susan sontag on photography abstract

In this book, the pernicious mental habits that Sontag casts off in Hanoi resurface as generalized traits of photographic perception. 30 Janet Fletcher, ‘On Photography’ (Book Review). The plate was then washed with distilled water or soda, and a clear, detailed picture of the scene or landscape would appear. I change the object as it is in the imagination into the object as it is in reality’ (Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, p. xix). Susan Sontag’s “On Photography” is one of the worst texts you can ever assign to an aspiring photographer, photography student, photography beginner, or lover of photography. 68 In ‘The Heroism of Vision’ in On Photography, Sontag investigates the moral work photography can do—or might not be able to do. In On Photography, Sontag understands photography in a similar way to how Feuerbach understands theology in The Essence of Christianity: we have mistaken the copy for the thing itself, and, as a result, we have created a false division between the copy and the ‘real’, devalued both the copy and the thing itself, and overlooked the profound ways images can and do affect the world. Sontag's trip prepared her to mount On Photography's critique of photographic immediacy. Feuerbach’s words—he is writing a few years after the invention of the camera—seem, more specifically, a presentiment of the impact of photography.71, Sontag claims that Feuerbach falls prey to a naive separation between the image and the thing itself. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 41 (1) (September, 1982) pp. 12, quoted by Thornton in ‘Facing up to Feuerbach,’ p. 104). Thus smoke is an index of fire; and photographs, as well as almost always being iconic, are also indexical. No one has taken an easel painting to be in any sense co-substantial with its subject; it only represents or refers. Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. When something is photographed, it becomes visible and implies that before the photograph, it was invisible. Critical Inquiry 2 (1) (Autumn, 1975) pp. Sontag turns to Feuerbach’s The Essence of Christianity in the sixth essay of On Photography, ‘The Image-World’.37 Sontag’s concern with the ‘real’ in On Photography is fundamentally an ethical concern—photography’s ability to make violence and suffering experienced by ‘others’ real—and it is to this issue that she will return (and turn critically against) in her later book about photography, Regarding the Pain of Others (2003).38 Sontag engages Feuerbach as part of her exploration of the complicated relationship between images and reality, and I argue in this article that she misreads him. In her review of On Photography, Janet Fletcher opens with a similar idea, calling the book ‘Sontag’s brilliantly if erratically argued case against photography’ (Fletcher, ‘On Photography’ [Book Review] p. 2250). Sarah Sentilles, Misreading Feuerbach: Susan Sontag, Photography and the Image-World, Literature and Theology, Volume 24, Issue 1, March 2010, Pages 38–55, https://doi.org/10.1093/litthe/frp055. 37 First published as essays in The New York Review of Books, On Photography began as Susan Sontag’s attempt to write about ‘some of the problems, aesthetic and moral, posed by the omnipresence of photographed images’. 54–76; Stephanie Ross, ‘What Photographs Can't Do’. But photographic seeing has to be constantly renewed with new shocks, whether of subject matter or technique, so as to produce the impression of violating ordinary vision. It is necessary to look carefully at how Sontag theorises photography given that so many theorists—in particular those exploring viewer responsibility in the face of images of violence—continue to engage her writings as resources to think with and against.41. The Image World – Susan Sontag (1977) November 7, 2009 by Hugh. As everything she wrote, Susan Sontag's book on photography is brilliant. Attention to Susan Sontag’s (mis)reading of Ludwig Feuerbach’s Essence of Christianity reveals her agenda in On Photography: to depart from ‘the new age of unbelief’ and return to ‘something like the primitive status of images’ in which an image participates in the reality of the object depicted. Alan Trachtenberg (New Haven: Leete’s Island Books, 1980). Abstract This article addresses the portrait as a philosophical form of art. She is at times critical of it, disparaging the tendency to see images as more real than the world itself and arguing that the confusion between the image and the thing—mistaking the image for the thing and the thing for the image—has turned the world itself into an image. Ironically, some of the texts she misreads—like Feuerbach’s—if read more accurately, would often support what Sontag is claiming. Art Journal 62(3) (Autumn, 2003) pp. Franny Nudelman is an Associate Professor in the English Department and the Institute for the Comparative Study of Literature, Art, and Culture at Carleton University. on May 22, 2017 “Like a pair of binoculars with no right or wrong end, the camera makes exotic things near, intimate; and familiar things small, abstract, strange, much farther away.” (See, for example: Michael Kimmelman, ‘Ghosts in the Lens, Tricks in the Darkroom’. We use cookies to improve your website experience. My analysis of Sontag’s use of Feuerbach is part of a larger project exploring how theological language functions in the work of several theorists of photography, and I think this is an area where scholars in religious studies and theology can make a contribution to visual studies, art history, and photography criticism.40 Third, and most important for my purposes in this article, attention to Sontag’s (mis)interpretation of Feuerbach’s text uncovers something about how Sontag understands photography and its relation to ‘the real’, which might otherwise remain hidden. . 69 Feuerbach’s writing in The Essence of Christianity is thick with visual metaphors. On Photography's rapacious tourist, who mistakes gratifying images for reality, appears the alter ego of the activist—Sontag herself—who travels to the scene of war. Throughout On Photography, Sontag wrestles with this view of photography. 3099067 Literature and Medicine 24(2) (Fall 2005) pp. Feuerbach writes, ‘In the object which he contemplates, therefore, man becomes acquainted with himself; consciousness of the objective is the self-consciousness of man. In On Photography, Sontag critically analyses what she calls the ‘fairy tale’ of photography and yet she ends up participating in its logic. Nineteenth century ‘spirit photography’ is also an excellent illustration of this manipulation. The arguments driving The Essence of Christianity are that theology is anthropology and that religion has alienated human beings from their true nature, taking everything good about humanity as a species and projecting it onto God. The process of turning negatives into positives was so time-consuming and the resulting images so poor, that Niepce searched for another image making technique. For both thinkers, the cause of the problem can also be its solution. 1 Susan Sontag, On Photography (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1977), p. 34. 1970) world. Sontag’s version of the fairy tale is her belief that photographs are revelatory. from the College of the University of Chicago and did graduate work in philosophy, literature, and theology at Harvard University and … 114–23; Stephen Eisenman, The Abu Ghraib Effect (London: Reaktion Books, 2007); and Schuyler W. Henderson, ‘Disregarding the Suffering of Others: Narrative, Comedy and Torture’. Recommended articles lists articles that we recommend and is powered by our AI driven recommendation engine. When The Essence of Christianity appeared, Engels wrote, ‘No one can have an idea of the liberating influence of this book unless he himself experienced it. Her misreading of Feuerbach, however, reveals her hopes for photography: that photography can be a counter-force to the ‘increasingly secular history of painting when secularism is entirely triumphant’.97 Photography, Sontag writes, revives—in wholly secular terms—something like the primitive status of images. 17 Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, trans. More broadly, it describes political travel as an experimental practice that helped Sontag to develop her ideas about aesthetics, ethics, and activism. Abstract. She pays critical attention to the multiple uses to which photographs can be put; to photography understood as both aesthetic and the instrumental; to capitalist society’s requirement that culture be based on images due to its need for ‘vast amounts of entertainment’ to ‘stimulate buying and anesthetize the injuries of class, race and sex’; to cameras’ power to define reality as a spectacle and as an object of surveillance; to the role of images as producers of ideology; and to photographs’ ability to shock and to anesthetize. For Feuerbach, society’s conception of God ‘is a function of the moral value-system of the society concerned,’ indicating that morality is logically prior to, and independent of religion. Like Feuerbach, Sontag argues that human beings have mistaken the copy for the thing itself and, as a result, have created a false division between the copy and the ‘real,’ devalued both the copy and the thing itself, and overlooked the profound ways images affect the world. Sontag explicitly separates photography and action/intervention in her discussion: “The person who intervenes cannot record; the person who is recording cannot intervene” (1977:12). If, as Sontag repeatedly claimed, the trip to Hanoi marked a “turning point” in her writing and her life, the particulars of that experience bear close scrutiny. She writes, ‘[This view] assumes that what is real persists, unchanged and intact, while only images have changed . Sontag notes in a brief preface to the paperback version of the text that the more she thought about ‘what photographs are, the more complex and suggestive they became’ (Sontag, On Photography, Preface). 222–9. Six essays, followed by a brief anthology of quotations about photography dedicated to Walter Benjamin, comprise the text: ‘In Plato’s Cave,’ ‘America, Seen Through Photographs, Darkly,’ ‘Melancholy Objects’, ‘The Heroism of Vision,’ ‘Photographic Evangels’ and ‘The Image-World’. For Sontag, photography has reduced the world to its image, yet it is photography that can … Looking carefully at how she misreads these texts brings her own project into relief. Screen 13, (1972) p. 7. 36 Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, trans. a material vestige of its subject in a way that no painting can be’, Sontag presents her reader with a choice: would you rather have had Holbein the younger to have lived long enough to paint Shakespeare, or would you rather that the camera had been invented in time to photograph him?63 Most people, she believes, would choose the photograph, and she uses a Christian image to explain why: ‘Having a photograph of Shakespeare would be like having a nail from the True Cross.’64 It is not clear, however, whether Sontag would choose the relic, the painting, or something else altogether. She received her B.A. 2 From Alan Trachtenberg’s preface to Oliver Wendell Holmes, ‘The Stereoscope and the Stereograph’, in Classic Essays on Photography, ed. 822–827; Andrew J. Mitchell, ‘Torture and Photography: Abu Ghraib’. People also read lists articles that other readers of this article have read. 12 For a survey of the debates about what, if anything, is peculiarly ‘photographic’ about photography, see Joel and Neil Walsh, ‘Allen Snyder, Photography, Vision and Representation’. Her book is a collection of six essays that explore photography in the deepest of manners. Identifies three types of signs: symbols, icons and indexes landscape would appear Quarterly! May 2009 ) p. 8 world – Susan Sontag 's trip prepared her to mount on,! She understands photography and what she hopes photography might be able to do these things photography, for Sontag in., what photographers do and the meaning of photography that can … Abstract has created the sickness, and until... 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