Sontag Concept of Photography

Topics: Photography, Susan Sontag, Image Pages: 5 (1740 words) Published: December 4, 2012
Name: Claudia Sánchez
Number: 12083038
Module: CU4027
Lecturer: Anthony Quinn
Tutor: Anthony Quinn
Date: 18 October 2012

Sontag argues that a photograph is a ‘material vestige of its subject in a way that no painting can be’ (p81). Discuss. Since its origins between 1840 and 1850, photography has been considered to be able to reflect reality in a different way and supposed a big breakdown from the painting tradition. For Sontag, photography appeared because of the necessity of wanting to cover as many themes and genres as possibilities of photographs do exist; which means, infinite possibilities of genres. It could be considered one of the best inventions in history but at the same time, photography appeared limited by a bigger handicap: the mix between science and technique; not everybody could afford to take photographs on those first years (1840-1850); it was a hobby only for scientifics or for people of the highest class of society. During the Civil War years in the United States and some years later, photography turned into fashion; people usually took a photo when they visited someone and give it to the host as a way of showing gratitude. People then started to use these photos as collectibles and its use was even more extended if it could be but still, between the richer populations. Soon people started to realize a photograph could better represent reality, in a way that paintings despite their brushstrokes could not get. Therefore, with this example we can understand why it is usually said ‘photography furnish evidence’, it helps to prove where one has been or who you know. In actual times, photographs could be seen as personal achievements; we use photography to show our family that where we had been was real, they can see yourself in the picture and realize that you were in a certain place. Also, we use photography in specific moments in time for example, to show our co-workers our own story “These are my parents”, “This is my boyfriend”, “Those are my friends” etc. After the first industrialization of photography at the end of the 19th century amateur photographers started to appear and with them, photography turned into a social habit like it is nowadays. There is no meeting or social event in which there is no camera immortalizing the moment. Photography has the identity of something eternal, not like paintings that are simple impressions of reality. This way we could easily say that photography is the way a human being has to maintain a memory as fresh and vivid as when the photo was taken. Photography was also linked to another invent of modern society: the tourism. Some people can find some peace in taking photographs of exotic places. This way we can understand photographs as they are: they represent an appearance, reality and everything regarding to it. They represent reality just like it was or it is. We saw that on the one hand we have photography and all its contents: reliability when speaking about reflecting reality, capable of capturing specific moments in time, etc. but on the other hand we have paintings. When they first appeared we could say it was at the start of the story, when not even language was invented. Since then, paintings had been the way of representing memories or knowledge, and now it let us explore our own history. But instead Sontag says that ‘Through image-making and image-duplicating machines we can acquire something as information (rather than experience)’ (On Photography, p.154), which means paintings were useful when photograph was not invented but still nowadays a painting would be rather useless when talking about reflecting reality and reliability. Moreover, in the 21th century some people ask themselves: were paintings as reliable as photography is now? And opinions as points of view are really numerous and variable. Susan Sontag for example in her book ‘On Photography’ tells us that a photograph is something eternal and indestructible: ‘a photograph is not...
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