The other world is to be found, as usual, inside this one.1. International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 39(2) (April, 2009) p. 104). 77 For an introduction to Feuerbach’s work and his response to critics’ charges of ‘atheism,’ please see ‘Chapter Nine: The Post-Hegelian Critique of Christianity in Germany’ in Livingston, Modern Christian Thought, pp. 18 Bazin, ‘The Ontology of the Photographic Image’, pp. For Sontag, photography is a projection of the reality of the world onto an image; her task is to use photography to return our sense of what is real, to force viewers to claim the image as theirs, to recognise that what is ‘out there’ is actually what is right here. But being educated by photographs is not like being educated by older, more artisanal images. To be able to do these things photography, for Sontag, must be revelatory. 214–36. Interpretation is a radical strategy for conserving an old text, which is thought too precious to repudiate, by revamping it. For one thing, there are a great many more images around, claiming our attention. It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide, This PDF is available to Subscribers Only. Abstract This article addresses the portrait as a philosophical form of art. In her review of On Photography, Janet Fletcher opens with a similar idea, calling the book ‘Sontag’s brilliantly if erratically argued case against photography’ (Fletcher, ‘On Photography’ [Book Review] p. 2250). Enthusiasm was general: we were all for the moment ‘Feuerbachians’’ (Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach und der Ausang de klassichen deutschen Philosophi, Berline, 1886, pg. Literature and Medicine 24(2) (Fall 2005) pp. There is something ‘magical’ about photography for Sontag, and she thinks it might deliver us from ‘the new age of unbelief’, from the ‘process of desacralization’ in which image and reality are separated, and return us to ‘something like the primitive status of images’ in which ‘an image was taken to participate in the reality of the object depicted’.39 Her project in On Photography seems, at times, to be a quasi-religious one, so it makes sense that she would appeal to a theologian. God is the infinite, man the finite being; God is the perfect, man imperfect; God eternal, man temporal; God almighty, man weak; God holy, man sinful. Susan Sontag continues to explain how she believes the idea of interpreting art originated. 822–827; Andrew J. Mitchell, ‘Torture and Photography: Abu Ghraib’. There is an aggression implicit in every use of the camera. He then exposed it to light, followed by a washing with lavender oil. Franny Nudelman is an Associate Professor in the English Department and the Institute for the Comparative Study of Literature, Art, and Culture at Carleton University. 12, quoted by Thornton in ‘Facing up to Feuerbach,’ p. 104). And his premonitory complaint has been transformed in the twentieth century into a widely agreed-on diagnosis: that a society becomes ‘modern’ when one of its chief activities is producing and consuming images, when images that have extraordinary powers to determine our demands upon reality and are themselves coveted substitutes for first hand experience become indispensable to the health of the economy, the stability of the polity, and the pursuit of private happiness. Photographers have described photography ‘as a heroic effort of attention, an ascetic discipline, a mystic receptivity to the world which requires that the photographer pass through a cloud of unknowing’.59 She quotes Minor White’s description of the photographer: ‘the state of mind of the photographer while creating is a blank . California State University Channel Islands, 1 University Drive, Camarillo, CA 93012 USA. More broadly, it describes political travel as an experimental practice that helped Sontag to develop her ideas about aesthetics, ethics, and activism. 32 Feuerbach intended the title of The Essence of Christianity to be ‘Know Thyself’ because he understood the essence of religion to be humanity’s alienated self ( James C. Livingston, Modern Christian Thought, Vol. By closing this message, you are consenting to our use of cookies. In her book, Trip to Hanoi, she describes the trip as an inward journey and a means to self-transformation; recording and critiquing her narrow-minded response to North Vietnam, Sontag tries to radicalize her perspective. Cited by lists all citing articles based on Crossref citations.Articles with the Crossref icon will open in a new tab. I think it is important to investigate Sontag’s criticism of Feuerbach for three key reasons. Susan Sontag’s “On Photography” is one of the worst texts you can ever assign to an aspiring photographer, photography student, photography beginner, or lover of photography. In Camera Indica, Christopher Pinney summarizes Peirce’s understanding of ‘indexical’: Symbols are arbitrary and conventional; iconic signs have relationship of resemblance to their referents (painting, onomatopoetic sounds); and, ‘Those signs are indexical which have some natural relationship of contiguity with their referent. 13 The term ‘indexical’ comes from the writings of C.S. As everything she wrote, Susan Sontag's book on photography is brilliant. Susan Sontag was born in New York City on January 16, 1933. Susan Sontag, In Plato’s Cave from the book: On Photography. Susan Sontag has returned photography to the cockpit of discussion it occupied when the exact mechanical image loomed as a threat to the person, to art, to the very relationship between images and reality. Sontag and photography by D. K. McDonald, Colorado Springs, CO, USA . Like a pair of binoculars with no right or wrong end, the camera makes exotic things near, intimate; and familiar things small, abstract, strange, much farther away. 40 In my dissertation, ‘Just Looking: Theological Language, Ethics and Photographs of Violence’, I analysed the theological language that emerges in the writings of three theorists of photography: Roland Barthes, John Berger and Susan Sontag. God is not what man is—man is not what God is. It must disclose a world most viewers would rather not see, but a world Sontag believes viewers have an obligation to see and to respond to ethically. Photographs ‘can and do distress’, she writes, but their aestheticizing tendency means that ‘the medium which conveys distress ends by neutralizing it’ (Ibid., p. 109). Humankind lingers unregenerately in Plato's Cave, still reveling, its age-old habit, in mere images of the truth. 1970) world. But a photograph is not only like its subject, a homage to the subject. When Niepce died in 1833, his son Isidore took his place in the partnership. Thus here. 5 Howick Place | London | SW1P 1WG. For example, in Camera Lucida, Barthes’s meditation on his mother’s death and on his own mortality, Barthes writes that photographs appeal to the ‘religious substance out of which I am molded’.24 They function as an ‘experiential order of proof’, ‘the proof-according-to-St.-Thomas-seeking-to-touch-the-resurrected-Christ’.25 They are like ‘icons which are kissed in the Greek churches without being seen’.26 Ultimately, Barthes compares looking at photographs to a kind of private meditation practiced by believers in the Middle Ages, what he calls ‘under-the-breath prayer’.27 For Bazin, a ‘religious desire’ is at the center of photography: photographs soothe the ‘mummy complex’ at the origin of painting and sculpture, which is the desire to transcend death through the ‘continued existence of the corporeal body’.28 Photographs, according to Bazin, make possible ‘the preservation of life by a representation of life’.29 Photography theorists often appeal to theological language to describe photography’s ability to cross boundaries—to make the dead present, to allow viewers to ‘time travel’ and visit the past, to make visible what would otherwise remain invisible. Sontag troubles this notion of hiddenness, asking key questions about why certain realities are hidden from others, or why we tell ourselves that they are hidden, and whether seeing a photograph of something actually makes that thing visible (and to what effect).68 And yet, even as she argues that photography creates a false sense of hiddenness, she ultimately depends on its revelatory powers to make the invisible visible, to make the ‘unreal’ real. George Eliot (Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1989), p. 14. 5–17; Sue Sorensen, ‘Against Photography’. In her widely influential book On Photography, Susan Sontag famously argued that photographs of atrocities dull moral response. Although it seems Sontag would like to leave behind the understanding of photograph as trace, ultimately it is the relationship between the photographed subject and the photograph that drives her project. Like Feuerbach, Sontag argues that human beings have mistaken the copy for the thing itself and, as a result, have created a false division between the copy and the ‘real,’ devalued both the copy and the thing itself, and overlooked the profound ways images affect the world. 21 Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others (New York: Picador, 2003), p. 119. Screen 13, (1972) p. 7. Her book is a collection of six essays that explore photography in the deepest of manners. The notion that the photographed object gives off something that is then captured on paper is not so far off the mark in describing the actual process of reflecting light onto chemically sensitive surfaces by which images were first made. Published by Oxford University Press 2010; all rights reserved. 38 Sontag’s ethical concern is another similarity she shares with Feuerbach, although she does not acknowledge this similarity in On Photography. For, challenged by the revelations of photographers, seeing tends to accommodate to photographs.45. Film Quarterly 13(4) (Summer, 1960) p. 8. The freedom to consume a plurality of images and goods is equated with freedom itself’ (Ibid., pp. Sontag turns to Feuerbach’s The Essence of Christianity in the sixth essay of On Photography, ‘The Image-World’.37 Sontag’s concern with the ‘real’ in On Photography is fundamentally an ethical concern—photography’s ability to make violence and suffering experienced by ‘others’ real—and it is to this issue that she will return (and turn critically against) in her later book about photography, Regarding the Pain of Others (2003).38 Sontag engages Feuerbach as part of her exploration of the complicated relationship between images and reality, and I argue in this article that she misreads him. Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. Portraits seek ... Roland Barthes • Susan Sontag • Art • Depiction • Subjects • Subjectification • ... photography, like painting, leaves room for the expressive aims and intentions of artists. Nay, sacredness is held to be enhanced in proportion as truth decreases and illusion increases, so that the highest degree of illusion comes to be the highest degree of sacredness. on May 22, 2017 “Like a pair of binoculars with no right or wrong end, the camera makes exotic things near, intimate; and familiar things small, abstract, strange, much farther away.” (New York: Hill and Wang, 1981), pp. In On Photography, Sontag understands photography in a similar way to how Feuerbach understands theology in The Essence of Christianity: we have mistaken the copy for the thing itself, and, as a result, we have created a false division between the copy and the ‘real’, devalued both the copy and the thing itself, and overlooked the profound ways images can and do affect the world. . The origins of her interest in photography are still debated and analyzed. In humans’ consciousness of empirical objects, we distinguish ‘between the conscious subject and the object of which it is conscious,’ but in religion, this distinction is impossible, according to Feuerbach, because ‘self-consciousness and consciousness of the religious object are identical’ (Thornton, ‘Facing Up to Feuerbach’, p. 109). 10 The information that follows was taken from the preface written by Alan Trachtenberg to Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre, ‘Daguerreotype,’ in Classic Essays on Photography, ed. Richard Howard, 1st American ed. Photography (for Sontag) and theology (for Feuerbach) have been forces of alienation, but they can also be forces of participation; they can bring us close, and they can create distance.102 For Feuerbach, religion is a projection of what belongs to the human species onto God; his task is to use religion to return what rightfully belongs to human beings. 14 Although digital images seem to introduce the possibility that photographs can be manipulated, the writings of postcolonial theorists like Malek Alloula and Christopher Pinney reveal that photographs have always been changed, manufactured and falsified)—(Malek Alloula, The Colonial Harem (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986) and Christopher Pinney and Nicolas Peterson, Photography's; Other Histories (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003)). It is part of, an extension of that subject; and a potent means of acquiring it, of gaining control over it.98. Alan Trachtenberg (New Haven: Leete’s Island Books, 1980). 8.). Sontag aims to correct this flawed understanding of photography, but she does so by depending on a version of the very claim she is criticising: the photograph as a trace of the real. 16 Andre Bazin, ‘The Ontology of the Photographic Image’. 1–27; Steven C. Caton, ‘Coetzee, Agamben and the Passion of Abu Ghraib’. As I described in the beginning of this article, the supposed special representational status of photographs (as opposed to paintings or drawings) results from the legacy of attributing to photographs an ontological status as traces of the object or person that once stood before the camera. Sontag reveals that photographers use theological language to describe this special relationship. In On Photography, Sontag is interested in a photograph’s ability ‘to stimulate the moral impulse’.103 She wants photography to be able to cause something—to stop violence, to effect change, to protect. The New York Times (30 September 2005), or Louis Kaplan, ‘Where the Paranoid Meets the Paranormal: Speculations on Spirit Photography’. He discovered that a certain kind of bitumen (asphalt) that was usually soluble in lavender oil became insoluble when exposed to light. Cameras, for Sontag, are like social and political shields that detach … Abstract. The genuine theist, on the other hand, is the man [sic] who values the good whether it has been ordained by God or not. For Sontag, photography has reduced the world to its image, yet it is photography that can … The supposed ‘objective nature of photography’—defined by Bazin as the result of the indexical status of photographs and the dominant role of a machine in making the image—confers on photography a ‘quality of credibility absent from all other picture-making’.18 Bazin writes, ‘We are forced to accept as real the existence of the object reproduced, actually re-presented’, and then goes so far as to argue that the ‘re-presentation’ of the photographed object effects a ‘transference of reality from the thing to its reproduction.’19 In other words, the image becomes the object, freed from the limits of time and space that usually govern it.20. It is a set of essays on the "philosophy" of picture-taking and the meaning of photography in the modern (ca. Susan Sontag’s On Photography is one of the best studies of photography that you can find. photography) are no less aggressive than work which makes a virtue of plainness (like class pictures, still lifes of the bleaker sort, and mug shots). A close reading of Feuerbach’s text makes clear that Sontag is wrong to accuse him of subscribing to too strict a division between reality and image. History and Theory 47 (May 2009) pp. As Alan Trachtenberg describes, during the later 1820s, Joseph Nicéphore Niepce and his brother Claude used the camera obscura and sensitised paper to produce pictures for a lithography press they designed.9 These early experiments produced ‘tonally inversed pictures’, what would now be called negatives. It appears when theorists wrestle with the relationship between photography and death, with the relationship between the viewer and the one photographed, and with ethical questions about what is required of viewers who look at photographs that show the suffering of others. Sontag quotes from the following passage in The Essence of Christianity: ‘But certainly for the present age, which prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to the original, fancy to reality, the appearance to the essence, this change, inasmuch as it does away with illusion, is an absolute annihilation, or at least a reckless profanation; for in these days illusion only is sacred, truth profane. The last, essentially, is Sontag's subject, approached—after a splatter of (as yet) unsupported assertions —via touchstone figures: writers, photographers, painters interchangeably. In the same way that photography has been separated from other image making activities because of its physical connection to the object (the trace) and its use of a machine (the camera), Feuerbach separates his theological project from others: While they deal with mere images, he deals with the thing itself. If, as Sontag repeatedly claimed, the trip to Hanoi marked a “turning point” in her writing and her life, the particulars of that experience bear close scrutiny. When The Essence of Christianity appeared, Engels wrote, ‘No one can have an idea of the liberating influence of this book unless he himself experienced it. The area exposed to light became insoluble, while the area hidden by the engraving’s lines was washed away. Man is an object to God.79. On Photography's rapacious tourist, who mistakes gratifying images for reality, appears the alter ego of the activist—Sontag herself—who travels to the scene of war. https://athenareads.home.blog/2019/08/19/on-photography-by-susan-sontag Sontag explicitly separates photography and action/intervention in her discussion: “The person who intervenes cannot record; the person who is recording cannot intervene” (1977:12). They are iconic because they resemble whatever was originally in front of the lens and they are indexical because it is the physical act of light bounced off an object through the lens and on to the filmic emulsion which leaves the trace and becomes the image’ (Christopher Pinney, Camera Indica: The Social Life of Indian Photographs [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997], p. 20). For both thinkers, the cause of the problem can also be its solution. Registered in England & Wales No. Susan Sontag is an essayist and novelist. 71Ibid. Radical Philosophy Review 8 (1) (2005) pp. Feuerbach’s task is to return humanity to itself, and he uses religion to do so. This language emerges when they posit certain kinds of claims about photography that attempt to push beyond finite human experience. Search for other works by this author on: © The Author 2010. Six essays, followed by a brief anthology of quotations about photography dedicated to Walter Benjamin, comprise the text: ‘In Plato’s Cave,’ ‘America, Seen Through Photographs, Darkly,’ ‘Melancholy Objects’, ‘The Heroism of Vision,’ ‘Photographic Evangels’ and ‘The Image-World’. Alan Trachtenberg (New Haven: Leete’s Island Books, 1980). Religion has disappeared, and for it has been substituted, even among Protestants, the appearance of religion—the Church—in order at least that ‘the faith’ may be imparted to the ignorant and indiscriminating multitude’ (Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, p. xix). 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