12 April, 2008

Photography and war

Two related books. I finished Sontag's On photography a couple of weeks ago and followed it up with Regarding the pain of others: interesting to read two connected books by the same author, written twenty-odd years apart, on similar topics. I thought they were both fascinating

With regard to On photography, I'm finding it hard to think of things to say now because I find I'm more mulling over questions she raises than agreeing or disagreeing with things she says. Like, what is the effect on society when it is 'saturated' with photographic images, as ours is? She uses the phrase 'image junkies'. What is the relationship between a photograph and reality? We see photos as more real than paintings, but how real does that make them? She suggests that photographs can be very unreal: for example, in the section on Diane Arbus she talks about the way that Diane Arbus's photos distance the viewer/photographer from the bizarre or freakish subject.

In Regarding the pain... she talks about images of war and suffering, something I think about a lot. As I get most of my news from the radio and the newspapers online, I miss out on the visuals of the TV and printed papers. This isn't a moral choice, but convenience and personal preference (TV news pisses me off even more than the Today programme). Sontag writes about the authenticity of war photos, and how the way they are used can change their meaning, but she also discusses whether the enormous number of photos of wars and suffering lessens their impact. In contrast to her earlier ideas about society's saturation with photographic images, she concludes than no, they don't.

I think this has been discussed a lot in the media, whether shocking pictures on the television cause 'compassion fatigue' (horrible term) and make people become numbed to tragedy. I think someone looked into this and found that on the contrary, while shocking pictures are there, people's awareness is raised and they are more likely to donate to causes and charities. When the pictures go, people (unsurprisingly) forget about that issue.

I should also say that I love the way Susan Sontag writes: she is so clear and elegant, and these books are no exception. Anyway, what I really want is to own these books so I can come back to them, but a really crappy Penguin Modern Classics edition of On photography is ten pounds! for a really flimsy paperback printed on horrible cheap paper. So if anyone sees either in a charity shop/second hand bookshop/being sold off by a library, please can they snap them up and I will reimburse them. [20]

1 comment:

Phil said...

I have a journo friend who recently did a fellowship year at Oxford culminating in a paper on the relationship between the media and charities, which ties in with what you say in para 4.