپ سوم 1392؛ چاپ چهارم، 1393؛ چاپ پنجم 1394، در 416ص، مصور؛ شابک 9786009197729؛ چاپ دیگر 1396؛ در 381ص؛ مصور؛ موضوع عکاسی هنری از نویسندگان ایالات متحده آمریکا - سده 20م

عنوان: درباره ی عکاسی؛ نویسنده سوزان سانتاگ؛ مترجم مجید اخگر؛ تهران، چاپ و نشر نظر، حرفه هنرمند، 1390؛ در 240ص، مصور؛ شابک 9786001520617؛ چاپ دوم 1392؛ چاپ دیگر تهران، بیدگل؛ 1397؛ در 296ص؛ شابک 9786007806791؛

عنوان: درباره عکاسی؛ نویسنده سوزان سونتاگ؛ مترجم: فرزانه طاهری؛ ویرایش مینا سی‌سی، احسان مجیدی‌تیرداد؛ به سفارش انجمن سینمای جوانان ایران؛ تهران، کتاب آبان، چاپ دوم 1397؛ شابک 9786007343913؛

عنوان: درباره عکاسی: مجموعه جستارها، نقدها و یادداشت‌ها والتر بنیامین؛‌ با جستاری از پل والری؛ موخره‌ ای از سوزان سونتاگ؛ ویراستار استر لسلی؛ ترجمه آیدین رحیمی‌پورآزاد؛ تهران: حرفه نویسنده‏‫، 1398؛ در 375ص؛ شابک 978600229؛

فهرست برگردان خانم «نگین شیدوش»؛ «یادداشت نویسنده، ص 15»؛ «در غار افلاطون، ص 17»؛ «آمریکای تیره و تار در عکس ها، ص 59»؛ «اشیای مالیخولیایی، ص 109»؛ «قهرمانی در دیدن، ص 183»؛ «انجیل های عکاسی، ص 247»؛ «جهان تصویر، ص 311»؛ گزیده مختصر نقل قولها، ص 359»؛ «کاربرد عکاسی، جان برجر، ص 395»؛

نقل از مقدمه «سوزان سانتگ ماه می سال 1977میلادی»: (همه چیز با یک مقاله شروع شد؛ مقاله ای در باب برخی مسائل اخلاقی، و زیبایی شناختی ای، که به سبب حضور همیشگی عکاسها، بوجود آمده بودند؛ اما رفته رفته، هرچه بیشتر به عکسها اندیشیدم، آنها هم در نظرم پیچیده تر، و معنادار شدند؛ همین شد که یک مقاله، به مقاله ای دیگر انجامید؛ و آنهم در کمال تعجب به یکی دیگر؛ و الی آخر)؛ پایان نقل

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 15/02/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Jennifer (Insert Lit Pun).
314 reviews1,964 followers
June 7, 2019
It’s like there are questions and shadows in the periphery of my vision, and Susan Sontag puts both hands on my shoulders and turns me to face them head on.
Profile Image for Mackenzie M-B.
14 reviews3 followers
February 11, 2009
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.
Profile Image for Майя Ставитская.
1,260 reviews124 followers
August 25, 2022
The collection of essays "About Photography" is one of the most famous works of Susan Sontag, it seems that talking about her today, first of all they remember this thing. Not by chance, considering how widely photography has entered the current everyday life. The desire to understand what motivates us to commit certain actions, to indulge in a certain passion, the desire to bring a philosophical basis for this is natural, and nowadays photographing is one of the most common actions and the most accessible in the satisfaction of passions. And I haven't said this yet about the possibility of creative self-expression, which is priceless.

Коллекционировать фотографии значит коллекционировать мир
Желание подтвердить реальность и расширить опыт с помощью фотографии – это эстетическое потребительство, которым сегодня заражены все.
Сьюзен Зонтаг (возможен вариант произношения "Сонтаг") писательница, философ, сценарист и режиссер театра и кино, литературный и художественный критик, икона мирового феминистского движения. И говоря о феминизме, я имею в виду не только борьбу за права женщин, в сфере интересов Зонтаг были представители меньшинств и социально-угнетенных групп, изменение отношения с стигматизированным темам, как СПИД, например. Расцвета ее карьера романиста достигла с присуждением Национально книжной премии за роман "В Америке".

Сборник эссе "О фотографии" одна из самых известных работ писательницы, кажется, говоря о ней сегодня, в первую очередь вспоминают эту вещь. Не случайно, учитывая, насколько широко фотография вошла в нынешнюю повседневность. Желание понимать, что движет нами, совершающими те или иные действия, предающимся некой страсти, стремление подвести под это философскую базу естественно, а в наши дни фотографирование одно из самых распространенных действий и самая доступная в удовлетворении из страстей. И это я еще не сказала о возможности творческого самовыражения, которая бесценна.

В сборник входят шесть эссе и "Краткая антология цитат" - высказывания известных людей, посвященные фотографии, как виду искусства и способу взаимодействия с миром. Первый текст "В Платоновой пещере" отсылает к образу реальности, данной в ощущениях, как скольжению теней по стене, которые видят прикованные в пещере спиной ко входу люди. Мы по-прежнему не можем видеть мир таким, каков он в реальности, но существование фотографии меняет ракурс, чуть расширяя его. Фотографируя, мы отчасти присваиваем мир.

"Америка в фотографиях Сквозь тусклое стекло", вторая статья посвящена работам Дианы Арбус - известного фотографа и значительной фигуры культурного бэкграунда второй-третьей четвертей ХХ века. Написанное под впечатлением от ретроспективной выставки Арбус вскоре после ее смерти, оно далеко от безудержного восхваления по принципу "хорошо или ничего". Скорее Зонтаг относится к работам своей героини критически. Дело в том, что центральным мотивом в творчестве Арбус были маргиналы, фрики разного рода и обычные люди в естественной для себя обстановке, которые подавались с такого ракурса, что выглядели скорее пародией на себя самих. Говоря о ее работах, Зонтаг приходит к выводу, что стремление любой ценой отыскать красоту в уродстве достаточно безнадежно. а эстетическое вступает на территорию этического с не самым лучшим для себя результатом.

"Меланхолические объекты" посвящена сюрреалистичности природы фотографии, ее сиюминутности, с течением времени изменяющей, порой радикально, возможные трактовки. Так постановочные фотографии, призванные играть роль манифеста некоего художественного направления, оказываются слепком эпохи, а детские фото известных людей, сделанные всего лишь с целью запечатлеть милых деток, смотрятся совсем иначе, когда знаешь, стал этот карапуз Сталиным или Пресли.

"Героизм видения". Увидеть и запечатлеть красоту - как основной посыл фотографии. В отличие от живописи, с которой ее часто соотносят, фотографическое видение не создает целостную картину мира, но напротив, дробит его на фрагменты. Порой съемка изменяет восприятие, делая эротичные объекты бесполыми и придавая сексуальную притягательность вещам изначально далеким от эротического контекста.

"Фотографические евангелия" О том, как фотография побуждает своих деятелей снова и снова объяснять миру ценность того, чем они занимаются, подводя теоретическую базу. Претензия на знание, претензия на творчество, представление о фотографе, как об идеальном наблюдателе и одновременная невозможность достичь желаемого эффекта без вмешательства, без некоторого элемента постановочности, которая автоматически выводит фотографа из статуса наблюдателя на роль участника и режиссера. Все же: фиксировать или режессировать?

"Мир изображений" от Платона до Фейербаха, философия считала изображение отличным от реальности. Однако фотография, в силу некоей присущей ей магии, не только точно фиксирует кусочек мира и позволяет присвоить его, но и становитс�� в какой-то мере средством управления реальности, изменения ее.

Резюмируя: замечательно интересный, содержательный и при этом читабельный сборник эссе в превосходном переводе Виктора Голышева, патриарха отечественного литературного перевода.

Profile Image for Vipassana.
122 reviews332 followers
May 23, 2015
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 valuable for the essays in this volume. Seriousness does not mean the heaviness equates it to, rather slow, deliberate rigour. A quality present in all the essays as she entertains many aspects of photography for the benefit of the reader.

Sontag looks at photography from the perspective of the photo, the photographer and the viewer. She discusses how photography has changed the equation of an individual's association with the rest of the world in her essay, In Plato's Cave. Photographs fiddle with the scale that one is trained to see the world, and the notion of time that we have collectively accepted. An intriguing idea is that photography can only reinforce a moral position, not create one. This was one of the many ideas I hadn't thought about before, ideas that seemed to hold ground but I would have liked to discuss them. This is a really good book to read as a group.

I went through my notes and reread several parts of the collection after reading a review that chastised Sontag for her content, because it was very much unlike my reading. I'd noticed Sontag's euphemism free critique of Diane Arbus, yet I did not consider her derogatory. This is a contentious debate that will probably give rise to a lot of presentism sins, so I won't discuss that. On Diane Arbus' work, I'm not convinced she didn't approve of it. In America, Seen through Photographs she evokes Walt Whitman's notion that beauty and ugliness being immaterial in an inclusive embrace of the real. Arbus's wikipedia page suggests that Sontag opposed the lack of beauty in Arbus' work and its failure to make the viewer feel compassionate about Arbus' subjects. I checked the citations for it, a paper published after Sontag's death. I haven't read the paper but from my reading of this work, Sontag simply stated that Arbus' work wasn't meant to stir compassion.
Arbus's photographs - with their acceptance of the appalling - suggest a naivete which is both coy and sinister, for it is based on distance, on privilege, on a feeling that the viewer is asked to look at is really other. Bunuel, when asked once why he made movies, said it was "to show that this is not the best of all possible worlds." Arbus took photographs to show something simpler - that there is another world.
I agree with her and I love Arbus' work. For a person who hates taking pictures and having my picture taken, I really love Arbus for the same reason. Another piece from the New Yorker says she notes with bemusement of Arbus' subjects who are “pathetic, pitiable, as well as repulsive” look “cheerful, self-accepting, matter-of-fact.” She wondered, “Do they know how grotesque they are? It seems as if they don’t.” They “appear not to know that they are ugly.” Looking at how the author has cherry picked the statements. it looks like either a deliberate case of misconstruing what an author meant to say or not even trying to understand*. Sontag quotes Nietzche, To experience a thing as beautiful means: to experience it necessarily wrongly and as I mentioned earlier, also Walt Whitman at the very beginning of the essay. These are the ideas she carries of beauty. Her statements on Arbus' photography and subjects are about how Arbus transcends the limited ideas of beauty, to produce a work that accepted another world.

Photography is not an art, it is a medium, like writing, than can be used to produce art, document events, entertain, lie and any other thing you want it too. The appeal of this idea is that in is accepting of the numerous claims of the "purpose of photography" that Sontag writes about.
As Wittgenstein argued for words, that the meaning is in the use - so for each photograph.
I've recently taken a fancy for the idea for vignettes and fragmented writing. Photographs are probably one of the most obvious forms of fragmentation and this essay makes a case against the truths that can be rendered in a dissociated moment.. However significant a single event. it cannot embed a wholeness required to understanding. This idea reminds one of the role that the viewer plays in photography.

The last section, is a fascinating one. A homage to Walter Benjamin through A Brief Anthology of Quotations. Quotes from philosophers, photographers, and even ads of camera makers. There are quotes her that almost entirely oppose one and other. They all sit together in one chapter as if to mock the very ideas of true and false.

Taking photographs is an undeniable part of everyday life, and like all widely prevalent activities, it is not thought about by those who practice it. This makes Sontag's essay immensely valuable, especially because she doesn't really come to any conclusion. Of Photography, she says this, but also that.

A guide to the photos mentioned in the essays - http://darrananderson.com/2012/06/30/...

*From this NYT piece, a much better condensation of what Sontag said of Arbus - The critic Susan Sontag divined that Arbus photographed ''people who are pathetic, pitiable, as well as repulsive,'' from a vantage point ''based on distance, on privilege, on a feeling that what the viewer is asked to look at is really other.''

May 21, 2015
Profile Image for Vicky "phenkos".
144 reviews94 followers
March 24, 2019
Susan Sontag starts her book on photography with a reference to Plato's cave, a dark prison only a few escape. This is not accidental. It defines and presages the thinking that underlies the whole book. By placing a reference to Plato at the very beginning Sontag is telling us: 'I subscribe to the fundamental Platonic principles: the real world vs. the world of imitations. Forms vs. art. Reality vs. the cave.' Or something like that. So what does this entail for her analysis of photography?

Sontag is angry at photography. She's angry because photography lacks the means (or so she thinks) to distinguish between truth and falsity, compassion and detached observation. Instead, photography allies itself either with the early, optimistic humanism of, say, Walt Whitman (every person is the same, everyone is equal with everyone else, everyone deserves as much to be photographed as everyone else) or with the later humanism of Andy Warhol (again, everyone is the same, everyone is equal with everyone else, no subject has more of a right to be photographed than anyone else).

Why is this a problem, we might ask? Sontag does not spell this out very clearly, but her analysis points to a failure on the part of photography to make itself an instrument of politics and history. Sontag regrets the fact that by photographing each and every subject without concern for the context photography abstracts from the historical specificity that gives meaning to that subject. She also laments photography's failute to be politically engaged. But what about those photographs that have shaped the public's perception of humanitarian wars and disasters, you might ask? What about the photograph of the naked, napalmed Vietnamese girl that had an impact on American public opnion about the Vietnam war? Sontag replies that it's not the photographs themselves that alter public perceptions but an ideological framework that predates these photographs and allows them to have an impact. She may be right in this. But doesn't this apply equally to any other endeavour to bring atrocities to public attention? Isn't journalism or activism subject to the same vicissitudes?

Here's where Sontag's Platonism kicks in; photography fails because it cannot bring about a political moment of truth that disperses the fantasies of the cave and forces the cave prisoners out into the open where they will be confronted by reality. It fails because it cannot bring about understanding. But if photography can't, then what can? Political analysis? Speeches? Activism? Necessary as these are in their own right, they are as tied to the overarching framework as photography is (although an analysis committed to understanding, as Sontag's is, would like to think not).

Edit: I wasn't able to read this again properly for the second time, as I intended, but I gave the book an additional star because it has, after all, shaped greatly the philosophical understanding of photography. I'm still not convinced by Sontag and plan a more sustained study of this book in conjunction with other texts, Derrida's Copy, Archive, Signature, and Benjamin's The Work of Art at the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.
Profile Image for Hilda hasani.
120 reviews127 followers
March 4, 2020
کتاب را تابستان دو سال پیش آغاز کرده بودم، تا نیمه خوانده، رها کرده بودم. این دفعه که قصد کردم دربارۀ عکاسی را ادامه دهم حیفیم آمد دوباره از اول نخوانم. الان که خواندن کتاب را تمام کرده ام میتوانم بگویم عکاسی را اینگونه باید درک کرد؛ تمرین و تمرین دیدن برای بارهای بی نهایت زیاد و سپس شروع به خواندن قلم افرادی مانند سانتاگ. عکاسی در نظر او آن امر مقدس و بی عیب و نقص نیست، او عکاسی را کالبد شکافی می کند، سانتاگ خوب دیدن و بررسی عمیق و نقادانه را یاد می دهد. نکتۀ دلپذیر دیگر برای من مقالۀ برجر عزیزم در انتهای کتاب بود. ترکیب این دو مگر می شود بد باشد؟ پنج ستاره با اقتدار!
Profile Image for David.
163 reviews509 followers
February 2, 2016
To think this was published in 1973 - when photographs were just mementos and souvenirs. What have they become now, in the age of the selfie? Sontag, Barthes, Benjamin, etc - many people have written about the semiotics and significance of photography as an "art." Photography has been held up as a record of things "as they were" - "photographs become exhibits in the trial that is history." says Walter Benjamin, comparing the subjects of photographs to crime scenes. But are photos still treated as such? In the age that we are in now, we seek in photographs not things "as they are" but rather ourselves as we could be - an angle or version of ourselves that exceeds our own appraisals and what we deem commensurate with reality. Whether the perfected art of the selfie, or the hundreds of photos taken to be riffled over, discarded, and retaken in search for the elusive one - our preference for modern photographs aligns more closely with creative art than with naturalistic reproduction or historical recording. But more than Benjamin or Barthes, who take at turns a mechanic and romantic view of the art of photography, Sontag's indictments of it seem particularly modern:
Needing to have reality confirmed and experience enhanced by photographs is an aesthetic consumerism to which everyone is now addicted. Industrial societies turn their citizens into image-junkies; it is the most irresistible form of mental pollution.
It is true in our modern day, as it was apparent to Sontag 50 years ago, that people have become addicted to photographs, and indeed that this addiction is a mental pollution. It has given rise to the kind of vacuous celebrity as the Kardashian cadre, famous basically for their cumulative navel-gazing and insipid banter. Photography has not only made us obsessed with ourselves, but has also made us obsessed with the way we are viewed by others, and the way by which we view and judge others. We do not take pictures for ourselves, but for the vacant appeal to the unidentified masses - love me! But do not love me as I am, love me only as I aspire to be, as I can angle and contort myself to be, for the duration of a shutter-click.

I have thought considerably about this face-to-the-world society that we live in, for a few years now, and have found its parallel in art. Note the painting:
We see Venus, lying in bed, looking at herself in the mirror - or so we think. But if you examine the angles, you notice that it is not possible for her to be viewing her own face in the mirror, because the reflection facing the artist is head-on, it must be that what she sees is in fact the artist. Remove the artist and replace him with the figureless audience of society. It is a perversion of narcissism - not to look longingly at oneself, but to preen and present oneself, gazing into an abyss and hoping for the abyss to gaze back, approvingly.

To take a photograph is to participate in another person's mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time's relentless melt.
For one, in a society so image-obsessed, the corrosion of beauty with age has made and supported the cosmetics industry to the gargantuan size that it has become. Photographs combat the effects of time. Like Dorian Gray's portrait, the series of photos we present to the world represent our best selves, which are impervious to age and destruction - the time and corrosion which we bear to preserve their beauty. Sontag is quite aware of the role photographs have in preserving a false sense of immortality. They preserve that which is endlessly fleeting. Barthes notes that the subjects of photos are "anesthetized and fastened down, like butterflies." They are images chained down and de-contextualized, they simply are, and are expected to speak for themselves, while simultaneously being gagged.
Yet we don't mind gagging ourselves, silencing ourselves, pinning ourselves down, chaining ourselves to a reality that is skewed and misrepresented - and for what? To appeal to strangers in the void of the internet. We have lost our ability to appreciate the attentions of individuals because we have become so fixated on appealing to the swarming masses. We do not seek love, but orgiastic attention.

Desire has no history - at least it is experienced in each instance as all foreground, immediacy. It is aroused by archetypes and is, in that sense, abstract. But moral feelings are embedded in history, whose personae are concrete, whose situations are always specific. Thus, almost oppostite rules hold true fro the use of the photograph to awaken desire and to awaken conscience.
The photos we take, and more importantly that we curate of ourselves, subvert the content and context of the photograph. We denature the image, we wash it clean of it's history and re-contextualize it to suit ourselves best. We strip each photograph of all meaning so that we can window dress it in such and such a way that flatters our ego and the mannequin that we present to the discriminating masses. There are no morals to photographs - in fact they are tools of deceit, they are an immoral form of art, in that they masquerade as a form of representation and truth. Verisimilitude wearing the mask of veracity. Each photo I present of myself is only another piece of the fake-face I have constructed overtime. As online presence continues to take more and more precedence in our lives, the battle between who are are and who we present ourselves to be will come to a head. We cannot always be our best selfie. Our best photographs of ourselves eventually become photographs of someone who is dead, who is past - a previous version of ourselves that no longer exists and can never be reincarnated.
Profile Image for Chris.
564 reviews112 followers
December 18, 2022
Ik las deze essay-bundeling deels uit interesse, deels omdat mijn dochter er voor haar opleiding fotografie een paper rond moet schrijven en het voor haar geen easy-read was. Verder was het een mooie gelegenheid om eindelijk eens iets van Susan Sontag te lezen. Het werd een overtuigende, visionair aanvoelende kennismaking.

Met veel eruditie en geweldige citaten ontleedt Sontag de toenemende impact die de fotografie sinds haar ontstaan in het begin van de negentiende eeuw is gaan uitoefenen op ons leven en onze wijzigende beeldvorming over de werkelijkheid die daaruit voortstormde. Zo ontwikkelden wij ‘een fotografisch zien’, wat volgens de auteur kan worden samengevat als ‘een talent om schoonheid te ontdekken in de dingen die iedereen ziet, maar veronachtzaamd, omdat hij ze te gewoon vindt.’

Na de vogelvlucht van een inleidend stuk met als titel 'In Plato's grot', volgen vijf essays en een afsluitende reeks boeiende citaten, waarin Sontag telkens dieper ingaat op de daarin aangeraakte ideeën en vaststellingen. En of het nu gaat om vergelijkingen tussen fotografie en schilderkunst, de soms tegenstrijdige beweegredenen van fotografen om hun 'kunst' te verdedigen (of het net geen kunst te willen noemen), het zich toe-eigenen (al dan niet met 'geweld') van objecten en personen door ze te fotograferen, de vele manieren waarop portretten kunnen worden gemaakt en geïnterpreteerd, de verschillen tussen de Westerse en Chinese functie van het beeld, de camera als technologisch en industriële wapen, het succes en de mogelijkheden van de instant-fotografie van de Polaroidcamera, altijd graaft ze dieper en verder, voorbij de clichés en de platgetreden paden; bijgestaan door het gedachtegoed van filosofen en kunstenaars uit andere disciplines.

De essays werden geschreven halfweg de jaren '70, maar klinken zelden gedateerd. Eerder visionair, zoals ik al zei. Ter illustratie twee citaten die vanzelf aan Instagram & co deden denken:

‘Het fotograferen is een van de belangrijkste middelen geworden om iets te beleven en de schijn te wekken dat je meedoet.'

‘Er is een streven merkbaar om te worden gefotografeerd, omdat de mensen het gevoel hebben dat ze een beeld zijn en pas reëel worden door een foto.’

Kortom: wat zou ik graag diezelfde Susan Sontag lezen over de afgelopen 50 jaar. Zeker omdat ze eindigt met de noodzaak om naast een ecologie voor de werkelijkheid, ook op zoek te gaan naar een ecologie voor de beelden. Hoe die er zou uitzien weet ik niet, maar Sontag zou er beslist uitdagend over weten te schrijven. Boeiend en leerrijk leesvoer ... al moet ik mijn dochter daar nog van overtuigd krijgen.
Profile Image for Anna.
99 reviews3,710 followers
May 29, 2018
Żyjemy w epoce obrazów. Współczesny człowiek przyswaja je dużo szybciej niż tekst. I może choćby dlatego warto sobie przypomnieć, co o fotografiach pisała Susan Sontag w swoich esejach, które rok temu wydało w nowym, odświeżonym tłumaczeniu wydawnictwo Karakter. „O fotografii” jest w tej chwili pozycją już niemal kultową. Choć zbiór ukazał się po raz pierwszy w 1977 roku, to nie stracił tak bardzo na aktualności.
Teksty ze zbioru „O fotografii” wolne są od technicznego żargonu. Nie ma tu mowy o naświetlaniu, przysłonie czy ekspozycji. Pojawiają się za to takie słowa jak kompozycja, perspektywa czy układ. Można więc powiedzie, że Sontag podchodzi do analizy problemu zdjęć bardziej jak do malarstwa, choć wyraźnie wskazuje w jednym z esejów, że między tymi dwoma sztukami może być więcej różnic niż podobieństw, jeśli się na nie pojrzy z odpowiedniej strony. W swoich rozważaniach nie poświęca technicznej stronie fotografowania zbyt wiele miejsca, gdyż to co najważniejsze kryje się na zdjęciach, a nie w sposobie ich robienia.
Sontag w mistrzowski sposób konstruuje w każdym eseju spójny wywód. Nierzadko korzysta z dygresji, niekiedy tak szerokich, że aż trudno uwierzyć, że uda jej się wrócić do początkowego tematu. A jednak wraca, łącząc ze sobą wiele wątków poruszanych w refleksyjny sposób i zamyka całość klamrą kompozycyjną, która zachwyci czytelników zwracających uwagę nie tylko na treść, lecz również formę eseju.
W typowy dla siebie sposób autorka drąży temat, wyciskając z niego wszystko, co się da. Zauważa dualizm fotografii i pisze o niej w sposób, który sugeruje, że tak wielkiego i skomplikowanego zjawiska nie da się jednoznacznie ocenić. Fotografia uwrażliwia, ale i znieczula. Pokazuje zarówno piękno świata jak i jego brzydotę. Wzbogaca i zubaża widzenie rzeczywistości. Sontag jest w swoich rozważaniach bezwzględna. Jej spostrzegawczemu oku, nic nie jest w stanie umknąć. Ocenia, analizuje i snuje refleksje, zmuszając odbiorcę jej pracy do ciągłego zastanawiania się nad podejmowanym problemem. Co ważne, z tymi tekstami można polemizować. Nie ma tu konkretnych tez czy też myśli, za którymi należy podążać. Autorka zadaje raczej pytania, poddaje niektóre zjawiska w wątpliwość, sama szuka odpowiedzi, starając się patrzeć na fotografie i jej autorów z jak najszerszej perspektywy.
Niektórzy mogą twierdzić, że teksty Sontag są już nieaktualne. Ale czy rzeczywiście? Bez wątpienia wynalezienie aparatu fotograficznego, a następnie ułatwienie do niego dostępu zmieniło nasze postrzeganie świata. Inaczej patrzymy na otaczających nas ludzi, naturę, miasta, w których mieszkamy i wszystko inne, co nas otacza. Za pomocą zdjęć staramy się nie tylko utrwalić dany moment naszego życia, ale przede wszystkim go sobie przywłaszczyć, podkreślając aż zanadto jak kruche i ulotne są chwile. Może nie nosimy już ze sobą aparatów, lustrzanek czy kompaktów, bo wszystko, co potrzebne do wykonywania zdjęć mamy w telefonach. To z kolei w pewnym sensie zubaża i wiele zabiera całemu rytuałowi fotografowania. Zdjęć jest tyle, że otaczają nas z każdej strony. O tym wszystkim Sontag pisze w swoich esejach i aż dziw bierze, jak wiele można z nich współcześnie wyciągnąć.
Spostrzeżenia Sontag może nie są z punktu widzenia dzisiejszego czytelnika rewolucyjne albo świeże. Są jednak trafne, a przede wszystkim, mogą niektórym uświadomić wagę problemu, o którym podświadomie już kiedyś się myślało. Nie od dziś wiadomo, że człowiek potrafi zmienić perspektywę patrzenia na jakiś problem, gdy ktoś inny opowie mu o nim w odpowiedni sposób. A prace Sontag można nazwać właśnie takim opowiadaniem. Widać, jak wiele zaangażowania i pasji autorka zostawiła na kartach tego zbioru. Świadczy o tym przenikliwość, ogromna wiedza oraz staranność prowadzenia wywodu.
Eseje podejmujące problem fotografii wzbudzają podziw. Dla wielu może być to ożywcza lektura, napisana lekkim, lecz błyskotliwym stylem. Dla innych z kolei, eseje będą zachwycać przede wszystkim aktualnością spojrzenia, może zmuszą do zastanowienia się nad niektórymi aspektami fotografii, która po lekturze prac Sontag wydaje się zjawiskiem wręcz kontrowersyjnym. Nikt inny nie potrafi w taki sposób zadawać pytań i zachęcać do rozmyślań na temat znaczenia i wartości obrazów, jednocześnie przybliżając kilka sylwetek mistrzów ich utrwalania. Wydaje się, że takich prac nie wystarczy przeczytać raz. Wracając do nich, można w każdym eseju odkrywać coś nowego. A wracanie do pióra Sontag to sama przyjemność.
Profile Image for Z. F..
294 reviews94 followers
February 17, 2023
"Cameras are the antidote and the disease, a means of appropriating reality and a means of making it obsolete."

I'm an amateur photographer; after the written word, photography is my favorite creative medium to work in. At one point in here Sontag theorizes about the differences between the writer's craft and the photographer's, and her explanation also gets at why I personally find the two forms complementary:

Nothing could be more unlike the self-sacrificial travail of an artist like Proust than the effortlessness of picture-taking, which must be the sole activity resulting in accredited works of art in which a single movement, a touch of the finger, produces a complete work. While the Proustian labors presuppose that reality is distant, photography implies instant access to the real. But the results of this practice of instant access are another way of creating distance. To possess the world in the form of images is, precisely, to reexperience the unreality and remoteness of the real. (from "The Image-World")

On Photography doesn't have an overarching argument or thesis, but if there's one idea that recurs throughout the book it's that photography, ostensibly the medium which comes closest to capturing objective reality, is in fact only "real" in a very tenuous (and, at times, insidious) sense.

This in itself wasn't a revelation for me. I think anyone who handles a camera in any sort of creative capacity learns pretty quickly that, even before you bring Photoshop into the equation (and Sontag was writing in 1977, long before photo-doctoring became as easy or inescapable as it is now), photography always comes with an element of manipulation and selective framing—literally—of the truth. To give an obvious but fairly benign example, a few weekends ago I was out taking photos in a local cemetery with a lot of graves and monuments from the turn of the last century. I was, predictably, going for a Gothic feel of gloom, decay, and antiquity. This mood was threatened by the very modern array of roads, telephone lines, billboards, and buildings which completely surrounded the cemetery, so naturally I framed all of my shots to leave out these inconvenient reminders of the wider world. The resulting photos are "real"—I didn’t add or subtract anything from them, just selected what angles to shoot from—but they still give only a partial and misleading view of reality.

But Sontag's book is far more than a simple confirmation of what I already knew. What it is instead is best laid out by Sontag herself, in her foreword:

It all started with one essay—about some of the problems, aesthetic and moral, posed by the omnipresence of photographed images; but the more I thought about what photographs are, the more complex and suggestive they became. So one generated another, and that one (to my bemusement) another, and so on—a progress of essays, about the meaning and career of photographs—until I'd gone far enough so that the argument sketched in the first essay, documented and digressed from in the succeeding essays, could be recapitulated and extended in a more theoretical way; and could stop.

That first essay, "In Plato's Cave," is stunning, containing in less than 20 pages more ideas more thoughtfully elucidated than many whole books by other authors. This was my first time reading Sontag, and I was immediately starstruck; one of my first thoughts was "Wow, she must be one of the most intelligent people I've ever read." This is an impression which comes from more than just her knowledge of the subject (though her knowledge is encyclopedic). It's the talent she shows for the whole process of Thinking, first synthesizing so much raw information, then teasing out seemingly endless insights from it, then conveying those insights in concise, assured, and easy-to-grasp language. It would be pointless to try to summarize all of her ideas here, since nearly every sentence is rich with them, but major themes of the book include photography's inherent subjectivity and relationship to "the real," the almost mystical ability of the camera to freeze and prolong time, the complications that arise when considering photography as an "art" along the lines of painting, the aesthetic ideals which have motivated photographers throughout the form's history, the inseparability of the photographic process from technological developments, the implications of living in a world increasingly inundated with photographic images, and the moral and ethical questions raised by the acts of photo-taking and photo-viewing.

This last area, the ethics and morals of photography, generated some of the most surprising conclusions for me. It's not like I'd never thought about the ethical responsibilities of photographers—most of us have seen photos of starving children or wartime atrocities and wondered why the cameraperson didn't intervene, have debated about the ways in which various types of images do or should proliferate online, have considered how the male gaze, the white gaze etc. inform the images we see, and so on—but often Sontag seems to question the morality of photography as a whole, to imply that there's a kind of innate harm in the act of photo-taking itself. At times I started to wonder if she was, in fact, anti-photography—which startled me not only because of my own photographic interests, but because I don't think it's a stance I've ever seen anyone else take, or at least anyone from Sontag's general period and social context. In the end I think that's a reductive way of putting her argument—she's more interested in challenging the assumption that photographs are value-neutral or somehow transcend ethics altogether, and also seems to enjoy puncturing the lofty claims of certain influential photographers about their craft—and in fact I learned afterwards that Sontag herself was in a longterm romantic relationship with the photographer Annie Leibovitz. But that doesn't make passages like this any less provocative:

Whatever the moral claims made on behalf of photography, its main effect is to convert the world into a department store or museum-without-walls in which every subject is depreciated into an article of consumption, promoted into an item for aesthetic appreciation. Through the camera people become customers or tourists of reality—or Réalités, as the name of the French photo-magazine suggests, for reality is understood as plural, fascinating, and up for grabs. Bringing the exotic near, rendering the familiar and homely exotic, photographs make the entire world available as an object of appraisal. (from "The Heroism of Vision")

Personally I found the provocation bracing, and was even able to smirk a little as Sontag leveled her criticism at photographers and projects which I myself have also been critical of, like Michael Lesy's Wisconsin Death Trip or Diane Arbus's portraits of "freaks." But she's also inspired me to pause and reflect a moment before lifting my camera(phone) to get snapshots I wouldn't have thought twice about before.

On the other hand, the book does start to lose a little steam in the second half, as themes begin to repeat and the treatment becomes increasingly esoteric. As invigorating as Sontag is, she's also one of those writers who can be tiring to read much of at one go, simply because of the sheer mass of ideas and the level of intellectual engagement she asks of her reader. I was reminded a little of David Foster Wallace's essays: Sontag's sleek prose is, IMO, way more pleasant to read than Wallace's dictionary vocab and unwieldy sentences, but there's a similar sense of bobbing along on a flood of thought from someone with a seemingly inexhaustible intellect and reference pool. (If possible, read with Google at hand; it helps immensely if you can see the images she mentions.) Finally, I was disappointed by what struck me as a rather Orientalist juxtaposition of western vs. (supposedly) Chinese attitudes towards photography in the last essay, based mostly on negative Chinese press reactions to a documentary on China by the Italian filmmaker Antonioni. I don't know enough to offer any sort of in-depth critique of Sontag's position, but it's a pretty lengthy section, isn't especially crucial to the overall argument of the piece, and read to me as both generalizing and condescending.

Overall, though, I found this a fascinating collection. Naturally this subject matter was especially resonant for someone already interested in photography, but given the central role of photographs (and their descendants, films and videos) in virtually all facets of modern life I think the conversation Sontag is starting here is truly applicable to everyone. It's cliché to say that a book is "more relevant now than ever," but nearly half a century after publication it's pretty incredible to consider just how prescient Sontag was and how timeless her line of questioning has proven in a world which has now given us such innovations as digital and cellphone cameras, Photoshop, the selfie, the livestream, the screenshot, the sext, the meme, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, Snapchat, Zoom, Google Images, Google Maps, internet porn, execution videos, deepfakes, drone photography, the GoPro, dashcams, doorbell cams, bodycams, 24-hour news coverage, facial recognition software, and photorealistic AI-generated images, to name just a few. In the internet age many of us live our lives predominantly by way of images, images which are more pervasive, varied, and unfiltered than ever before in human history, and rarely stop to think about what that means or how it affects us. After reading Sontag, it's impossible to avoid those thoughts.

4.5 stars rounded up.
Profile Image for فهد الفهد.
Author 1 book4,750 followers
February 10, 2017
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
Profile Image for Shaghayegh.l3.
336 reviews48 followers
April 22, 2019
با تصوری که ازش داشتم خیلی فرق می‌کرد؛ بیشتر روی نکوهش عکاسی و جایی که عکس توی دنیای امروز داره و تغییر و کمرنگ کردن واقعیت، مانور داشت. اما تجربه‌ی جالبی بود خوندنش، دید دیگه‌ای به آدم میده و ممکنه عکس‌ گرفتن‌های بعضاً بیخود روزمره رو از سر آدم بندازه؛ که کاش جای این، کاری برای کلیشه‌های اینستاگرامی با موضوعات ثابت می‌کرد.
Profile Image for Diana.
302 reviews8 followers
February 16, 2014
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.
Profile Image for Katie.
73 reviews34 followers
September 23, 2007
On hold. While fascinating, 'every sentence contains a thought' is not as fun as it sounds.
Profile Image for Neil.
1,007 reviews625 followers
December 10, 2020
Just over 3 years ago (I am writing this at the end of 2020), I calculated that my pension fund was large enough to allow me to retire from professional work in the HR Department of a large IT company and, instead, declare myself a self-employed nature/wildlife photographer. In doing this, I turned a 30 year hobby into a sort of job. I completely understand what a privileged position I am in: doing what I have always dreamed of doing but with no pressure to make a living from it.

This book has been on my Kindle for a long time as one of those books about photography that I promised myself I would read with all my new found spare time once I stopped spending 50-60 hours a week working. Of course, I found that taking photographs is a lot more fun than reading about photography, but I have this year managed to get round to reading Barthes’ “Camera Lucida” and this.

I’m really not sure what I make of Sontag’s somewhat rambling thoughts. It may just be that Sontag’s logic has eluded me, but the book does seem to meander a lot. Along the way, though, it throws out a lot of stimulating ideas. I have seen some people comment that reading this book is likely to make you feel guilty about taking photographs. I found exactly the opposite. With all its talk comparing photographs to reality (the idea of a photograph being more real than reality is a recurring thought through the whole book), comparing photographs to paintings (discussing the age-old question, “Is photography art?”), and with a plethora, maybe even a surfeit, of one-liners that could keep a camera club busy talking for a long time, I found it made me more interested in the possibilities of photography, even if that seems to fly in the face of what often feels like a negative (no pun intended) viewpoint that Sontag presents.

It has to be said that a lot has happened in the world of photography since Sontag wrote this in the 1970s. I would really like to see the thinking here extended, as examples, to the world of digital photography and the opportunities for image manipulation that presents, and to the concept of the “selfie” (perhaps especially the way people process images of themselves before allowing the world to see them - I can imagine Sontag would have a field day with that!).

In the end, this is an interesting book to read but not as mind-blowing as I imagined it was going to be. That said, here are a few quotes that have stayed with me:

The ultimate wisdom of the photographic image is to say. “There is the surface. Now think—or rather feel, intuit—what is beyond it, what the reality must be like if it looks this way.”

That most logical of nineteenth-century aesthetes, Mallarmé, said that everything in the world exists in order to end in a book. Today everything exists to end in a photograph.

This is still the aim of most amateur photographers, for whom a beautiful photograph is a photograph of something beautiful, like a woman, a sunset.

Life is not about significant details, illuminated (by) a flash, fixed forever. Photographs are. (There are quite a few typos in the Kindle edition, so I’ve added the word that seems to make most sense in brackets).

Instead of just recording reality, photographs have become the norm for the way things appear to us, thereby changing the very idea of reality, and of realism.

…a widely agreed-on diagnosis: that a society becomes “modern” when one of its chief activities is producing and consuming images…
Profile Image for Walter Underwood.
290 reviews19 followers
December 4, 2013
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 idea of photography as painting with light is utterly outside the simplistic readings of photography in Sontag's book.

Don't waste your time. Instead, find a copy of READING PHOTOGRAPHS or Diana & Nikon: Essays on Photography or read the essays on photographers in Janet Malcom's latest, Forty-one False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers.
Profile Image for Robert Isenberg.
Author 17 books56 followers
January 2, 2009
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 with dehumanization, desensitization to violence and graphic imagery, and our alleged inability to experience reality in three dimensions. With every passing page, my jaw dropped further; how could a woman who was romantically involved with Annie Liebovitz abhor photography so much?

"On Photography" doesn't have any urgency at all, and though the essays are beautifully written, they strike me as the most misguided of her accomplishments -- melodrama posing as criticism.
Profile Image for Narjes Dorzade.
270 reviews248 followers
March 8, 2018
امر واقعی اندوهی در خود دارد . و آن اندوه زیبایی است .
سوزان سانتاگ
Profile Image for Jeremy Allan.
204 reviews37 followers
January 9, 2012
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 degree of nausea while reading. But at the same time, Sontag is genius enough to avoid condemning photography. She reveals the fissures, but doesn't try to fill them with some moral ballast. More than anything, she does what good critics do, she makes observations that open into still greater questions. I only wish she were still around to answer some of them now as we are fulling in the digital age of photography, where the concept of reproducibility has given way to something even more radical.
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