Book//mark - On Photography | Susan Sontag, 1977

Susan Sontag, 1964 Photo by Paul Popper                  Susan Sontag, On Photography, 1977


 “To collect photographs, is to collect the world” 

“To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having
 knowledge of them that they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically
 possessed. Just as a camera is a sublimation of the gun, to photograph someone is a subliminal
 murder - a soft murder, appropriate to a sad, frightened time.”

“Photographs are a way of imprisoning reality...One can't possess reality, one can possess
 images--one can't possess the present but one can possess the past.”

“The painter constructs, the photographer discloses.”

“Needing to have reality confirmed and experience enhanced by photographs is an aesthetic
 consumerism to which everyone is now addicted. Industrial societies turn their citizens
 into image-junkies; it is the most irresistible form of mental pollution.”

“The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people’s reality, and eventually in one’s own.”

“Τo take a photograph is to participate in another person's mortality, vulnerability, 
mutability. precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs 
testify to time's relentless melt.”

“The photographer is an armed version of the solitary walker reconnoitering, stalking, 
cruising the urban inferno, the voyeuristic stroller who discovers the city as a landscape
 of voluptuous extremes. Adept of the joys of watching, connoisseur of empathy, 
the flâneur finds the world 'picturesque.”

“Desire has no history...”

“A photograph is both a pseudo-presence and a token of absence. Like a wood fire in a room,
 photographs—especially those of people, of distant landscapes and faraway cities, of the 
vanished past—are incitements to reverie. The sense of the unattainable that can be evoked 
by photographs feeds directly into the erotic feelings of those for whom desirability is 
enhanced by distance.”

“To suffer is one thing; another thing is living with the photographed images of suffering, 
which does not necessarily strengthen conscience and the ability to be compassionate.
 It can also corrupt them. Once one has seen such images, one has started down the road 
of seeing more - and more. Images transfix. Images anesthetize.”

“Life is not about significant details, illuminated a flash, fixed forever.
Photographs are.”

“A capitalist society requires a culture based on images. It needs to furnish vast amounts 
of entertainment in order to stimulate buying and anesthetise the injuries of class, race, 
and sex. And it needs to gather unlimited amounts of information, the better to exploit
 natural resources, increase productivity, keep order, make war, give jobs to bureaucrats. 
The camera's twin capacities, to subjectivise reality and to objectify it, ideally serve these
 needs as strengthen them. Cameras define reality in the two ways essential to the workings 
of an advanced industrial society: as a spectacle (for masses) and as an object of surveillance 
(for rulers). The production of images also furnishes a ruling ideology. Social change is 
replaced by a change in images. The freedom to consume a plurality of images and goods
 is equated with freedom itself. The narrowing of free political choice to free economic 
consumption requires the unlimited production and consumption of images.”

“In the real world, something is happening and no one knows what is going to happen.
 In the image-world, it has happened, and it will forever happen in that way.”

“But the very question of whether photography is or is not an art is essentially a misleading 
one. Although photography generates works that can be called art --it requires subjectivity,
 it can lie, it gives aesthetic pleasure-- photography is not, to begin with, an art form at all. 
Like language, it is a medium in which works of art (among other things) are made. Out of 
language, one can make scientific discourse, bureaucratic memoranda, love letters, grocery
 lists, and Balzac's Paris. Out of photography, one can make passport pictures, weather 
photographs, pornographic pictures, X-rays, wedding pictures, and Atget's Paris. Photography 
is not an art like, say, painting and poetry. Although the activities of some photographers 
conform to the traditional notion of a fine art, the activity of exceptionally talented individuals
 producing discrete objects that have value in themselves, form the beginning photography 
has also lent itself to that notion of art which says that art is obsolete. The power of 
photography --and its centrality in present aesthetic concerns-- is that it confirms both 
ideas of art. But the way in which photography renders art obsolete is,
 in the long run, stronger.”

“Despite the illusion of giving understanding, what seeing through photographs really 
invites is an acquisitive relation to the world that nourishes aesthetic awareness and 
promotes emotional detachment.”

Susan Sontag, On Photography, 1977

On Photography is a 1977 collection of essays by Susan Sontag. It originally appeared 
as a series of essays in the New York Review of Books between 1973 and 1977.

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