Susan Sontag : On Photography


{ Falmouth University MA in photography – CRJ }

In June 2019 I started my MA with Falmouth university as part of an accredited education programme.


Susan Sontag : On Photography 

Oh my lord, this book has hurt my head the past few weeks. I have read it, reread certain lines 3/4/5 times when they made no sense to me. I have listened to it on audio book, nothing was cracking me. I just didn’t ‘get’ it, I didn’t get Sontag basically. Then one of our tutors suggested I listen to a Radio3 production : Afterwords : Susan Sontag ( Produced Alia Cassam and Alan Hall. A Falling Tree production for BBC Radio 3 . )

What an amazing programme. Hearing Sontag speak, I would never of linked her to the essays that I found so dry, laborious, and hard to hear what it was she was actually trying to say ( I am sure this is down to my love of novels as opposed to, well, academic writing in general ! ) . This programme was definitely a turning point for me. Hearing Sontag’s fiery exchanges with interviewers , and listening to her talk with such passion, changed the way I heard the book. When I next sat down with it, I had on the audiobook , and I read along at the same time, and part way through “THE HEROISM OF VISION” I fell totally in love with her words.

I am going to try & keep a little list here of quotes from her book that I think either directly, or indirectly link back to my own work & projects so that I can access them more easily. Last note, isn’t it fabulously satisfying, when something you worked so hard at , and persevered with, actually ends up being so truly beautiful !

All quotes :

( Sontag , Susan . 1977 . On photography . Penguin books. )

“Fashion photography is based on the fact that something can be more beautiful in a photograph than in real life.” [pg 104] I find this notion very interesting, when I link it to birth photography. There is no question that there is natural beauty in birth to me. I have seen it time and time again, pure primordial beauty of the woman. However, many would think the physical act of ‘giving birth’ could not be beautiful. Yet I have time, and time again seen people say they have been proved wrong. The very act of capturing a fleeting breath of a moment, rendered that very moment, beautiful. 

“All photographs are memento mori.” [pg 15]  I adore this notion, and it something I am going to be exploring in one of my mini projects. For me personally, as someone that has been literally dying in intensive care twice, the idea that capturing images, preserves life, and is testament to a life, and therefore a testament to the inevitability of death and decay. It is a truly exquisite theory.


” Astute observers noticed that there was something naked about the truth a photograph conveyed, even when it’s maker did not mean to pry.” [pg 87]

“Instead of just recording reality, photographs have become the norm for the way things appear to us, thereby changing the very idea of reality, and of realism” [pg 87]

“Photographing seeing meant an aptitude for discovering beauty in what everybody sees but neglects as too ordinary.” [pg 89]

“Poetry’s commitment to concreteness and to the autonomy of the poem’s language, parallels photography’s commitment to pure seeing.” [pg 96]

“In the main tradition of the beautiful in photography, beauty requires the imprint of a human decision; that this would make a good photograph, and that the good picture would make some comment.” [pg 98]

“An unassuming functional snapshot may be as visually interesting, as eloquent, as beautiful as the most acclaimed fine art photographs.” [pg 103]

“A photograph changes according to the context in which it is seen.” [pg 106]

” But the Aestheticizing tendency of photography is such that the medium which conveys distress ends by neutralising it.” [pg 109]

” In humanist jargon, the highest vocation of photography is to explain man to man. But photographs do not explain; they acknowledge.” [pg 111]

“In teaching us a new visual code, photographs alter and enlarge our notions of what is worth looking at, and what we have a right to observe.” [pg 3]

“A photograph passes for incontrovertible proof that a given thing has happened” [pg 5]

“Recently photography has become as widely practiced an amusement as sex and dancing – which means that, like every mass art form, photography is not practiced by most people as an art. It is mainly a social rite, a defence against anxiety, and a tool of power.” [pg 8]

” Through photographs, each family constructs a portrait-chronicle of itself-a portable kit of images that bears witness to its connectedness.” [pg8]

“As catalogues with passion by Whitman and as sized up with a shrug by Warhol, everybody is a celebrity.” [pg 28]

susan sontag , on photography . Penguine books. 1977

susan sontag , on photography . Penguine books. 1977


Your email is never published or shared. Required fields are marked *



F a c e b o o k
I n s t a g r a m