If I took a photo at at this exact instant, what would I be photographing? Am I capturing a glimpse of time? A mirrored image of reality? Or is the high definition lens slowly depicting a moment of the past, for at the second I take the picture, is that a moment that has disappeared? And if I were to print that picture, what would I be printing? Ultimately, was it worth capturing? Is it a memory I am going to cherish? And what does the act of taking a picture provide me with? These questions instantaneously sprung to mind whilst reading the passage from On Photography by Susan Sontag. It is questions such as these that are intertwined within Sontag’s interesting observations on what photography is, and what role it embraces.
Sontag is immovably set on her belief that photography limits individual’s understanding of the world, but her reasons are completely feebleminded. Photography in no way limits a person’s understanding of the world, rather it broadens and enhances it. Photo increase awareness and provoke thought, they allow for the appreciation of things held dearest, and they are now a part of who and what society is. Products of photography are not mental pollutants, but rather breaths of fresh air. Photography is a subject in which I have devoted an abundance of time and energy to, and one thing that I am certain of is that photography is a right of passage. The entire idea of photography was established in order to allow individuals to express themselves and their ideas. I can distinctly picture my first day of photography school. I walked into the classroom and the initial conversation began with a discussion of Edward Steichen and his remarkable photos.
Although Steichen is a name that is only known to few, his photos are known to all. He took some of the most captivating photos throughout the most abhorrent times of World War ll. His most momentous image is also the most indelible. He photographed a frail looking man with bones protruding out of his skin, the starvation cleary prominent upon his feeble body. The wrinkles of stress and fatigue upon his adolescent face, making him appear decrepit. Within the background of this photo were shelves, but these shelves were not used for their intended purpose, instead each meager shelf contained three men each. No mattress, no pillow, no blanket, only a confined cramped place which each man would now consider home.
This precise photo impassioned me to become involved with photography. The way that Steichen was able to capture the emotions of the war is utterly remarkable.Sontag directly states that, “One never understands anything from a photograph,” but that is an entirely dishonest assertion. The understanding of a photograph comes through the viewer’s interpretation of of what is presented, the same way in which understanding writing comes through the comprehension of reading.
Sontag decides to conclude her beginning paragraph with, “only that which narrates can make us understand.”, thus further proving her fatuousness. All art speaks, but it is up to the viewer to listen.
A woman holding her child. The initial impression of this picture may not seem exceptional, and it is not until the viewer immerse themself within the photo that they will come to realize its true meaning. The child covered in smoke, coughing out particles trapped deep within his lungs; his nose bleeding due to the exposure to dust and pollution; his body curled tightly into the mother’s, feeling a sense of comfort and safety. The mother’s face overflowing with alleviation, embracing her child as if it’s the last chance she will ever receive.
The trick to understanding photographs is to look, listen, and let the art communicate. The art will speak to those willing to understanding. For many, photography allows for the appreciation of past memories. Continuing on her critique of photography, Sontag argues that, “photography makes us feel that the world is more available than it really is.
” But, how is this negative? Photography allows individuals to look back and remember a certain memoir, a nostalgic moment. It ultimately assures a person that they have lived a specific moment – whether it be great or terrible – it was a moment that was real to them. When asking people what possessions they would rescue from their burning house, the most prominent answer is usually their photos. When in panic mode it’s interesting to find that the majority of individuals would grab photos rather than valuable jewelry.
This impulse to save recorded memories is a powerful force which demonstrates much about the role of photography within society and the constant desire to convert the most precious moments into images. People desire to preserve the important events and people in their lives. The ceremonies of birthdays, marriages and anniversaries, holidays and new houses are all recorded because they matter and hold meaning in people’s lives. Photographs are individual’s personal stories, a timeline of their lives filled with faces and places that are loved. They are people’s story, which they are now capable of sharing with others. The hundreds of images come together to form a narrative of people’s entire life. Who needs words when there are photos?The lights dim low, the crowd goes wild, and a singer emerges upon the stage. If there was a photo taken at this exact moment, I can guarantee that every person in the crowd will be holding a phone or camera.
In today’s world, this is what humanity does in most situations. Individuals have been molded to instinctively capture the moments that they find astonishing. As Sontag concludes in her final paragraph, “Needing to have reality confirmed and experience enhanced by photographs is an aesthetic consumerism to which everyone is now addicted.
“, and she is not wrong by stating this. Yes, society has become addicted to the act of taking photos, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Photography is part of who this generation is.
No matter what people think or say, photography will always be a way of displaying who individuals are to the world. Having the ability to photograph, to become the artist, and to snap away at whatever the artists feels is important enables them to have the control, to have the power. It is truly remarkable that individuals have the ability to say, “Here, this is from me to you.
This is everything that I value, and everything that I cherish, and I am willing to share it with you, so that maybe you will better understand me and how I view the world.” Not only does photography enable individuals to share who they are, it allows them to share what is going on in the world. It is imperative to have knowledge of what is occurring in the world today, and photos open new doors to communication. The photograph of the drowned Syrian boy is harrowing and calamitous. It is when images like that are spread around the world that reactions are generated. Viewing these devastating photos convinces people to want to make a difference, to want to help. This photo displays the realities of the events taking place in the world which humanity inhabits. This photo showed the human cost of the refugee crisis.
Society demanded governments to allow in more refugees and to save them from their hapless fates. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, heard those cries, and agreed to allow in even more refugees. Thousands of lives may have been spared because of one image. An image proved that humanity could do more, that individuals have the ability to help these people. Those refugee’s survival depended upon the world’s sympathy, and that photograph helped all of the world to have some.So, what if I decided to take a photo now? Would I still be photographing the exact same scene as before? Or would I be photographing a newfound appreciation and understanding of photography? Ultimately, is it worth capturing now? The answer is yes.
Photography school has aided me to come to the conclusion that every photo is unique, and every photo contributes to whom individuals are. Susan Sontag needs to come to the realization that her passage from On Photography is a tangled web of lies. Photography is not a limiting factor on society’s understanding of the world, it is a broadening and enhancing of it. It increases awareness and generates thought, it allows for the appreciation of things that are held dearest, and it a part of who and what humanity is.