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Tuesday, 01 March 2016


Lovely to see Sontag appear here! She wrote brilliantly on photography.

My perennial favorite companion quote to her is the immortal "People Taking PIctures of Each Other:"

People take pictures of the summer
Just in case someone thought they had missed it
And to prove that it really existed

Fathers take pictures of the mothers
And the sisters take pictures of brothers
Just to show that they love one another

You can't picture love that you took from me
When we were young and the world was free
Pictures of things as they used to be
Don't show me no more, please

People take pictures of each other
Just to prove that they really existed
Just to prove that they really existed

People take pictures of each other
And the moment to last them forever
Of the time when they mattered to someone

People take pictures of the summer
Just in case someone thought they had missed it
Just to prove that it really existed

People take pictures of each other
And the moment to last them forever
Of the time when they mattered to someone

Picture of me when I was just three
Sucking my thumb by the old oak tree
Oh, how I love things as they used to be
Don't show me no more, please

--Ray Davies, The Kinks

Whatever next for TOP? Quotes from Walter Benjamin?
How about: "The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction" AKA "The work of art in the age of digital reproduction."
How about: "The Malls project"?

[Do you ever contribute to a discussion instead of merely commenting on it? --Mike]

A very accurate reflection of my feelings on the subject!


Why the past tense in the last statement? Is their some missing context here? Was she talking about a particular era?

Correct, even though it is Sontag, not my favorite commentator on photography.

But "authoritative" needs to be put in quotation marks, and I once again object to the implied otherness, apartness (so, think apartheid...),of photography as a medium. I believe it is to everyone's profit now to start, if one hasn't already, thinking of photography as "merely" another medium used to produce 2D images. In this way it is integrated holistically in the great continuum of human image making that begins in the Paleolithic and doesn't yet end today.

This is not to say that the photographic medium doesn't have interesting qualities unto itself, but they don't trump the more significant affinities with other 2D image making media.

Perhaps because of writing too fast and too much, Sontag was prone to falling into erudite confusion. ("There is an aggression implicit in every use of the camera.") Here she in effect asks us to believe that a photograph becomes more authoritative if it is dream-like, illogical, and full of strange juxtapositions. That might be true for some small percentage of photographs, but try to include that point of view in fashioning some sort of definition of an "authoritative" photograph (whatever that means) and the statement immediately becomes more obviously ludicrous. In fact, its opposite is more likely correct.

That is not to say that some element of surrealism is not an element of making photographs, provided we narrow that element down to the aspect of the photo as a made object, an artifact that is an edited version of the world. Maybe she was trying to say that the more spontaneous the photograph, the more authentic it is. While also not entirely correct, it would at least be closer to the mark than what she wrote.

Here's the thing. Back in the early 70s through mid 80s I followed and accumulated hi fi gear. I had a sweet Nakamichi cassette deck, found a beautiful Thorens turntable, picked up some wonderful Canton speakers, built myself a good-sounding system.

Then in the mid-80s, the part of my brain that enjoyed specs and analysis and subscribing to magazines and accumulating technology turned to the Macintosh, and I ended up writing for the Mac magazines as well as acquiring and fixing and upgrading and using Macs. I was an early-adopter, always the first to install the new OS. My audio system still sounded great, but it stopped evolving.

Then in 2005 I got my first digital SLR, the Nikon D70. And ever since, cameras and lenses and lighting gear and Photoshop and plug-ins are the things that scratch that particular itch for me. The gear-head part of my brain gets its exercise from photo gear.

I still enjoy my Thorens turntable but I haven't bought stereo equipment for years and years. I make good use of my Mac Pro Early 2008 but I haven't even bothered to upgrade to El Capitan yet. But I'm completely up to the minute with my camera and lenses and image-editing software.

All that said, I do enjoy your posts about audio gear. I was there; I know the thrill of bringing home a new set of speakers and cranking up the amp and sitting in the sweet spot of the room and listening to an old favorite LP as if it's been remastered. I just don't understand how you can maintain your gearophilia in two distinct areas at the same time. I can't do it.

I couldn't agree more to Ms. Sontag here.

I have tried through the years to get through "On Photography" and always found it to be tough sledding. But this most wonderful quote equals an entire post-secondary education.

I've been shooting pots & pans and pretty girls to make a nickel for 35 years. The quote from Susan Sontag reminds me, though, that making a nickel was not why I picked up a camera. I am mending my ways.

I think the very nature of photography is surreal, in how little control we have in the realisation of our attempts to photograph. We can set apertures, and shutter speeds, we can frame the scene as we choose but what we get back on a print can be so different that it only speaks to the surreal.

I've set out to document the anxiety I faced walking on streets, encountering people and averting my eyes. I frame the scene, I press the shutter button all with intent. I want to capture something. But then when I look at what I've taken it changes completely. What I intended and what I'm presented with are related, but this intent/presentation divide speaks totally to the idea of what we can know of ourselves, versus what others know of us based on what we do.

It's why photography is about constantly learning. I intended to document anxiety, but the photos I've taken, separate to my intent speak to me in new ways every time.

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