“Photographs, which cannot themselves explain anything, are inexhaustible invitations to deduction, speculation, and fantasy.”
– Susan Sontag
I’m reading Sontag’s seminal work “On Photography” and finding it thought provoking.
She is making a point here that our photograph-dominated culture has created a view of social reality that is a series of unrelated anecdotes, undermining a sense of continuity. Each photograph is a discrete and arbitrary framing of reality which presents us with the opportunity to seek what is beyond it. The photograph hides more than it reveals – it can never reveal the underlying reality of what it depicts. Instead it presents a surface level view, which invites the “deduction, speculation, and fantasy” mentioned above.
Therein lies our fascination with the medium. I think there is a unique relationship between photography and the world that does not exist between painting and it’s subjects. There is a literal and obvious way in which the camera records reality – initially we are tempted to accept what the camera captures as reality. Yet a photogaph’s ability to explain reality is so compromised that it inevitably triggers our efforts to understand the underlying story in a way which is irresistible.
Sontag accuses industrial nations of turning their citizens into “image-junkies” which she terms the most irresistible form of “mental pollution”.
More on this to come… but I find her discussion of the way in which photography has changed how we see and actually experience the world around us fascinating. I hope I’m not contributing too much to the sea of mental pollution out there!