Susan Sontag, On Photography, (1979) London, Penguin, ISBN: 978-0-14-005397-5.
This book by Susan Sontag is a collection of essays discussing how photography has influenced the world since its invention and how it has played a part in the surrealist art movement in the 20th Century.
The book was first published in 1977 and although photography has moved on she spends a lot of time discussing how photography was first introduced accepted or not and how it came to be the most enduring and influential part of the surrealist movement. She also looks at how photographs are used and how they can be re-used.
Topics and points to note:
- In teaching us a new visual code, photographs alter and enlarge out notion of what is worth looking at and what we have a right to observe.
- Photos are a grammar and even more importantly, an ethics of seeing.
- Photos give us the sense that we can hold the world in our hands.
- In photographs the image is also an object.
- As object they can be collected, bought & sold, cherished, thrown away, lost & found, etc, etc.
- Photographs furnish evidence, they appear to provide proof when something is in doubt.
- A photograph justifies, for example through use of surveillance and is a presumption of proof that something exists.
- Photography has become almost as widely practiced an amusement as sex and dancing – which means that like all mass art form, photography is not practiced by people as an art. It is mainly a social rite, a defence against anxiety and a tool of power.
- Photographs can abet desire and emotions of morality.
- The industrialisation of photography permitted its rapid absorption into bureaucratic ways of running society…photographs became part of the general furniture of the environment – touchstones and confirmations of that reductive approach to reality which is considered realistic. Photographs were enrolled in the service of important institutions of control, notably the family and the police, as symbolic object and as pieces of information….many important documents are not valid unless they have affixed to them, a photographic-token of the citizen’s face.