Excerpt + unrelated

I took this from a book written by Susan Sontag, called On Photography, from 1977. I want to know if you agree or disagree and why.


“Photography implies that we know about the world if we accept it as the camera records it. But this is the opposite of understanding, which starts from not accepting the world as it looks. All possibility of understanding is rooted in the ability to say no. Strictly speaking, one never understands anything from a photograph. Of course, photographs fill in the blanks in our mental pictures of the present and the past: for example. Jacob Riis’s images of New York squalor in the 1880’s are sharply instructive to those unaware that urban poverty in the late-ninteenth-century America was really that Dickensian. Nevertheless, the camera’s rendering of reality must always hide more than it discloses. As Brecht points out, a photograph of the Krupp works* reveals virtually nothing about that organization. In contrast to the amorous relation, which is based on how something looks, understanding is based on how it functions. And functioning takes place in time and must be explained in time. Only that which narrates can make us understand.

The limit of photographic knowledge of the world is that, while it can goad conscience, it can, finally, never be ethical or political knowledge. The knowledge gaine through still photographs will always be some kind of sentimentalism, whether cynical or humanist. It will be a knowledge at bargain prices–a semblance of knowledge, a semblance of wisdeom.  .  .  . The very muteness of what is, hypothetically, comprehensible in photographs is what constitutes their attraction and provacativeness. The omnipresence of photographs has an incalculable effect on our ethical sensibility. By furnishing this already crowded world with a dupicate of one of images, photography makes us feel that the world is more readily available than it really is.

Needing to have reality confirmed and experience enhanced by photographs is an aesthetic consumerism to which everyone is now addicted. Industrial societies turn their citizens into image-junkies; it is the most irresistable form of mental pollution.”

* Krupp: a German weapons manufacturing firm that was instrumental in the Nazi rearmament effort of the 1930’s.



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