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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Makes you think about photography in completely new ways
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...
Published on 1 Jan 2009 by brainleek007

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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Before Photoshop...
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...
Published on 22 Jun 2011 by John P. Jones III


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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Makes you think about photography in completely new ways, 1 Jan 2009
By 
brainleek007 (Bracknell) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: On Photography (Paperback)
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
5.0 out of 5 stars The best source for photographic theory, 16 Feb 2006
By 
D Mann (Bedfordshire, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: On Photography (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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59 of 71 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brilliant Work of Cultural Criticism, 3 Nov 2001
By 
Jason Clapham (Oxford, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: On Photography (Paperback)
This is just a fantastic book. It is packed full of genuinely insightful material through which the reader is driven with a prose style that is clear, unprentious and energetic - often rhapsodic.
Although the book has some content that is of particular interest to those living or interested in the United States, there is plenty that would appeal to any reader interested in photography generally and as a cultural phenomenon. Consider the following:
"Most tourists feel compelled to put a camera between themselves and whatever is remarkable they encounter. Unsure of their resonses they take a picture. This gives shape to the experience: stop, take a photo and move on. The method especially appeals to people handicapped by a ruthless work ethic - Germans, Japanese and Americans. Using a camera appeases the anxiety which the work-driven feel about not working ... "
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Before Photoshop..., 22 Jun 2011
By 
John P. Jones III (Albuquerque, NM, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: On Photography (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 In Search Of Lost Time Vol 1: Swann's Way: Swann's Way Vol 1 (Vintage Classics) ending with the narrator coming across a snapshot of the parish church at Combray and the savoring of that visual crumb, instead of the taste of the humble madeleine dipped in tea, making an entire part of his past spring into view." The "s-word" starts with "m" in French. Yes, tastes and smells can evoke memories, but photographs may be the most powerful in terms of stimulating some long-dormant neurons. Does any photographer compose? Reject? Repeat? Even spend hours developing their work? (at least in the pre-digital age when she wrote this). She mentions Edward Steichen's photography exhibit, The Family of Man but does not discuss the last photograph, the one taken by perhaps the best photographer of the 20th Century, W. Eugene Smith. He had been badly wounded as a photographer in the Second World War, and struggled to compose the "perfect picture" for his post convalescent career. It is the memorable one of two small children, walking up, out of the woods, into the sunlight. Just a snapshot? Sontag moves from her brief discussion of the optimism of The Family of Man to the `70's icon, the disturbing Diane Arbus, and spends much more time on her bleak vision, and her ultimate suicide.

No question, Sontag has a brilliant intellect, and her erudition is impressive, ranging over the fields of art and literature. She even devotes almost a page to one of my favorite, and more obscure photography books, Bob Adelman's 1960's portrait of Wilcox County, Alabama, entitled Down home, Camden, Alabama (A Prairie House book). Even though somewhat positive, she still insists that it "descends" from Walter Evans Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (Penguin Modern Classics), and that the accompanying prose of James Agee is "sometimes overwritten." An elitist Manhattan outlook to the core.

I started this review with the concept that I should "triangulate" the extreme reviews, which should mean that this is a 3-star. Yet in writing it I've realized that someone of Sontag's intelligence should have UNDERSTOOD her subject far better before denouncing it and its practitioners. Thus, the triangle collapses to only a short line with a star at each end: 2-stars.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nice thinking!, 27 Mar 2014
By 
M. Anthony - See all my reviews
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This review is from: On Photography (Paperback)
Some very nice useful thoughts abound from her observations on this subject. One need not be a photographer to enjoy the book, yet It may add to the interest if you are!
Images are the basis of your modern world communication and one gets a sense of that operation from this book!
I bought it thinking I would enjoy it and have not been disappointed!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting book, 28 Jun 2013
By 
JHvW "JHvW" (Pays Bas, Europe) - See all my reviews
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This book is not a guide or instruction book but rather a commentary on the things a photograph can provoke.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I enjoyed it, 17 Oct 2010
This review is from: On Photography (Paperback)
I enjoyed this book. However I believe it is one of those reads that must be tasted a little at a time.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not for the Art History scholar but great for general reader who wants something accessible, 21 Jan 2010
By 
Ann Margret Murray (Ireland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: On Photography (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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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insights into the world of photography, 30 Aug 2009
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Sontag has created a 'Ways of Seeing' for the photographer, only with a lot more text! A controversial and stimulating read.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Niche market, 18 Oct 2013
By 
J. R. Carroll (Sheffield) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: On Photography (Paperback)
I bought this book on recommendation. I've read it twice and I'm sure there is a message in there somewhere it's just I find difficulty unpicking it. It focuses on the culture and influences of photography since its invention, which I knew before I bought it, but I would have preferred it explained in a different manner.

If you are interested in this aspect of photography then it's worth reading and it's fairly cheap.
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On Photography by Susan Sontag (Paperback - 27 Sep 1979)
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