On Photography

I recently read “On Photography” by Susan Sontag, and I found it quite an enjoyable read. You can also read it here.

There is much to say about photography after reading the first chapter  “In Plato’s Cave”. Sontag reveals that writings, paintings and drawings about someone or an event is an interpretation, a visual statement. She claims that photography isn’t a statement about the world, it’s just pieces of it that anyone can acquire. It’s a beautiful art that surfaced around the late 1830’s, and since then most of the earlier photographs taken have been mislaid or torn, because they need to be preserved to last long.  Hence why photos were printed in books, but Sontag believes that because of this, the photo loses it’s quality.

Since photos are found almost anywhere now, in films, galleries and books, there is confusion of how to view the images correctly. I believe there is no wrong way to view an image, but in Chris Marker’s film “Si j’avais quatre dromadaires “(1966), he tells exactly how much time to spend on each photo, and the order he wants you to view them in. He want’s the viewer to gain in visual legibility and emotional impact, and I think this is a beautiful thing.

How is it that if someone tells us something, most of the time we don’t believe them unless they have photographic evidence? Well this is another point Sontag makes, that photographs show a form of truth, evidence. When we want to travel to another country, we need a passport, and that passport needs photographic evidence, signed by the civil force of a state, to prove that it’s actually you. Same goes for trying to get into a club that’s over 18’s. To prove you’re of age, you need an image of yourself  stating your date of birth. June 1871, the Paris Police used this method to catch murderers. Photography incriminates, but also justifies.

At the start of photography, much like the start of computers, it only had the Inventors and experts to use them, and they were expensive enough that only the rich could have them. No amateur could work it. Nowadays every amateur has a camera as part of their smartphone, and has the power to capture everything and anything they want. Although sometimes, this is not a good thing.

Photography has become one of the principal devices for experiencing something. Giving an appearance of participation. Most people can’t go anywhere nowadays, without getting the urge to show everyone what they’re experiencing. Like those people who have over 100 seconds on their Snapchat story of: A concert, a night out, or plain old “banter”. You know who you are.

Tourists using this method of taking pictures of everything while on holiday, has been found to be a method of working, while not working. In this day and age it is unnatural to go away without having a camera. It calms them to take pictures of the beautiful scenes rather than take it all in themselves. They put the camera between themselves and the remarkable scenery.

Sontag states that photography holds a form of Immortality. After the event ends, the picture still exists. This is how history can resonate with  us, we feel empathy towards horrific images of events that have unfolded in another country, or era. For example, the images of the Bergen Belsen and Dachau concentration camps. The writer describes of how seeing these images at the age of 12, changed their perspective on everything.

I love taking photographs as way of documenting my life, like everyone else really. We often take this luxury for granted. After reading On Photography, I know I’m going to be more aware in the future by noticing these aspects of photography, and maybe be a little wary of what I post.

WARNING: Disturbing Images. Here are the images of  the Bergen Belsen and Dachau concentration camps.


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