Throughout history reality has been related through images and philosophers such as Plato have made efforts to diminish our reliance on representations by pointing at a direct ways to grasp the real. Susan Sontag quotes Feuerbach in saying that our age prefers the photograph to the real thing, the appearance before experience. This argument, Sontag says, is widely accepted in modern culture which is constantly engaged with producing and consuming images to such a degree that photography has been made essential for the health of the economy and the stability of social structures.
Photography, according to Susan Sontag, holds an almost unlimited authority in modern society. Such photographic images are capable of replacing reality by virtue of being not only a mirror or interpretation of in, but also a relic of reality, something that is taken straight from it.
Photography, unlike painting, does not only address and represent its object and does not only resemble it; it is also a part of the object, its direct extension.
Photography, according to Sontag, is a form of acquisition in a number of ways. When you photograph something, it becomes a part of certain knowledge system, adapted to schemas of classification and storage starting from family photographs up to police, political and scientific usage. Photography, in other words, is a form of supervision.
Primitive tribes are afraid that the camera will take their soul or something from their being. Modern societies do not of course share this fear by still views photography as directly related to the material world, a physical relic of it. our attitude towards photographs is still fetishistic, still voodoo like.
A typical nowadays statement is that an experience was "like in a movie", which is said when other forms of description fail to convey how real a sensation was. While many people in developing countries are still hesitant about being photographed, people in industrialized countries are more than happy to stand in front of a camera and that is because, Sontag argues, that being photographed gives us a sense of being real and of existing.
Photography is a means for capturing reality (which is considered unobtainable) by freezing it. You cannot hold reality but you can hold a photograph. photography in not only a way of preserving the past but also a way of handling the present., with photographic images becoming more and more widespread in modern times.
Photography also means that we can see something before we experience it, and that takes away from the virginity and openness of the way we experience reality. reality, in other words, is photographed before it is experienced.
Photography, Susan Sontag holds, is not a mere copy of reality but rather a recycled copy. We consume photographs at an ever increasing rate and they are therefore consumed and need to be replaced. Meaning, the more we take photographs the more we need to take photographs, and this accounts for what is known today as the "pictorial turn".
See also Roland Barthes On Photography