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On Photography Paperback – August 25, 2001
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“A brilliant analysis of the profound changes photographic images have made in our way of looking at the world and at ourselves over the last 140 years.” ―Washington Post Book World
“Every page of On Photography raises important and exciting questions about its subject and raises them in the best way.” ―The New York Times Book Review
“A book of great importance and originality . . . All future discussion or analysis of the role of photography in the affluent mass-media societies are now bound to begin with her book.” ―John Berger
“Not many photographs are worth a thousand of [Susan Sontag's] words.” ―Robert Hughes, Time
“After Sontag, photography must be written about not only as a force in the arts, but as one that is increasingly powerful in the nature and destiny of our global society.” ―Newsweek
“On Photography is to my mind the most original and illuminating study of the subject.” ―Calvin Trillin, The New Yorker
From the Publisher
Top Customer Reviews
'Theories that diseases are caused by mental states and can be cured by will power are always an index of how much is not understood about a disease.
Moreover, there is a peculiarly modern predilection for psychological explanations of disease...Psychologizing seems to provide control...over which people have no control. Psychological understanding undermines the 'reality' of a disease.'
Sontag traces, historically, the ways different diseases and the people who contracted them have been viewed. She spends time discussing tuberculars--waif-like, pale, romantic--and cancer patients--repressed, the 'cancer personality,' shame--then goes on to debunk these notions by stating that once the cause, cure, innoculation is found, the 'myth' or popular psychology of the disease no longer holds.
In this edition, in the final chapter about AIDS and its metaphors Sontag writes that she'd written the first part of the book (all but the AIDS chapter) while a cancer patient and in response to reactions she saw in fellow patients. She saw guilt and shame; and she saw these as impediments to people's treatments. For she knew she had an illness and she set about to cure it medically, in the best possible way, while others passively accepted the 'metaphor' handed to them and, thus, did less to help themselves best. She felt frustrated or saddened by their psychologizing and self-blame and wished to write to others that their physical illness is a physical illness and the best route to recovery is to think only of how to find the best medical treatment.Read more ›
Sontag's essays are complex and thought provoking, eliciting a flow of ideas that one needs to think about deeply: what is a photograph and how does it convey its message? How much truth does a photograph contain, if any? The answer to that last question is much more difficult with the advent of digital photography and the wonderous (or evil, depending on your viewpoint) manipulations that can be done in the digital darkroom.
An issue that isn't discussed in great depth is the relationship between candid snapshots on one end of the spectrum, and fine art photography on the other; Photography as a medium for artistic expression vs. a medium for recording reality (or unreality or surreality).
The book is not trivially understood: references to philosophy and art history abound, and a dictionary of philosophy and art is almost a requisite. You should also expect to read this a couple of times to get the full impact: do not make your judgement based on a first reading.
The six essays in this book (all of which were originally published in the New York Times Review of Books) provide a critical evaluation of these themes. Ms. Sontag is concerned with what she sees as the cheapening of experience that the proliferation of photographs in our society has caused. She argues that photography has enshrined a superficiality of experience and contributed to the overvaluation of appearances to a point where image has (subconsciously) replaced reality as reality. In many ways this shift in our modes of cultural perception is shattering; it is also completely inevitable and irreversible. As an example: who after seeing Ansel Adams's stunning photographs of Yosemite could help feeling slightly underwhelmed when experiencing the real thing?Read more ›
This is now more important than ever in the age of digital photography and images which are crafted to manipulate our feelings and decisions to consume, vote, love and even whether we like ourselves.
It establishes a consciousness about the subject which is incisive and memorable. It is a brilliant work and a great contribution.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I'm finding the writing to be a bit overwhelming. It's too erudite for me, I believe. I think the thoughts and ideas are great, and I'm underlining a lot of them in the book. Read morePublished 3 days ago by Patty Bee
Language is the essential vehicle by which meaning is transferred, and a deep exploration of language can reveal covert meanings lying beneath the overt text. Read morePublished 12 days ago by Nick Nicholas, MSW
Amazing book, if you are into photography you are gonna loved it. Susan helps you understand photography and appreciate it even more.Published 2 months ago by Review book
I really liked this book because I have a different way to look at the world. Sontag really makes you think about perspective. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Megan
This got me thinking about photography in a way I never have. Now I have a strong understanding of what the medium is, and a better grasp of what to do to make my work stand out. Read morePublished 8 months ago by The Z Man
I started this book with a fair amount of expectation, and this is possibly the mistake I made. The book does have a reputation to uphold and this is what made me buy the... Read morePublished 8 months ago by Rajiv Chopra