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On Photography Paperback – 27 Sep 1979

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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (27 Sep 1979)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140053972
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140053975
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.4 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 8,001 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"A brilliant analysis of the profound changes photographic images have made in our way of looking at the world and at ourselves over the last 140 years."—"Washington Post Book World" "Every page of "On Photography" raises important and exciting questions about its subject and raises them in the best way.""—""The New York Times Book Review" "A book of great importance and originality . . . All future discussion or analysis of the role of photography in the affluent mass-media societies are now bound to begin with her book."—John Berger "Not many photographs are worth a thousand of [Susan Sontag's] words."—Robert Hughes, Time "After Sontag, photography must be written about not only as a force in the arts, but as one that is increasingly powerful in the nature and destiny of our global society."—"Newsweek" ""On Photography" is to my mind the most original and illuminating study of the subject."—Calvin Trillin, " The New Yorker"" "

About the Author

Susan Sontag is one of America's best-known and most admired writers. Her critical essays have established her as one of the leading commentators on contemporary culture. She is the author of several work of fiction and her non-fiction includes ILLNESS AS METAPHOR (Penguin Modern Classics). She has also written and directed four feature films and stages plays in the US and Europe.

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By brainleek007 TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 1 Jan 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm in my first year of a photography degree and this is one of the recommended texts. Despite being released in the 70's it's still very relevant.

The book is essentially a series of essays by Sontag. It's value is that Sontag knows her subject extremely well and, with reference to the great photographers, has constructed her essays in a way that really make you contemplate what photography is all about. Sontag was not a photographer herself so it's not a book of technique; it's about the interpretation and appreciation of other's work. If you're new to photographic theory as I was/am it may very well make you feel quite ignorant, as if you don't even know what a photograph really is any more. However, that's the point; to make you think. This most ubiquitous medium is now so common its almost unnoticed but the book gets under the skin of what photography is and why photographs are so appealing. It's not the easiest or lightest reading but conversely the essays are not over long.

If you're studying photography or art or are simply interested in more philosophical views on the subject I'd highly recommend this to open up new ways of thinking.
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37 of 43 people found the following review helpful By D Mann on 16 Feb 2006
Format: Paperback
This is an exceptional book and one that is best read by flicking through and reading litery snap shots of Sontags work. If you are about to do a photography course this is the book for you and if you have ever wondered about photography this book will inform you. I read two short quotes from this book to my father in law who has no real connection with photography, he walked away and said 'i thought a photograph was just a photograph" and asked if he could borrow the book... Thats how good it is....
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful By John P. Jones III TOP 500 REVIEWER on 22 Jun 2011
Format: Paperback
This is a collection of six essays on the nature and practitioners of photography which were written by Susan Sontag in the early `70's. Sontag herself could be wildly polarizing; the responses to this book, grouped in the 5-star and 1-star range reflect that. At the risk of appearing Clintonesque, I will "triangulate."

The bad is really bad. Sontag can do a wild rant with the best of them, straying far from any underlying logic. "Like guns and cars, cameras are fantasy-machines whose use is addictive." "...like a man's fantasy of having a gun, knife or tool between his legs. Still, there is something predatory in the act of taking a picture. To photograph people is to violate them..."(!) "Just as the camera is a sublimation of the gun, to photograph someone is a sublimated murder- a soft murder, appropriate to a sad, frightened time." What!! Why on earth don't the 5-star reviewers call her hand on this s...? Why is it that the vast majority of people WANT to have their photograph taken? A death wish?

Like another reviewer, I wonder if she has ever taken a picture. Certainly no more than a "snapshot" that she routinely denounces "tourists" and other "low-brows" of taking. Consider the following: "Nothing could be more unlike the self-sacrificial travail of an artist like Proust than the effortlessness of picture-taking, which must be the sole activity resulting in accredited works of art in which a single movement, a touch of the finger, produces a complete work...One can't imagine the Overture to
...Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
This is one of the best known books on the cultural context of photography and is quite insightful for the general reader. I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants starting points in attempting to account for the social and cultural significance of photography.
However, I would not recommend it to anyone studying the history of photography at third level, or at least beyond 2nd year. When it comes to deeply researching the subject and its complex role in 20th century culture, Sontag's book has its limits. For research, writers such as Siegfried Kracauer (The Mass Ornament and his many essays on photography) and Walter Benjamin will take you a lot further. The advantage Sontag's book has is that it's an accessible read. While not very simply written, it won't have you running for the dictionary at the same rate that the above-named authors will and is an excellent introduction to the subject. If you want to get to the root of things, go for Kracauer or Benjamin.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Oliver Redfern on 19 Jun 2008
Format: Paperback
We were born into a world ruled by photography. From x-rays to holiday snaps, our memories and sense of self are now shaped by this magical little black box. But how has photography affected reality since its invention? Has our perception of the world changed since our gathering of images (either as photos or films) slowly spiralled out of control? Could we, perhaps, be undermining our notion of the real by treating photos as if they were more real than their subjects? (think of the people who felt 9/11 was "like a movie".)

In this collection of six essays, published in 1973, Susan Sontag brilliantly explores the origins of photography and how it has affected world culture (mostly western, though she has some intriguing points to make about China and Japan.) She proves, somewhat ruthlessly, that photography deposed poetry and painting as the main rulers of the art world; dismisses the Surrealists in one fell swoop; and even goes so far as to claim that photography single-handedly caused the Modernist movement (the first exhibition by the Impressionists, for example, took place in a photography studio; and many painters claimed photography freed them to explore abstract subjects.)

It helps if you know the work of some of the big names in photography, like Diane Arbus, since Sontag often uses their work to back up her arguments. But even if you have never picked up a camera before, you will find enough ideas in Sontag's essays to reflect on. I was particularly impressed with her prescient views on "reality" television, as well as disturbed by her conclusion that photography is leading us towards a supreme, and new, form of totalitarianism.
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