On Photography, Susan Sontag

To photograph is to appropriate the thing

photographed. It means putting oneself into a

certain relation to the world that feels like

knowledge-and, therefore, like power. A now

notorious first fall into alienation, habituating

people to abstract the world into printed words,

is supposed to have engendered that surplus of

Faustian energy and psychic damage needed to

build modern, inorganic societies. But print

seems a less treacherous form of leaching out the

world, of turning it into a mental object, than

photographic images, which now provide most

of the knowledge people have about the look of

the past and the reach of the present. What is

written about a person or an event is frankly an

interpretation, as are handmade visual state­

ments, like paintings and drawings. Pho­

tographed images do not seem to be statements

about the world so much as pieces of it, minia­

tures of reality that anyone can make or acquire.


A photograph is not just the result of an en­

counter between an event and a photographer;

picture-taking is an event in itself, and one with

ever more peremptory rights-to interfere with,

to invade, or to ignore whatever is going on. Our

very sense of situation is now articulated by the

camera’s interventions. The omnipresence of

cameras persuasively suggests that time consists

of interesting events, events worth photograph­

ing. This, in turn, makes it easy to feel that any

event, once underway, and whatever its moral

character, should be allowed to complete itself­

so that something else can be brought into the

world, the photograph. After the event has ended,

the picture will still exist, conferring on the event

a kind of immortality (and importance) it would

never otherwise have enjoyed. While real people

are out there killing themselves or other real peo­

ple, the photographer stays behind his or her

camera, creating a tiny element of another world:

the image-world that bids to outlast us aU.

Photographing is essentially an act of non­

intervention. Part of the horror of such memo­

rable coups of contemporary photojournalism

as the pictures of a Vietnamese bonze reaching

for the gasoline can, of a Bengali guerrilla in the

act of ba yoneting a trussed-up collaborator,

comes from the awareness of how plausible it

has become, in situations where the photogra­

pher has the choice between a photograph and a

life, to choose the photograph. The person who

intervenes cannot record; the person who is

recording cannot intervene. Dziga Vertov’s great

film, Man with a Movie Camera (1’929), gives

the ideal image of the photographer as someone

in perpetual movement, someone movmg

through a panorama of disparate events with

such agility and speed that any intervention is

out of the question. Hitchcock’s Rear Window

(1954) gives the complementary image: the pho­

tographer played by James Stewart has an inten­

sified relation to one event, through his camera,

precisely because he has a broken leg and is con­

fined to a wheelchair; being temporarily immo­

bilized prevents him from acting on what he

sees, and makes it even more important to take

pictures. Even if incompatible with intervention

in a physical sense, using a camera is still a form

of participation. Although the camera is an ob­

servation station, the act of photographing

is more than passive observing. Like sexual

voyeurism, it is a way of at least tacitly, often ex­

plicitly, encouraging whatever is going on to

keep on happening. To take a picture is to have

an interest in things as they are, in the status quo

remaining unchanged (at least for as long as it

takes to get a “good” picture), to be in complic­

ity with whatever makes a subject interesting,

worth photographing-including, when that is

the interest, another person’s pain or misfortune.

πηγή: http://www.rcbsam.com/uploads/4/1/9/6/41960/sontag_on_photography.pdf

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