On Photography By Susan Sontag – Every Serious Photographer’s Must-Read
On Photography By Susan Sontag, is a true masterpiece and should be read by all photographers. Ironically, this book’s edition doesn’t have a SINGLE photo in it – not only is the book a great intellectual catalyst and great vocabulary builder (my copy is filled with side notes), but it is also a heaps of very useful information for photographers too. Susan truly knows her subject – whether history of photography or the technicalities of the trade.
On Photography is a study of the subject filled with humor and intellect – it is a truly brilliant reflection at the very essence of photography. This book digs much deeper than just analysis of the process or motives of the photographers. I find it pointless to try and recapture Sontag’s words here. But I am eager to showcase some of Sontag’s maverick storytelling in an attempt to encourage you to read the book for yourself. Your photography philosophy will develop, your mind will improve, and you will likely become a Sontag’s fan. If you’ll get through the whole book first.
With all of this in mind, I’ve decided the best way to talk about this book is by way of mentioning few of my favorite quotes – literary gold nuggets really:
“Time eventually positions most photographs, even the most amateurish, at the level of art” (21).
“The camera has the power to catch so-called normal people in such a way as to make them look abnormal. The photographer chooses oddity, chases it, frames it, develops it, titles it” (34).
“But essentially the camera makes everyone a tourist in other people’s reality, and eventually in one’s own” (57).
“The painter constructs, the photographer discloses. That is, the identification of the subject of a photograph always dominates our perception of it – as it does not, necessarily, in a painting” (92).
“But photographic seeing has to be constantly renewed with new shocks, whether subject matter or technique, so as to produce the impression of violating ordinary vision” (99).
“. . . an unassuming functional snapshot may be as visually interesting, as eloquent, as beautiful as the most acclaimed fine-art photograph” (103).
Photographers and other visual thinkers are often drawn to buy books with images, here however is one with none – which, should you decide to buy it, will definitely enhance every other book in your photography library. I highly recommend On Photography.
There is also a great documentary on Susan Sontag by Nancy Kates.