Susan Sontag’s “On Photography” was first published as a series of essays in “The New York Review of Books” and then in book form in 1977. How does Susan Sontag discuss writing media history in her novel On Photography. 2). The former gave rise to much criticism, especially with regards to privacy and the rights Leibovitz had in publishing something that Sontag herself had no say in. 4). Her relentless strictures about photographers, their weapons, and their ubiquitous products amount to verbose graffiti on Plato’s famous walls. $3.95 (paper). As a result, many have criticized the ethics of Leibovitz in publishing publicly something which would conventionally be accorded greater privacy, one which Sontag herself is unable to have a say in. Her non-fiction works include Against Interpretation, On Photography, Illness as Metaphor, AIDS and its Metaphors and Regarding the Pain of Others.She is also the author of four novels, a collection of stories and several plays. Posted on March 20, 2015 by cheri1996. Photographs of ourselves also evoke sadness in that they show the passage of time and the inevitability of aging and death. Bruce Davidson, Susan Sontag, 1971. Instead, the image is placed silently between the pictures of Sontag returning, ill and dying from Seattle, and Leibovitz’s parents and brother. Another way of evaluating Sontag’s performance is provided us by our memory of the layout in Plato’s cave, which she alludes to in the first and last essays. 7 Angel McRobbie, While Susan Sontag lay dying, Open Democracy, Available: http://www.opendemocracy.net/people-photography/sontag_3987.jsp [Accessed: 28th September]. The first work following the introduction, that catches the audiences’ eye, is a picture of Susan Sontag at Petra, Jordan (1994) (Fig. It originally appeared as a series of essays in the New York Review of Books between 1973 and 1977. This is further reinforced by the “breathing space” given to Sontag, whereby the photograph does not consist only of her image, but has also taken into account the purview of her surroundings, which gives context and the sense of Sontag resting peacefully. ©2021 eNotes.com, Inc. All Rights Reserved. As she later was to write, the argument sketched in the first essay evolved full circle through digressions and documentation into the more theoretical last essay, where the collection ended. Word Count: 298. The overlapping of the photograph also delineates itself, into a second set hidden underneath the dominant photograph, suggesting a personal experience of Sontag only known to Leibovitz, purposefully and metaphorically, kept away from the public eye. The boundaries between sleep and death are also explored in this piece. “Uses of Photography: For Susan Sontag.” In About Looking. Word Count: 373. Word Count: 1342. Susan Sontag and her love of photography. In “Evidence, #11, 48×60” (Fig. Vanitas itself refers to “vanity”, or otherwise, the transience of life and all worldly matters and pursuits and is commonly associated with the Bible phrase from Ecclesiastes 1:2, “Vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas”. Another issue surrounding the publication of the photograph was the purported issue of Leibovitz consciously building upon Sontag’s reputation and near-celebrity status to cause scandal and publicity for her exhibition. Each of her paragraphs is itself a photograph, in fact; one placed after another in a long series. For the new age of tentative faiths or stark unbelief is everywhere pledging allegiance to mere images. It is a set of essays on the "philosophy" of picture-taking and the meaning of photography in the modern (ca. 12 AnOther, Tilda Swinton’s The Maybe, Available: http://www.anothermag.com/current/view/2664/Tilda_Swintons_The_Maybe [Accessed: 3rd September]. Swinton also further illustrates this distinction between life and death through the glass box that creates both an alienation of the audience from the art work, while allowing them to also partake in this “cinematic performance”. 9 The Burns Archive, The Death and Memorial Collection, Available: http://www.burnsarchive.com/Explore/Historical/Memorial/index.html [Accessed: 2nd October]. Today we ask for the copy, the image, and assign or condemn the original things and experiences to the file. Yet, the black and white with light medium leitmotif for Sontag works two-fold – it not only draws out her state of rest, it breathes life into the photograph and into the complete ease that Sontag, finds herself in, as subject to Leibovitz. 2, 2009” (Fig. For reading On Photography is a not-so-merry merry-go-round-and-round. Berger, John. By imposing the image of death itself on the audience, Leibovitz is able to subtly steer the audience to view Sontag as how Leibovitz herself regards her, instead of leaving the echoes of death to ring with an audience that might return disturbed or even disgusted. She writes: “The of her unseemliness of Annie Leibovitz, one of the world’s best-known photographs, publishing intimate portraits lover Susan Sontag in the months before she died in December 2004 and then in the immediate aftermath of her death as she was laid out in the mortuary gurney, is perhaps only explicable in terms of her mourning, anger and outrage at being abandoned.”. It is important to note that while this picture was taken a good six years before the one at Petra, Jordan, Leibovitz’s re-ordering of the pictures in the development of the exhibition is ostensibly intentional and further reinforces the notion of storytelling. Lying on a sofa with her legs propped up on one end and her hair almost flowing off the edge; the languid, almost faint Sontag, exudes the tired, the familiar and the ordinary. Susan Sontag presented a pioneering exploration of ethical challenges in photography (Parsons, 2009). On Photography began with a single essay in which Susan Sontag wanted to explore some of the problems, both aesthetic and moral, presented by the omnipresence of photographed images in her culture. Featured Comments from: Don Norris: "I think that, taken out of the context of the paragraph in which Sontag makes these statements, the quotation could be misleading. In particular, Sontag’s son David Reiff, labeled the photograph as “carnival images of celebrity death”. Later photographs in this period would feature the deceased in a coffin surrounded by flowers, one of the few similarities to vanitas paintings, so as to express the transient nature of life, elucidated by the wilting of flowers beyond the moment captured in the painting or photograph. eNotes.com will help you with any book or any question. It is a set of essays on the "philosophy" of picture-taking and the meaning of photography in the modern (ca. Given this context, it is no wonder that Susan Sontag engages Ludwig Feuerbach’s The Essence of Christianity (1843) in her book On Photography (1977) when she wrestles with the relationship between images and reality, articulates her concern that images have become reality, and explores her desire to make reality itself significant again. These concepts surrounding death, image and memory is embodied and can be seen in Tilda Swinton’s performance art piece, entitled “The Maybe”. Unconsciously, vanitas has also become a subconscious commentary hidden in the backdrop of their lives and serves perhaps also, as a timely reminder to the audience about the close proximity of death to their own lives. The excellence of beauty was limited to moral virtue only, thus making the concept arbitrary and alienated superficial enhancements. Although he finds Sontag’s book to be one of the most insightful contributions to the understanding of photography, Evernden questions her emphasis on the act of photography as basically one of aggression; he suggests that a more pluralistic approach might be more useful. Find summaries for every chapter, including a On Photography Chapter Summary Chart to help you understand the book. Here however, a sense of distance between subject and “audience” is established from the very nature of forensic photography itself which demands “as one of the primary documentation components, systematic, organized visual record of an undisturbed crime scene”. Despite no conclusive explanation given for the work, links can be drawn to the same saint-like reverence and glorification of saints that is featured in Christianity. So when Susan Sontag's On Photography hit the bestseller list recently, it caused an uproar among photo professionals and hobbyists alike. (To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.) Hence, rather than carnival, the composure of Sontag in the photograph suggests only a mere slumber – the audience is invited not to gawk at her death, but rather, meditate upon this once-intimidating force of Sontag now laid to peaceful rest. The cause of such dissent may well have stemmed from the association of death with degeneration and decay, and conversely, the emphasis placed on according dignity to the dead. Hence, death itself is obscured by the image, cleaning/refurbishing and time and Strassheim invokes the continuity of life even after the tragedy and horrors of homicide has come to pass in a place. It is the same life presented by Leibovitz in the exhibition that eventually humanizes the image of Sontag in her death for the audience. Yet Sontag does not deal directly with a central issue: if photography transforms the world, then some aesthetic trophy is due it regardless of the vitiation of personal seeing and other social and psychical disturbances caused by the camera. “Photographs are a way of imprisoning reality... One can't possess reality, one can possess … One fiber of this cruelty is the insatiability of the photographing eye. In this sense, voyeurism is obscured here as what is presented is not death in itself, but the subtle implications of death. Her numberless paragraphs seem to say that her subject is fresh and important, but each essay is just another mug of the same old clothesline thief. She wrote extensively about photography, culture and media, AIDS and illness, human rights, and communism and leftist ideology. 14 AnOther, Tilda Swinton’s The Maybe, Available: http://www.anothermag.com/current/view/2664/Tilda_Swintons_The_Maybe [Accessed: 3rd September]. Embalmers, even to this date, continue to reinstate the deterioration of the corpse, back to its former “prime”, in order to create the illusion of life. In On Photography, Susan Sontag discusses what she believes photography does to society in the modern day. Intriguing and quietly eerie, these images reflect forensic photography in that each of the photographs is a documentation of the evidence at a crime scene. Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. As usual, when I am thinking of pursuing something, I turn to books. On Photography. Meanwhile, philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer remarks that since the outer appearance is the picture of the inner, the expression of the face reveals the whole character. Thus, a historical analysis into the subject of death is pertinent here. With the publication of Susan Sontag's diaries, the development of her career can now be evaluated in a more genetic sense, so that the origins of her ideas and plans for publication are made plain in the context of her role as a public intellectual, who is increasingly aware of her impact on her culture. Sontag goes on to describe the context in which Eddie Adams took what was arguably the most shocking image of the Vietnam war: the moment in which a … Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Nowhere does the author take us on a tour of the Rochester mansion of George Eastman, although she does provide an etymology of the ugly word kodac. Susan Sontag said photographs sends across the harmlessness and helplessness of the human life steering into their own ruin. 2). Sontag’s argument against photography is based on the objection that cameras and their users have developed seeing for seeing’s sake. 1970) world. 5) that not only corresponds directly to Leibovitz’s photography of Sontag’s death, but also questions again the depth of photographer/subject relationships, as well as the idea of voyeurism in death photography. Instead, the light from the television set seems to be the focal point. The content of the images also suggest that Leibovitz’s photographs go beyond voyeurism. Nevertheless, Bruss finds her essays engaging and thoughtful. The backdrop is nearly identical – a side table with books, and a heater unit. Amazing as that might seem to some; I have simply not stumbled across her before. And all the while this popular consumption goes on, photographers, like recent gods, give the most contradictory accounts of what kind of knowledge they possess and what kind of art, if any, they practice. As for a primary reason for her skirting of this matter, no more obvious one exists than her actual tendency to treat the entire lot of photographers as homogeneous, even as she appears to single out individual talent like Diane Arbus. The Maybe 1995/2013. Each of us is her victim as we are the camera’s. On Photography by Susan Sontag. Visitors on the other side of the glass maintain a sense of superiority over the subjects in the glass enclosures, as there is an observer and object relationship that is created, with the observer being the one with the intellectual capability to link such observations to associated experiences, actions and thoughts. Susan Sontag claims in her passage, “On Photography”, that photography limits our understanding of the world. However, the truth is that photography enhanced our understanding of the world. These arguments are not spelled out in Sontag’s On Photography, but they do evolve naturally from her conclusions, even if they are tentative, about the nature of the photographic image and one’s dialectical relationship to it. On Photography presents a new translation of that essay along with a number of other writings by Benjamin, some of them presented in English for the first time. These quotes, like the book itself, do not make any particular reference to women or women’s social position in the modern world, but the sum total of Sontag’s observations do have direct application to women’s issues. Of course, this modern day was the 1970's, but many of the key elements described in the collection of essays still remain relevant. In the text, “A Woman’s Beauty–A Put Down or Power Source,” Susan Sontag highlights the varying standards of beauty between women and men. However, to condemn the exhibition to public scandal would be to indubitably, fail to recognize the significance death photography in relation to the general human condition. Fig. Recreating the dead through effigies, statues or other monuments played on the immortality of such physical structures, in direct contrast to the mortality and limitations of the human body. To deepen the interpretation and analysis of this photograph, I will be using work done by John B. Thompson and will be using his theories of the five symbolic forms (Intention, Convention, Structure, Reference and Context.) For her, the term “modernism,” with its ahistorical tendencies, has distorted and disguised both the social uses and the nature of photography, obscuring from the photographer and viewer alike the propagandistic and exploitive nature of the medium, especially under capitalism. This is one life, and the personal pictures and the assignment work are all part of it.” I have become interested in this work as contextual research for my Work in Progress Portfolio which is borne out of my time and experiences as a police photographer. What we have a right to look at, what is worth looking at, amounts to a new visual code in the hands of photographers. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1984. Susan Sontag's On Photography Chapter Summary. Word Count: 241. She zooms in from the same old angles all over again, criticizing this theory, this career, or that technique; the matter of painting versus photography, the camera’s freezing of time, or the democratizing influence of photographs; or what two hundred artists and assorted thinkers have said on these subjects. (Cf. pp. This emotional link is two-pronged. A comparison can be drawn between such voyeurism to animals held in glass enclosures. Set against the larger backdrop of Sontag’s life however, it is this minimalism illustrated as well as the peace manifested in the moment captured that distinguishes this photograph. The purposes of forensic photography necessitate the complete detachment of emotion, opinion or other human traits from the subject in order to achieve an objective, even calculated image. along with some of John.B Thompson’s other theories, with some reference to Susan Sontag’s work on photography. Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. In his essay “Uses Of Photography”, John Berger – author of Ways Of Seeing – replies to Susan Sontag. On Photography (Homage to Susan Sontag) investigates the contest between photography and the fine arts that Sontag herself discussed extensively. in Creative Digital Practice , Creative Digital Practice Assignment 1 , Uncategorized . In a way, this photograph also foreshadows the later photograph of Sontag in death. On Photography began with a single essay in which Susan Sontag wanted to explore some of the problems, both aesthetic and moral, presented by the omnipresence of photographed images in her culture. And suddenly we realize that we have already seen and heard every bit of it. Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now. Rather than mere documentation or voyeurism, it finds its place in the exhibition and marks a somber moment in the story, where death seems to be pervasive in Leibovitz’s life. Arguably, Leibovitz’s photograph of Sontag’s death encapsulates to a greater extent, visual memento mori, not for the dead but for the living. Photo: AP It is a pose that is contrived, and her unblemished bare back, the result of technological manipulation. Photography is the world's number one hobby. Sontag’s 1977 collection of essays entitled On Photography is perhaps the most prescient and influential book ever written on the medium. This harks back to the photograph of Sontag at Hedges Lane. Photography becomes a metaphor for death, and Sontag’s life and legacy is contained by these images, without being Sontag in itself. This mental dying is unlike Araki’s obstinate acceptance, but rather, the visual impact would compel audiences to retain the death of Sontag as pure memory, and not by physical reminders in itself. This topic of ethics and the related subject of voyeurism were championed largely by Susan Sontag’s own son, David Reiff, as well as many other critics from agencies such as the New York Times. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1977 The Theatrical Image: On Photography by Susan Sontag. Anyone interested in the social roles of photography … But being educated by photographs is not like being educated by older, more artisanal images. 8Evidence No. More specifically, the published “Sentimental Journey”, similar to Leibovitz’s “A Photographer’s Life 1990-2005”, features a series of black-and-whites, documenting Araki’s relationship with his deceased wife Yoko. Sayres comments on the disjunctive nature of Sontag’s essays, which makes them difficult to summarize but representative of Sontag at her best, both aloof and fascinated. In 2001 she was awarded the Jerusalem Prize for the body of her work. Susan Sontag’s book “On Photography” is a classic. While Sontag’s death does not entail with it the same abhorrent implications, a stark contrast is struck here between Leibovitz’s photograph of death and Strassheim’s pseudo-forensic photographs. Read this book using Google Play Books app on your PC, android, iOS devices. As the name suggests, the essay is all about Susan’s idea of what interpretation is, and why she’s against it. 1970) world. 5 The Economist, Obituary Susan Sontag, Available: http://www.economist.com/node/3535617 [Accessed: 1st October]. Unlike Plato’s allegory in which the super student escapes the dark region, later to return, there is no exit and thus no return for Sontag’s prisoner. At the heart of this work, and also what drew the most criticism at that time, was the interspersing of personal elements amongst the professional; by blending in previously unearthed personal photographs of Leibovitz, her family and Susan Sontag. They never were entirely accurate, but at one time they were sharp enough to mount a progressive critique of an important public art. Sontag was active in writing and speaking about, or travelling to, areas of conflict, including during the Vietnam War and the Siege of Sarajevo. Minimalism is evident as the image is stripped away of any unnecessary additions, and the backdrop of the house is dimmed into obscurity – instead, the residual bloodstains are luminous like constellations mapped across a night sky. Thus, audience participation may be reduced to voyeurism, whereby what is perceived is framed and objectified. In this exhibition, the general public would recognize instantly her professional, commercialized photographs taken for magazines such as Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone, most notably a nude and pregnant Demi Moore, or a nude John Lennon curled up against a fully dressed, somber Yoko Ono. In this long essay on Sontag’s theoretical writings, Bruss mentions the large number of detractors who find her essays lacking in readability and coherence, as well as far too instinctive to be conclusive. In the now classical modern style, the end of Sontag’s argument is in the beginning. Such discoveries offer women liberating possibilities of enormous proportions. Susan Sontag claims in her passage, “On Photography”, that photography limits our understanding of the world. For the camera, while it can artfully lie or be lenient, is an expert of cruelty. Susan Sontag. Susan Sontag was right: War photography can anesthetize ... but it is difficult to ground them in any sort of context. Her life as female American public intellectual was not without its tribulations as well, struggling with poverty in the 1960s and her highly opinionated and sometimes opprobrious writings were met with criticism and controversy. References: It allows us to see things that would be otherwise impossible to see. Scottish, born 1960. And the sad effect of this assault is the democratization of all experiences and things by both turning them into images and imposing standards for their consumption. She achieved widespread recognition through her collections of essays, Against Interpretation (1966), On Photography (1977) and Regarding the Pain of Others (2004). to explore the meaning of this essay, with emphasis on the function and implication of such images in mass culture. More often than not, this highly stylized, almost stale and overused characteristic underscores the figure-of-power at ease, and in Finley’s case, her tender, pale figure perhaps also enunciating eroticism. It is at this point that the peculiar question of the value of art arose. Furthermore the bond connecting photography with departure from life tortures the human race. It delves into the idea of ‘transparency’, where photographers have eliminated the boundaries of art and are faced with the prospect of being free to capture. As the other works that I shall be expounding upon exemplify, the black and white motif is significant as it strips away any visual distractions in the photograph, thereby transporting the viewer into the heart of the photograph. Susan Sontag, In Plato’s Cave from the book: On Photography Humankind lingers unregenerately in Plato's Cave, still reveling, its age-old habit, in mere images of the truth. According to Sontag, Christianity took away the central place of beauty in human excellence ideals (1). 6 Elizabeth Hallam, Jenny Hockey and Glennys Howarth, Beyond the Body: Death and Social Identity, (Routledge: London), 1999. Sontag does not actually write a history of cameras, but in two dozen different places we are afforded verbal snapshots of that history, while the psychology of photographs repeatedly appears on the pages. It is a simple picture. The confluence of art and forensic photography is embodied in Angela Strassheim’s Evidence project. For her, this is an act of remembrance and a means of letting go. Photography is a great hobby. “I don’t have two lives. Thus, coming back to Leibovitz’s photograph of Sontag’s death, two important key ideals are expressed here, namely death (and its relation to photography), and the relationship between subject and photographer. A Photographer’s Life 1990-2005 – Exploring Leibovitz’s Oeuvre. And the medley of social philosophy, photography’s history and aesthetics (or its absence), and the psychology of pictures as aids to misunderstanding develops on every page. Parallels can also be drawn between Sontag’s languishing figure and the commercialized photographs of models and celebrities also found in Leibovitz’s collection. For non-photographers, it is doubtful whether they would find any value in reading this. Perhaps the epitome of this can be found in a picture, entitled “Susan at the house on Hedges Lane, Wainscott, Long Island (1988)” (Fig. Summary The third essay, "Melancholy Objects," continues Sontag's exploration of the role of loss and commodification in photography. Anyone interested in the social roles of photography … Another key feature of this photograph is how it is split into several parts overlapping each other and stitched together with sticky tape, suggesting a kind of “physical deconstruction” of Susan Sontag through Leibovitz’s eyes, while the curved formation of the newly reconstructed photograph, removes, ironically, a certain stiffness in death that the otherwise normal landscape photograph might have portrayed. It forces aesthetics on documentation of emotions (like agony), which creates a distance between the viewer and the subject. On Photography is a 1977 collection of essays by Susan Sontag. Statues of saints were created for the same aforementioned purpose: with the decay of the body, and the continuity of a soul that would pass into the spiritual world, visual memory took place by using physical constructs to override the transience of the body, and as a symbol for the perpetuity of the soul. Home; Bibliography; Regarding Susan Sontag. In contrast to the photograph of Sontag’s death however, the background does not create a sense of dimmed solemnity, rather, the anthropomorphic curves of the rock surrounding Sontag seem to give her a larger-than-life presence, while drawing the audience’s eye to her actual smaller and shadowy figure at the foot of the rocks. If women have been imprisoned by the photographic images of the past, then the future holds open the possibility that such confining definitions can and even should be changed. 3Karen Finley at her home in Nyack, New York1992Frame: 99.4 x 124.8 x 3.8 cmby Annie Leibovitz. 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