Susan Sontag: On Photography – Reading

On Tuesday 8th January we were all given a reading list which we then had to divide up equally in our seminar groups. My first weeks reading was Susan Sontag: On Photography, where I had to read pages 3-24. Below are some of the quotes that I found most compelling and interesting, along with names of photographers that I wish to research:

  • Photographs alter and enlarge our notions of what is worth looking at and what we have a right to observe” – Page 3, Line 10
  •  Godard’s Les Carabiniers (1963)
  • Photographs really are experience captured” – Page 3, Line 33
  • Photographed images do not seem to be statements about the world so much as pieces of it, miniatures of reality” – Page 4, Line 16
  • For many decades the book has been the most influential way of arranging (and usually miniaturizing) photographs, thereby guaranteeing them longevity, if not immortality… and a wider audience” – Page 4, Line 29
  • Chris Marker’s film Si j’avais quatre dromadaires (1966)
  • Photographs furnish evidence” – Page 5, Line 29
  • Alfred Stieglitz
  • Paul Strand
  • While a painting or a prose description can never be other than a narrowly selective interpretation, a photograph can be treated as a narrowly selective transparency” – Page 6, Line 12
  • Farm Security Administration Photographic Project (Late 1930’s)
  • … Photographs are as much an interpretation of the world as paintings and drawings are” – Page 6-7, Line 33
  • David Octavius Hill
  • Julia Margaret Cameron
  • It was only with its industrialization that photography came into its own as art.” – Page 8, Line 2
  • It is mainly a social rite, a defense against anxiety, and a tool of power” – Page 8, Line 10
  • Photographs will offer indisputable evidence that the trip was made, that the programme was carried out, that fun was had.” – Page 9, Line 17
  • A way of certifying experience, taking photographs is also a way of refusing it – by limiting experience to a search for the photogenic, by converting experience into an image, a souvenir” Page 9, Line 28
  • Using a camera appeases the anxiety which the work-driven feel about not working when the are on vacation and supposed to be having fun. They have something to do that is like a friendly imitation of work: they can take pictures.” – Page 10, Line 7
  • While the other are passive, clearly alarmed spectators, having a camera that transformed one person into something active, a voyeur: only he has mastered the situation” – Page 10, Line 30
  • Events are equalized by the camera – Page 11
  • After the event has ended, the picture will still exist, conferring on the event a kind of immortality (and importance) it would never otherwise have enjoyed” – Page 11, Line 22
  • Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera (1929) 
  • Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954)
  • Using a camera is still a form of participation” Page 12, Line 18
  • I always thought of photography as a naughty thing to do – that was one of my favourite things about it, and when I first did it I felt very perverse.” Diane Arbus – Page 12-13, Line 33
  • If professional photographers often have sexual fantasies when they are behind the camera, perhaps the perversion lies in the fact that these fantasies are both plausible and so inappropriate.” – Page 13, Line 6
  • Blowup (1966)
  • The camera doesn’t rape, or even posses, though it may, presume, intrude, trespass, distort, exploit, and, at the farthest reach of metaphor, assassinate – all activities that, unlike the sexual push and shove, can be conducted from a distance and with some detachment” – Page 13, Line 15
  • Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom movie (1960)
  • Manufacturers reassure their customers that taking pictures demands no skill or expert knowledge, and the machine is all-knowing, and responds to the slightest pressure of the will” – Page 14, Line 13
  • Like guns and cars, cameras are fantasy-machines whose use is addictive” – Page 14, Line 19
  • There is something predatory in the act of taking a picture.” – Page 14, Line 26
  • When we are afraid we shoot. But when we are nostalgic, we take pictures” – Page 15, Line 19
  • An ugly or grotesque subject may be moving because it has been dignified by the attention of the photographer” – Page 15, Line 24
  • All photographs are memento mori” – Page 15, Line 28
  • – All such talismanic uses of photographs express a feeling both sentimental and implicitly magical: they are attempts to contact or lay claim to another reality” – Page 16, Line 23
  • The images that mobilize conscience are always linked to a given historical situation” – Page 17, Line 6
  • Mathew Brady – Civil War
  • Dorothea Lang – Nisei West Coast 1942 
  • … They are a neat slice of time, not a flow” – Page 17, Line 33
  • 1972 Naked South Vietnamese Child – Newspapers
  • Felix Greene
  • Marc Riboud
  • What determines the possibility of being affected morally by photographs is the existence of a relevant political consciousness” – Page 19, Line 7
  • Don McCullins – Emaciated Biafrans (early 1970s)
  • Werner Bischof – Indian famine (early 1950s)
  • One’s first encounter with the photographic inventory of ultimate horror is a kind of revelation, the prototypically modern revelation: a negative epiphany” – Page 19, Line 28
  • Bergen-Belsen and Dachau (1945)
  • Images transfix. Images anesthetize.” – Page 20, Line 19
  • But after repeated exposure to images it also becomes less real” – Page 20, Line 24
  • The shock od the photographed atrocities wears off with repeated viewings, just like the surprise and bemusement felt the first time one sees a pornographic movie wear off after one sees a few more” – Page 20, Line 26
  • The vast photographic catalogue of misery and injustice throughout the world has given everyone a certain familiarity with atrocity, making the horrible seem more ordinary – making it appear familiar, remote (“it’s only a photograph”), inevitable” – Page 20-21, Line 33
  • In these last decades “concerned” photography has done at least as much as deaden conscience as to arouse it” – Page 21, Line 7
  •  “A photograph of 1900 that was affecting then because of its subject would, today, be more likely to move us because it is a photograph taken in 1900.” – Page 21, Line 14
  • The photograph is a thin slice of space as well as time” – Page 22, Line 24
  • Through photographs, the world becomes a series of unrelated, freestanding particles; and history, past and present, a set of anecdotes and faits divers.” – Page 22-23, Line 33
  • Jacob Rii – New York Squalor (1880s)
  • Needing to have reality confirmed and experience enhanced by photographs is an aesthetic consumerism to which everyone is now addicted. Industrial society’s turn their citizens into image-junkies; it is the most irresistible form of mental pollution” – Page 24, Line 13
  • The most logical of nineteenth-century aesthetes, Mallarme, said that everything in the world exists in order to end in a book. Today everything exists to end in a photograph” – Page 24, Line 28
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