On Photography

On Photography

3.85 (39,711 ratings by Goodreads)
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First published in 1973, this is a study of the force of photographic images which are continually inserted between experience and reality. Sontag develops further the concept of 'transparency'. When anything can be photographed and photography has destroyed the boundaries and definitions of art, a viewer can approach a photograph freely with no expectations of discovering what it means. This collection of six lucid and invigorating essays, the most famous being `In Plato's Cave,` make up a deep exploration of how the image has affected society.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 224 pages
  • 129 x 198 x 14mm | 153g
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • illustrations
  • 0140053972
  • 9780140053975
  • 88,925

Review Text

Susan Sontag has returned photography to the cockpit of discussion it occupied when the exact mechanical image loomed as a threat to the person, to art, to the very relationship between images and reality. The last, essentially, is Sontag's subject, approached - after a splatter of (as yet) unsupported assertions - via touchstone figures: writers, photographers, painters interchangeably. (The book has no illustrations; it assumes, reasonably enough, a common stock of photographic images.) In a vivid, close-set argument, she traces Whitman's theme, `the levelling of distinctions between the beautiful and the ugly, the important and the trivial,` through Lewis Hine and Walker Evans to its `last sigh,` the 1955 Family of Man exhibit, apex of `sentimental humanism` - and jumps to the toast of 1972, Diane Arbus, in whose world `everybody is an allen.` But levelling down, Arbus-like, is also `lowering the threshhold of what is terrible,` as much modern art does, as Surrealism does systematically: `all subjects are merely objets trouves.` So we are confronted with photography, reputedly realistic, as the art `that has best shown how to juxtapose the sewing machine and the umbrella,` and with the photographer as `the voyeuristic stroller who discovers the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes.` Beauty falls, morality falls, as a standard; `photographic seeing` is the criterion, following `the idea that everything in the world could be made interesting through the camera.` So photographs become - Sontag adduces a misconstruction of Proust's - `not so much an instrument of memory as an invention or replacement.` Images, that is. Dismemberments of reality. The Chinese want only complete, correct views, Sontag observes in a stunning windup. For them, a `good` picture; for us, a good picture. With an anthology of quotations (also shards of reality) from the unlikes of Daguerre, Man Ray, and a 1976 Minolta ad for further agitation. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Review quote

`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`` `
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About Susan Sontag

Susan Sontag is one of America's best-known and most admired writers. Her critical essays have established her as one of the leading commentators on contemporary culture. She is the author of several work of fiction and her non-fiction includes ILLNESS AS METAPHOR (Penguin Modern Classics). She has also written and directed four feature films and stages plays in the US and Europe.
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Rating details

39,711 ratings
3.85 out of 5 stars
5 38% (15,047)
4 30% (12,028)
3 18% (6,992)
2 7% (2,805)
1 7% (2,839)
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