Winner of the National Book Critics' Circle Award for Criticism. One of the most highly regarded books of its kind, "On Photography" first appeared in 1977 and is described by its author as " a progress of essays about the meaning and career of photographs." It begins with the famous " In Plato' s Cave" essay, then offers five other prose meditations on this topic, and concludes with a fascinating and far-reaching " Brief Anthology of Quotations."
Her basic premise that the proliferation of photographic images has inured us to certain categories of events and promoted disengagement has
If anything one can regret that the book, written in the 70's, doesn't
It is a useful book, in that it is one written about photography by someone who is not, in my view, a photographer. So, to
To do so, however, you need to try to understand, and this is where I think, she came up short.
Sontag takes a critical view of the proliferation of photography. The higher and higher ownership of cameras, the way cameras dictate the scene and become the focus of an event, the way photography has become art, the voyeuristic nature of it, the removed and passive way images can be 'taken' of people with or without their knowledge. It does go on and on and felt at times like a rant, however intellectually presented. And given that I have a problem with the way art is discussed already- some pretty far fetched things are assumed by the reviewers and the art crowd- I found the musings on whether or not photography should/could be art, rather....well, pointless. (My answer would be yes, its art, but let's not make a big deal of it.)
But, it presented some great starting points for thinking about how cameras and photos have and are changing our lives. In spite of being rather a critical observer myself, I found myself starting to stick up for photography and its value and promise. I look forward to reading her follow-up from this one, Regarding the Pain of Others, where I might find some reflection on how she thinks it stood up.
Like a lot of Sontag, I'm not really equipped to judge many of their cultural references; she's so rooted in the '60s-'70s NYC and European art scene that's dissipated since, with the influences and artists falling back into obscurity. But her
Also, it makes me want Sontag's hot takes on the rise of cell phone photography.