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on On Photography - Accretions

Fata Morgana
2004-07-19 18:35
on On Photography

Notes from On Photography by Susan Sontag, chapter 1

To photograph is to assume a position of power over the subject of the photograph, to keep it at a distance by putting a lens between, and to implicitly condone and encourage it. The author often refers to photography as aggressive and sexual: voyeuristic, naughty, predatory, recreational, erotic, imperialist, violating.

Our massive exposure to photographs encourages us to see the world in slices and to frame it rather than participate in it (as does the anxious tourist with an overactive work ethic, who wants proof - modern-day game trophies - of his or her vacation experiences). It also desensitizes us: what was shocking upon first viewing or in decades past becomes quaint.

Photographs give evidence of activities from vacations and crimes, and are often seen as direct representations of the real world rather than the artistic interpretations that they actually are. The author compares this literalism to Plato's famous cave: photographs are the shadows that the unenlightened take as truth. Photographs can only reinforce, not create, cultural context - there was a demand for powerful pictures of the Vietnam War, but not the Korean War.
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2004-07-20 02:46 (UTC)
I'm a little disturbed by the photographic tendencies of tourists. I find myself doing it, too, whipping out the camera to take a picture of every little thing, but I think it takes away from the experience to be constantly photographing.

(Of course, then I go to the postcard shops and pour over the postcards for the one I like, which I guess takes away from the experience just as much.)
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2004-07-20 03:48 (UTC)
(no subject)
I don't see photography at all close to the way that Susan sees it.

I don't see it as a way to assume power. I see it as a way to truly be intimate and embrace the intrinsic beauty of whatever it is that I'm either creating photographically or taking a photo of.

I don't agree that that photographs prevent us from participating in our world; I think it's a way for us to capture the experience that we have lived as a way to guarantee memory. I do believe that there are some people who may view photos as a record of trophy experiences, such as a Mediterranean vacation.

I'm not sure about the desensitizing part; I think that's closer to what you're photographing rather than a generalization of all photographs being taken. Same with activities which are merely a type of photograph which not all choose to take.

I think our way and approach to photographing things - not just what is being photographed - is a good indicator of how we choose to live life and how we prioritize that which we see/experience.

I think her words are pretty short-sighted and generalized. Then again, photography is purely a subjective experience imho.
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