On Photography, Susan Sontag

Sontag (1979) talks in the chapter called Plato’s Cave about when the inventory stared from 1893 and how everything seems to have been photographed since then and how humanity still seems to be in Plato’s cave. The photography teaches us a new visual code, as it alters and enlarges our notions of what is worth looking at and what we have a right to observe. It gives us the sense that we can hold the whole world in our heads, as an anthology of images.

Sontag sees collecting photographs as collecting to world.

Unlike writing, painting or drawings about certain events or people that are more interpretations of the world, photography creates a miniature representation of reality anyone can make on his own.

Photographs are like a proof that something happened; though distortion might be a problem there is always a presumption that something exists or existed.

But for Sontag photography has become more of amusement rather than a form of art. `It is a social rite defense against anxiety, a tool of power. The earliest popular use of photography was using it as a tool of memorializing the achievements of individuals.`

Sontag says that people have developed a dependence on photography as it gives the experience a meaning. By turning the experience into an image it gives it a shape and a place in time, so we need the camera to realize and substantiate our experience. It is a way of certifying experience by converting it into an image, a souvenir. That way travel becomes a strategy for accumulating photographs.

Photography for Sontag is always a sort of interpretation of the world and this interpretation, whether it is on the side of the photographer or the person looking at the photograph, is always ruled by conventions and ideology.

It is also some sort of nostalgia as it gives people an imaginary possession of the past.

Photography has become one of the main devices for experiencing something, for giving an appearance of participation.

Photography is essentially an act of non- intervention. Photography grants meaning to the moment as it can turn that one moment into an event but it cannot guarantee the power of it over people. The repetition of images whether is war photojournalism or pornography can cause numbness to the viewer and it makes the events less real.

Sontag ends “In Plato’s Cave” with the conclusion that photography is the one that separates history into unrelated fragments, a collection and that today everything exists so it can be photographed.


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