Monday, January 3, 2011

On Photography - Susan Sontag

OK, I'm going to kick off one of my New Year's resolutions with a book post. Technically I read this just before Christmas but my latest read was Roland Barthes' Camera Lucida and frankly it was rather inaccessible. By which I mean, very inaccessible. It probably didn't help that I read it in translation but I found it painful and obscure, interesting but unlikeable. I can't imagine anyone wanting to read it for pleasure. Continuing the photographic theme though I found Susan Sontag's On Photography gripping. Both books are concerned with the theories of photography but Sontag's is less personal and wider reaching. Her writing style can be rather didactic but on the whole she is exciting and readable. Aside from the odd bits of Cold War mentality the book has aged well (it was published in 1977) and lots of the ideas still seem deeply pertinent today. Possibly they are even more relevant given the ever increasing power of the photo and image in our culture. Facebook was only launched in February 2004 and Sontag died in December that year so I don't know whether she could have imagined how it would explode or how personal style blogs and tumblrs would take over the internet. Some of her comments seem to be a direct response...

'Needing to have reality confirmed and experience enhanced by photographs is an aesthetic consumerism to which everyone is now addicted' - This IS Facebook. This is sharing your holiday photos with the entire internet.

Photography 'is mainly a social rite, a defense against anxiety, and a tool of power'

'There is an aggression implicit in every use of the camera'

'All photographs are memento mori'

'Much of modern art is devoted to lowering the threshold of what is terrible'

'The camera's ability to transform reality into something beautiful derives from its relative weakness as a means of conveying truth'

On Photography is not a light, fun read but it is a seminal look at photography and if you are interested in the subject I would strongly recommend it. I think you only really need read the first third of the book (it gets a little bit repetitive after that) and there is so much there. A fascinating look at something that plays such a huge and often unnoticed role in our lives.

Chuck x

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree! I had to read Camera Lucida for a class and i didn't have a clue what it was going on about half the time!

    I am so off to Hart's bakery by the way! Looks amazing from the website :) Their hot choc sounds divine!