Class 3.1

Thinking about Photography

On Photography is a collection of essays written by Susan Sontag in the 1970s and originally published in the New York Review of Books. Sontag is a provocative writer, engaging our attention with startling and often counterintuitive claims about the function of photographic imagery in our society. She writes as a public intellectual rather than as an academic—you’ll note the absence of footnotes or other source citation. Some of her analysis may seem outdated in the digital era, but other points will strike you as truer now than ever before.

That dynamic is something I want you to watch for: as you read, consider how her claims about the social and cultural roles of photography play out in the present day. Look for opportunities to make connections to the way you and your friends use digital images on social media—and for that matter to the behavior of tourists around London. At the same time, be sensitive to differences, whether dramatic or merely nuanced, between the photographic culture of the 1970s as described by Sontag and the mobile phone/social media landscape of the present day.

Responding to the appropriate comment below, please post:

  1. One of Sontag’s more interesting claims. Shorter is better, but after the quote follow up with a brief paraphrase, putting her idea in words of your own. If someone else has already posted that particular passage, post a different quote from Sontag, so we can get as large a variety of quotes as possible.
  2. A photograph you’ve taken this semester OR a screengrab from an image-centered social media exchange that strikes you as jibing (positively or negatively) with something Sontag said. Explain the connection in your own words. (The point of connection with Sontag need not be the same point you highlighted just above.)

Note: if you encounter problems posting a photo, try editing the photo in Preview or Photoshop, changing the file type to .jpg or even .png. If that doesn’t work, save it as a .pdf and upload that.

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