On Susan Sontag

From looking at my Christmas list of filters, books and lens cloths Santa would probably have guessed that I’m an OCA photography student! One of the books on my list was On Photography, by Susan Sontag. It was a book I’d heard a lot about from reading other photography blogs, books and magazines. On Photography appeared to be one of those fundamental, groundbreaking texts that summarised everything that had gone before it and a foundation for everything that was to develop. After a busy start to 2012, it is only now that I’ve got time to start reading it.

With one section of DPP to complete, and TAOP done and dusted, before I embark on a level 5 course I feel I’ve got a good grounding in the basics of photography to be able to reflect on Sontag’s views on photography. First published in America in 1977 and in Great Britain in 1978, I was surprised how ‘recent’ it is. I had also thought the book had been written earlier in the twentieth century. However this realisation makes me see just how young photography is compared to other art forms, and that it’s growing up very fast.

So far I have read the first chapter, In Plato’s Cave, and wondered what Sontag (1979, 12) would think of Photoshop when she believed that:

To take a picture is to have an interest in things as they are, in the status quo remaining unchanged.

Before and during DPP I have learnt how photographs can be manipulated into new meanings. That photographers are now also image editors, web designers and publishers. Taking the photograph for some is just the beginning of a process. Another thing that struck a chord with me was what Sontag (1979, 9) said about how taking photographs is a way of ‘certifying experience’. It is a justification for going traveling and that:

taking photographs is…a way of…limiting experience to a search for the photogenic, by converting experience into an image, a souvenir.

This is something I’ve been concerned about for a while. Whenever I go traveling I am often so preoccupied with looking for opportunities to take photos that I wonder if I’m missing out on the whole experience. I suppose this is linked to the fact that digital photography enables us to take more photos than we really need. My other concern is that a lot of my photography is now connected with fulfilling course exercises and assignments. I need to remember to take some photos for pleasure and not be too concerned about framing, lighting, depth of field etc.


About Matt

Photography degree student with the Open College of the Arts.
This entry was posted in DPP, Reading, Reflections and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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