... On Photography
"Sontag contributed the essay On Photography in 1977. This gave media students and scholars an entirely different perspective of the camera in the modern world. The essay is an exploration of the photograph as a collection of the world, primarily by travelers or tourists, and the way we therefore experience it. She outlines the concept of her theory of taking pictures as you travel:‘The method especially appeals to people handicapped by a ruthless work ethic – Germans, Japanese and Americans. Using a camera appeases the anxiety which the work driven feel about not working when they are on vacation and supposed to be having fun. They have something to do that is like a friendly imitation of work: they can take pictures’.
Sontag suggested we use this photographic ‘evidence’ as a presumption that ‘something exists, or did exist’, regardless of distortion. Sontag saw the art of photography, ‘as much an interpretation of the world as paintings and drawings are’. As cameras are produced rapidly as a ‘mass art form’ and are available to all of those with the means to attain them. Focusing also on the effect of the camera and photograph on the wedding and modern family life, Sontag reflects that these are a ‘rite of family life’ in industrialized countries such as Europe and America.
To Sontag ‘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’. She considers the camera a phallus, comparable to a ray gun or a car which are ‘fantasy-machines whose use is addictive’. For Sontag the camera can be linked to murder and a promotion of nostalgia whilst evoking ‘the sense of the unattainable’ in the industrialized world. The photograph familiarizes the wealthy with ‘the oppressed, the exploited, the starving, and the massacred’ but removes the shock of these images because they are available wildly and have ceased to be novel. Sontag saw the photograph as valued because it gives information but acknowledges that they are incapable of giving a moral stand point although they can reinforce an existing one. This point of view is relatively lost in the western world consumed by pictures."
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