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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Regarding the pain of others
It's an essay about what effect images of human suffering have on us. The author considers images of conflicts from the Spanish Civil War to the war in Bosnia, from Goya's paintings to the first war photographs of the Crimean War and the American Civil War.

The traditional perception is that such images arouse sympathy in the viewer. They make the war real to...
Published on 11 Aug. 2008 by Amazon Customer

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39 of 48 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars On the Disaster of Newsreporting
.
This is a tiny book (110 A5 pages)- hardly more than the lecture out of which it has been spun. And although it makes specific reference to photos throughout, it is unillustrated.
Sontag's earlier "On Photography" is justifiably regarded as a classic. This book is promoted as revising some of its more important arguments. Readers are likely to be disappointed...
Published on 29 Aug. 2003 by L. Spencer


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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Regarding the pain of others, 11 Aug. 2008
It's an essay about what effect images of human suffering have on us. The author considers images of conflicts from the Spanish Civil War to the war in Bosnia, from Goya's paintings to the first war photographs of the Crimean War and the American Civil War.

The traditional perception is that such images arouse sympathy in the viewer. They make the war real to the audiences remote from the military conflicts. They drive unconcerned spectators towards indignation and action.

Sontag argues that the real state of affairs is far more complex than that. Human reaction to the images of sufferings varies from voyeurism to the comfort of knowing that you're far from the danger, from sympathy and indignation to indifference.

In fact, sympathy may not be the most desirable reaction, because sympathy comes with passivity. That impenetrable screen between the viewer and the victim triggers the reaction of apathy and moral anaesthesia in the former. It dulls feelings and delays or abolishes responses to them.

The author goes further suggesting that sympathy serves a very selfish purpose. It's used by the viewer to proclaim his innocence: `So far as we feel sympathy, we feel we are not accomplices to what caused the suffering.' In that it becomes an inappropriate response. Once you've proclaimed your innocence, you deny any involvement with the evil and you feel no obligation to remedy it. The author suggests setting sympathy aside for a reflection `on how our privileges are located on the same map as their suffering and may - in ways we might prefer not to imagine - be linked to their suffering.' She says that the painful images can `supply only an initial spark', the rest is your own positive effort and conscious choice.

What makes us indifferent to the horrors of war? The popular notion is that the repeated exposure to the images of atrocities neutralises the moral force of these images. The flood of information we are subjected to in the modern world deadens our senses rendering us unresponsive. The author argues that our culture of spectatorship as such doesn't make us bored with the scenes of suffering. What does is the way the principal medium - television - uses these images.

Television is responsible for the instability of attention. The never-ending flow of programs and constant switching of channels keep our attention light and mobile, so that we no longer able to acknowledge any given image and concentrate on it. `A more reflective engagement with content would require a certain intensity of awareness - just what is weakened by the expectations brought to images disseminated by the media, whose leaching out of content contributes most to the deadening of feeling.' To put it simple we become indifferent not because we see too much, but because we don't see anything in the first place, as our senses are impaired.

To conclude, Sontag certainly sees a lot of potential in the use of images, but she doesn't think they will necessarily trigger the desirable reaction. They have to be given in context, with a caption. The awareness of the spectator has to be awoken and guided towards appropriate responses. These responses have to be separated from the tangled and tight knit coil of the human psyche.

As an essay this work lacks structure. It has no conclusion and it takes five pages before the chief question is posed. However, no doubt, the author's analysis offers a new psychological depth to the age old discussion.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Regarding Susan Sontag, 27 Feb. 2010
By 
M. J. Clenton (England) - See all my reviews
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This book is a pure revelation on how we, the viewer, are subjected to images of war and suffering. She takes us on an arguemental debate that covers all aspects of visual imagery through descriptive text. Shes talks of the shock and horror seen by some in photography, to how others see it as a political lever. What this book does, is to make us understand that one photogaphic image can have a double purpose, and that not all in a war image is truth.

Do not expect to see grim images of death and carnage. This book is not about the image, it is about the images' intent.

A thoroughly absorbing read from Susan Sontag
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Easy to read, good conclusion., 25 Mar. 2010
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Is a small book, well written, and in depth how we look at painful images from photojournalists, she analyzed our reaction to mass media, and how we receive bad news about war, even how we look at religious paintings.

The reader needs some life experience, to live in between ex soldiers, to listen to their memories, and then to look around and compare, to look at their misfortune, now, now when they aged, to observe their handicap movements which limits their daily live, and observe if it has been done enough for them, to help them with their struggle. A simpler example is; just think how heavily we rely on Social Services in UK, and wonder why?

The book has a realistic point of view of how we perceive this images, a cruel reality we live in, and perhaps a wake-up call to a generation of blind people, driven only by glory or materialistic possessions, and comfort.

Although it is easy to read, you need some knowledge of history from paintings to photography which depicts pain, death, and distress captured either with a brush by painters, or with the camera by photographers. Is well worth to have this book and meditate, a deep thinker will enjoy Sontag statement as much as I did.

Totally recommended.
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39 of 48 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars On the Disaster of Newsreporting, 29 Aug. 2003
.
This is a tiny book (110 A5 pages)- hardly more than the lecture out of which it has been spun. And although it makes specific reference to photos throughout, it is unillustrated.
Sontag's earlier "On Photography" is justifiably regarded as a classic. This book is promoted as revising some of its more important arguments. Readers are likely to be disappointed. Like the earlier book this is mainly a summary of points with which most teachers, and students, in this area are likely to be familiar. It is useful to have the arguments drawn together. Without doubt, Sontag's is a concerned intelligence. But I cant see that this book takes us much further in reflection on these issues.
I was surprised to learn that Sontag has never been tempted to take photos.
If anyone knows of a more successful meditation on looking at photos of war and disaster, I would be greatful to hear.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Challenging and thought-provoking, 26 May 2015
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Awesome essay and debate of war photography. Great research and info about war photographers. Challenging and thought-provoking.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 10 Aug. 2014
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very good & quick delivery
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 3 Nov. 2014
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bit depressing but good
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2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sontag's perspective, 26 Dec. 2011
By 
RR Waller "ISeneca" (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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Always a well-informed, interesting and thought-provoking writer, in this short book (only 110 A5 pages) she examines a phenomenon which has been a feature of human life for millennia but she looks specifically at a modern issue - viewing the suffering of others as seen on the screen, the way we view the media and the effects of its depiction of human suffering on readers and viewers. However, although she discusses imagery closely, the book is unillustrated and some readers may find that off-putting.)

Xena's review is lengthy and one with which I generally agree so there is no need for repetition. Suffice to say it is an extremely pertinent book in these days when bad news is good news for the mass media and, increasingly, we are faced with "news" nightly from all parts of the world, much of which involves needless suffering; it raises many questions about what should be considered news, how we steel ourselves against it or react in other ways which, from some perspectives, may appear inhuman. A fascinating (brief) examination and criticism of an increasingly important feature of modern life.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, 6 Feb. 2013
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This book is very interesting and explores a range of ideas, that may seem simple but as you read on it allows one to see into their depth.
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Regarding the Pain of Others
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