On PhotographySusan Sontag, 2013
This famous collection of essays by Susan Sontag contemplates photography and its position in contemporary culture.
In this collection of essays, Sontag deconstructs the stereotypes of photography – embedded within ordinary consciousness – and redefines the relationship between photography, reality, history and time. Sontag questions the flawed perception of this medium as an objective means of capturing experience: citing that a photographer’s work ‘gives rise to the same, often dark, deals between truth and art’, as painting or literature. Photography is surreal by nature, and this surrealism is manifested in its very attempt to create a duplicate of the world; a reality of the ‘second degree’, which, whilst limited, is even more striking.
Sontag deals with the dual nature of photography: as both a predatory attempt to appropriate another person’s reality and as a position of conspicuous non-interference; as the person who documents the event is ultimately unable to influence its outcome. The contemporary obsession with photography turns the public into ‘tourists and voyeurists’, with implications for both our private and public lives.
Sontag examines the ideological effects of photography, comparing attempts to ‘catalogue the nation’ by German photographer August Sander in the 1930s and American Robert Frank towards the end of the 1950s, as well as works by Diane Arbus and photographers employed by the Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression.