On Photography (Sontag, 1979), is one of those titles that is so familiar I felt I knew it before I started. Alright so my first read of it was some years ago now but it has been an interesting reunion. I found I am now reading it wearing different lenses (excuse the pun!) and new aspects stand out for me.
Quite early on an issue struck quite hard, and I know it is something others have picked up on too. She talks of photography as being ‘as much an interpretation of the world, as paintings and drawings. A view that makes perfect sense to me. She then makes a link that has really got me thinking.
“There is an aggression implicit in every use of the camera.”
It is one of those statements that stops you in your tracks and certainly made me reflect on my approach to the ethics of photography. On closer reading I think she is referring primarily to photographing people, which I must admit is something I tend to shy away from. In part I guess because I loathe having my own photo taken – I never recognise the person looking back at me and I find it very discomforting.
Later in the chapter Sontag (1979: 14) goes on to say:
“To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge for them they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed.”
This notion sits within the metaphor of the camera as a ‘predatory weapon,’ (Sontag, 1979: 14) a distinctly powerful metaphor that ought to encourage careful reflection on what my camera is ‘aimed’ at and why.
Sontag, S. (1979). On Photography. London: Penguin.