Mental Pollution

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Backdoor, photograph

“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!

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3 responses to “Mental Pollution

  1. We tend to view photographs as an invitation to interpret… instead of seeing that they are, in a very real way, just a slice of reality… a split second slice… I like to give the date and time of exposure when I display a photo as if to say this is reality at that time… not before or after but at the time the shutter was released… what goes on after or before that time is irrelevant to the photograph…and only invites confusion…..

  2. This is fascinating. I think I’d like to read that book.

    I love this photograph Bob, the “War of the Worlds” shadows created by the two light fixtures are wonderful.

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