Archive for the ‘Susan Sontag’ Category

An Unedited List of Artists, Movies, and Page Numbers from On Photography by Susan Sontag

March 8, 2015

Giorgio Morandi


Paul Strand 6, 96
Walker Evans 6, 29, 30, 61
Dorothea Lange 6,17
Alfred Stieglitz 6, 29, 32, 65
Paul Strand 6, 96
Walker Evans 6, 29, 30, 61
Ben Shahn 6,
Russel Lee 6,
David Octavious Hill 7,
Julia Margaret Cameron 7,
Atget 16, 67
Brassai 16, 46
Matthew Brady 17
Andersenville Photographs 17
Felix Green 18,
Marc Riboud
Don McCullen biafra 19,
Jacob Riis new your 23, 57, 63
Edward Steichen 28, 32
Lewis Heine 29, 63 Natl Child Labor Committee
Rosenfeld writes of Stieglitz 30, 47
Julia Margaret Cameron 35
Robert Frank 46, 61
Giorgio Morandi 46
Man Ray 52,
Laszlo Mohol-Nagy 52
John Hertfield 52
Alexander Rodchenko 52
John Thompson 57
Bill Brandt 58
Ghitta Carell 58
August Sander 59
Edward Muybridge 60
Emerson Stryker 61
Adam Clark Vroman 62, 64
Clarence John Laughlin 67,79
Roman Vishniac 67
Bod Edelman’s Down Home 72
Michael Lesy Wisconsin Death Trip 73
Albert Renger_Patzsch The World is Beautiful 91
Edward Weston 91, 96
Minor White 91
Ansel Adams 102
Nadar 104
W. Eugene Smith 105
John Szakowski 129


Godard Les Carabiniers 1963 (3)
Chris Marker Si j’avais 1966 (5)
Dziga Vertovm Man with a Movie Camera 1929 (12)
Hitchcock Rear Window 1954 (12)
Blowup 1966 (13)
Peeping Tom 1960 (13)
Tod Browning Freaks 1932 (38)
Warhol Chelsea Girls 1966 (45)
Buster Keaton The Cameraman 1928 (53)
Robert Siodmak Menshem am Sonntag 1929 (70)
Chris Marker La Jetee 1963 (70)
Goddard A Letter to June 1972 (108)

Every Picture Tells a Story About Someone Who is Happier Than You Are

March 30, 2013

no like

Photographs alter and enlarge our notions of what is worth looking at and what we have a right to observe.

—Susan Sontag
On Photography (3)

Life is not a movie. A life is made up of a million mundane moments; a movie is a carefully constructed sequence of images leading to a climax. Thus watching movies conditions us to believe that an entire life can pivot on one fateful defining moment. Movies tell us that all of our lives could be radically altered if only… For example, the explicit message of the movie Back to the Future is that a struggling, insecure, and miserable man named George McFly and his family could be living rich and happy lives if only George had socked Biff Tannen in the head one time.

My objective here is not to point out that this particular movie, like so many other movies, is predicated on the redemptive power of violence. (Although that’s certainly an essay worth writing.) But it is important to remember that movies are not designed to remind us that existence is a constant struggle, and growth and achievement are painstaking processes, achieved little by little, if achieved at all.

Of course, movies are not meant to prepare us for life (that’s what parents, teachers, coaches, and drill sergeants are for). And watching movies provides all sorts of wonderful benefits. But it is dangerous to allow cinematic sentiments to bleed into our conscious appraisal of the real world. Much life is wasted by people who expect the cavalry to come riding in to save the day at the last moment.

Although still photography lacks the narrative lure of motion pictures, “Photographs are more memorable than moving images, because they are a neat slice of time, not a flow” (17). But this is also an illusion. As Susan Sontag notes in her groundbreaking 1973 book On Photography, “Life is not about significant details, illuminated by a flash, fixed forever. Photographs are” (81).

And the fact that almost all of us are photographers ourselves further obscures the unreality of the photograph: “Photographic images do not seem to be statements about the world so much as pieces of it, miniatures of reality that anyone can make or acquire” (4).

This blurring of memory and memento allow photographs to seduce us in ways that motion pictures cannot; the photographs we treasure seem like authentic pieces of reality. Compared to actual memories, the penumbra of existence, photographs offer an eerie phantasm of lived experience. The contrast between nostalgia and actual physical images that are “fixed forever” is disconcerting: “Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt” (15).

Much has changed in the forty years since Susan Sontag first published On Photography. And although there is no way that she could have anticipated the current explosion of photographic images across the internet, the following observation is more apt than ever: “By furnishing this already crowded world with a duplicate one of images, photography makes us feel that the world is more available than it really is” (24).

Today users share “30 billion pieces of content each month” on Facebook, a phenomenon which “represents the largest database of social information the world has ever witnessed.” Much of this content is made up of photographic images.

According to a recent study, when “experienced over a long time period” the “effects of passive following” of Facebook “can lead to frustration and exhaustion, damaging individual life satisfaction.” For many people, every picture on Facebook tells a story about someone who is happier than they are. For these people, “To possess the world in the form of images is, precisely, to re-experience the unreality and remoteness of the real” (160).

Richard W. Bray