Visual studies

Topics: Photography, Photograph, Susan Sontag Pages: 10 (1453 words) Published: April 28, 2014

Table of Contents

2. Introduction
3. Literature Review
5. Lewis Hine
8. Conclusion
9. Bibliography


“Distant suffering on our screens was then, and still is now, a reminder of a world divided into zones of prosperity and poverty, safety and danger- persistently raising the question of ‘what to do’, only for us to keep evading it in our everyday lives.” (Boltanski L. 1999)

In images suffering is presented to us in a way that shocks the public with the intention to educate society on socio-economic issues. The public is then confronted with a reality that they cannot escape. Photos that document horrific times often create a shock effect that can be seen in a positive and/or negative nature. They can either convince society to raise money and or make a difference or they can cause the public to develop a stereotypical view of the world.

Literature Review

It is important to understand what Butler means by the grievability of lives and to test whether the photographs taken by Lewis Hine depict such “grievability”. According to Barthes a photograph can be an object of three emotions – to do (the photographer), to undergo (the target – person(s) being photographed -the referent) and to look (the spectator). To understand the photographer’s intentions these functions are to inform, to represent, to surprise, to cause, to signify, to provoke – Barthes refers to the stadium (the study) of photography – whether the spectator receives them as a political testimony of the “history of time” and differentiates the punctum – which means the sting, or cut – which refers to the impact of the photo on the spectator – does the photograph “bruise” me – is it poignant to me? (Roland Barthes Extract from Camera Lucinda from The Photography Reader – edited by Liz Wells) Susan Sontag proposed that “photographs state the innocence, the vulnerability of lives heading to its own destruction” (Susan Sontag: On Photography). For Barthes “every photograph is a catastrophe” as it evokes and asks for a response on what he refers to as “the absolute pastness of life” (as quoted in Frames of War -When is Life Grievable – Butler 2009:). The question according to Sontag is whether photos “haunt” us because if there is no haunting there has been no loss to life (Butler,2009:97). Butler states “grievability of life” is linked to tense – in other words a photograph can either haunt one in advance of the suffering or we can be haunted afterwards – in both instances it evokes either apprehension or judgement or as she says” Someone will have lived” (Butler, 2009:98) or have suffered in a specific time. Sontag regards the effect of such photos rather as “an invitation to pay attention, reflect”. (As quoted in Butler, 2009:98) Godard (in Roland Barthes Extract from Camera Lucinda from The Photography Reader: edited by Liz Wells) also makes reference to “Not a just image, just an image” but the sorrow of understanding “the grievability of life” requires a photograph which would be both justice and accuracy – when the object is not merely displaying the identity of the subject being photographed, but also their truth. When such truth represents a tragedy, I believe the photograph has correctly captured the “suffering of others” (Butler, 2009:63) Butler furthermore questions the way in which suffering is presented to us and how we respond to such suffering. This question looks at both the ethics of “embedded reporting” as well as how we formulate moral criticisms and political analysis (Butler 2009: 64) Embedded reporting was a result of the war in Iraq whereby some form of censure was placed on reporters and photographers whereby they agreed to report only within the parameter set by the military and the government. This type of reporting not only impacts the ability of journalists to report the truth, but also on the spectator, as what is presented is already censured. According to...

Bibliography: 1. Susan Sontag, On photography 2005 1st electronic edition by RosettaBooks LLC, New York
2. Judith Butler, Frames of war 2009 published by Verso London UK
3. The photography reader 2003 Wells L New York Routledge
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