Susan Sontag: On Photography [notes]

Susan Sontag, (1977) On Photography. London: Penguin

pg 12 Diane Arbus: “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”

Being a professional photographer can be seen as naughty, especially when capturing things that are taboo, “naughty subjects”.

Susan Sontag compares the camera to the gun, we “load”, “aim” and “shoot” the camera, the same as someone would do with a gun. She says that there is something predatory about taking a picture. “To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge they can never have; it turns people into object that can be symbolically possessed .” pg 14

She also says that “all photos are memento mori. To take a photograph is to is to participate in another persons (or things) mortality, vulnerability, mutability.”

Susan Sontag is a well known writer on photography, so this source is seen as very reliable and unbiased. She evaluates and explains the world of photography in an objective way. Reading this has helped me think about what it is to take a photograph, especially of people, and putting this perspective on taking pictures of family members helps give another perspective and to think twice by publishing what I capture and what other photographers capture, if the image turns that moment or person into an object to be disseminated.

The goal of looking at this writing was to have some theory about the subject, to help discover ways in which I can evaluate an image that has a private moment which is published.



““I always thought of photography as a naughty thing to do—that was one of my favorite things about it,” Diane Arbus wrote, “and when I first did it I felt very perverse.” pg 9

“Arbus’s photographs—with their acceptance of the appalling—suggest a naïveté which is both coy and sinister, for it is based on distance, on privilege, on a feeling that what the viewer is asked to look at is really other” pg 26

“The camera has the power to catch so-called normal people in such a way as to make them look abnormal. The photographer chooses oddity, chases it, frames it, develops it, titles it” pg 27

“A large part of the mystery of Arbus’s photographs lies in what they suggest about how her subjects felt after consenting to be photographed. Do they see themselves, the viewer wonders, like that? Do they know how grotesque they are? It seems as if they don’t.” pg 28

“Though most viewers are ready to imagine that these people, the citizens of the sexual underworld as well as the genetic freaks, are unhappy, few of the pictures actually show emotional distress.” pg 28

“Her suicide also seems to make the photographs more devastating, as if it proved the photographs to have been dangerous to her.” pg 31

“The fact of her suicide seems to guarantee that her work is sincere, not voyeuristic, that it is compassionate, not cold. Her suicide also seems to make the photographs more devastating, as if it proved the photographs to have been dangerous to her” pg 31

“Arbus was not a poet delving into her entrails to relate her own pain but a photographer venturing out into the world to collect images that are painful. And for pain sought rather than just felt, there may be a less than obvious explanation. ” pg 31

Arbus’s interest in freaks expresses a desire to violate her own innocence, to undermine her sense of being privileged, to vent her frustration at being safe” pg 34

“Arbus’s work expressed her turn against what was public (as she experienced it), conventional, safe, reassuring—and boring—in favor of what was private, hidden, ugly, dangerous, and fascinating. These contrasts, now, seem almost quaint. What is safe no longer monopolizes public imagery. The freakish is no longer a private zone, difficult of access. People who are bizarre, in sexual disgrace, emotionally vacant are seen daily on the newsstands, on TV, in the subways.” pg 36 VERY RELEVANT PRIVATE/PUBLIC


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