on photography

On Photography by Susan Sontag

Humankind lingers unregenerately in Plato’s cave, still reveling, its age-old habit, in mere images of the truth. (3)

In teaching us a new visual code, photographs alter and enlarge our notions of what is worth looking at and what we have a right to see. (3)

To photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed. (4)

A photograph passes for incontrovertible proof that a given thing happened. The picture may distort; but there is always a presumption that something exists, or did exist, which is like what’s in the picture. (5)

Although there is a sense in which the camera does indeed capture reality, not just interpret it, photographs are as much an interpretation of the world as painting and drawings are. (6-7)

Through photographs, each family constructs a portrait-chronicle of itself—a portable kit of images that bears witness to its connectedness. (8)

As photographs give people an imaginary possession of a past that is unreal, they also help people to take possession of space in which they are insecure. (9)

the camera, as a device that makes real what one is experiencing (9)

Photographing is essentially an act of non-intervention. (11)

Photography is an elegiac art, a twilight art. Most subjects photographed are, just by virtue of being photographed, touched with pathos. (15)

Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt. (15)

Time eventually positions most photographs, even the most amateurish, at the level of art. (21)

Any photograph has multiple meanings; indeed, to see something in the form of a photograph is to encounter a potential object of fascination. (23)

Today everything exists to end in a photograph. (24)

Photographs are, of course, artifacts. But their appeal is that they also seem, in a world littered with photographic relics, to have the status of found objects—unpremeditated slices of the world. (69)

A photograph is only a fragment, and with the passage of time its moorings come unstuck. It drifts away into a soft abstract pastness, open to any kind of reading (or matching to other photographs). (71)

the fabrication of a new, parallel reality that makes the past immediate while underscoring its comic or tragic ineffectuality, that invests the specificity of the past with an unlimited irony, that transforms the present into the past and the past into pastness. (77)

We learn to see ourselves photographically: to regard oneself as attractive is, precisely, to judge that one would look good in a photograph. (85)

The image-surfeited are likely to find sunsets corny; the now look, alas, too much like photographs. (85)

Photographic seeing meant an aptitude for discovering beauty in what everybody sees but neglects as too ordinary. (89)

For a while the close-up seemed to be photography’s most original method of seeing. Photographers found that as they more narrowly cropped reality, magnificent forms appeared. (90)

As photographers describe it, picture-taking is both a limitless technique for appropriating the objective world and an unavoidably solipsistic expression of the singular self. (122)

To possess the world in the form of images is, precisely, to reexperience the unreality and remoteness of the real. (164)

Photography, which has so many narcissistic uses, is also a powerful instrument for depersonalizing our relation to the world; and the two uses are complementary. (167)

Knowing a great deal about what is in the world (art, catastrophe, the beauties of nature) through photographic images, people are frequently disappointed, surprised, unmoved when they see the real thing. (168)

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