Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Susan Sontag - On Photography: Photographic evangels - Summary

Susan Sontag -  On Photography: Photographic evangels - Summary

In part 5 of "On Photography" – "Photographic Evangels" Susan Sontag Discusses the nature of the art of photography through various claims to the nature of essence of photography and aesthetic and moral views on photography.

At the opening of "Photographic Evangels" Sontag points to two foundational views on photography – that which sees photography as a sober, minded and knowledged action and that which views photography as an act of intuitive encounter with the world. The latter speaks of a certain state of mind involved with photography which leads to what Sontag calls "an epistemological paradox" in which photography is presented as a kind of "knowledge without knowledge". The former's take on photography is that the photographic image must pre-exist in the mind of the photographer, and that photography is hence a deliberate, crafted and self-aware action. These two views presented by Sontag, it should be noted, mandate different techniques of photography  - one which spontaneously shot everything and one which requires prior planning.

Another issue treated by Sontag in "Photographic Evangels" is that of creativity in photography and photography as a means of self expression. Here Sontag discusses the gap between the notion of photography as expression and that of photography as a realist depiction of reality. Whether an individual subjective and creative practice or one which is true only to reality, Sontag notes that both takes on photography converge and the pre-assumption that photography is a unique method of discovery – a way to see reality in a way that in only possible through photography.

This brings Sontag's "Photographic Evangels" to the question of realism. Photography was often held as a realist medium, and Sontag defines photographic realism as claiming not to what there "really" is but rather to what I "really" see. The realist approach to photography as defined by Sontag stays true to the notion of photography as discovery, assuming the reality is hidden and can be revealed by photography. Photography takes on the function of estrangement, with Sontag arguing that this approach holds that representing something through photography is presenting something that is hidden. This, ironically, leads in Sontag's view to the formalist approach that fells that there must be a gap between reality and its representation in which art works. The imposition of form on the realistic, supposedly "transparent" medium of photography, is the way in which the realist vision on photography meats with its opposing theory.

For Sontag in "photographic Evangels", the subjective and objective views on photography converge in what taking a photograph is really all about. Photography depicts realities that are only discernable through photographs (which doesn't make them less of a reality). The camera is a medium for discovery, both self discovery and for discovering reality.

In "Photographic Evangels" Susan Sontag further discusses the notion widely held by the "photographic evangels", early photographers and theorists of photography, of photography as discovery, be it a realistic or formalistic discovery. Both variations deny photography as an aggressive act of exploitatively expropriating reality, objects and people. The subjective approach denies this aggressive nature of photography by emphasizing the kind a gentle gaze of the cameras while the objective realist approach stresses the abolition of the self in the depiction of reality through photography.

According to Sontag in "photographic Evangels", one result of these two ideals is the ambivalence towards means of photography. Many photographers gave up using more advanced photography equipment in order to "disarm" themselves in relation to reality and to preserve the expressional mode of photography that might be lost if photography was to become too accurate. This also leads to technological attempts to realize forsaken possibilities in the early development of photography.

On Photography:

stuff you might want to read:
On PhotographyCamera Lucida: Reflections on PhotographyClassic Essays on PhotographyRegarding the Pain of Others

Susan Sontag -  On Photography: Photographic evangels - Summary

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