Susan Sontag: On Photography
In the book, Sontag expresses her views on the history and present-day role of photography in capitalist societies as of the 1970s. Sontag discusses many examples of modern photography. Among these, she contrasts Diane Arbus's work with that of Depression-era documentary photography commissioned by the Farm Security Administration.
She also explores the history of American photography in relation to the idealistic notions of America put forth by Walt Whitman and traces these ideas through to the increasingly cynical aesthetic notions of the 1970s, particularly in relation to Arbus and Andy Warhol.
Sontag argues that the proliferation of photographic images had begun to establish within people a “chronic voyeuristic relation” to the world around them. Among the consequences of photography is that the meaning of all events is leveled and made equal. This idea did not originate with Sontag, who often synthesized European cultural thinkers with her particular eye toward the United States.
As she argues, perhaps originally with regard to photography, the medium fostered an attitude of anti-intervention. Sontag says that the individual who seeks to record cannot intervene, and that the person who intervenes cannot then faithfully record, for the two aims contradict each other. In this context, she discusses in some depth, the relationship of photography to politics.