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On Photography

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Book Overview

This description may be from another edition of this product. Winner of the National Book Critics' Circle Award for Criticis m. One of the most highly regarded books of its kind, On Photography first appeared in 1977 and is described by its author as "a progress...

Customer Reviews

4 ratings

Easy to criticize this book now, but it was the progenitor of the criticism of photography.

These essays helped the scholarship of photography get a fair shake. Even the publication of them in a book was a noteworthy entry in the history of photography. It is easy to look back now and criticize this book, which is basically an intellectual discipline in its infancy, but it remains important. I actually still enjoy the writing, which I find warm and inviting - not because of the tone, but because of the author's sense of adventure. It might be closer to a flight of fancy than a disciplined philosophy, but you have to start somewhere. I still think this is one of the best, most accessible reads on the subject.

Still pertinent and thoughtful

Ms. Sontag's collection of texts (which I believe were originally published as separate newspaper articles) still offer food for thought despite their age. Her thoughts on history, current events, and the modified perception of both through the medium of photography continue to be pertinent. This is an interesting read for those unaquainted with theoretical texts, and an important reference for those with more experience.

An interesting look into the societal meaning of photography

Photography, probably more than any other medium, is emblematic of the nature of modern Western society. Photographs are concerned chiefly with appearances, they are deceptively nuanced but essentially narrow, yet somehow they find great breadth in their mechanization and ubiquity. And, like our society, they tend towards an ultimate reduction of the dimensionality of time. Through photographs the past blends into the present, flattening into an omni-present "now" in which history loses its philosophical weight as it increases in familiarity. In a sense photographs are the ultimate invention of a humanist-capitalist society: they provide the commodification of memory itself! And like the society which originated them, they provide equal portions of help and harm, of truth and of fiction; they have undeniable value, but they also result in a certain loss of innocence, and of deeper values.The six essays in this book (all of which were originally published in the New York Times Review of Books) provide a critical evaluation of these themes. Ms. Sontag is concerned with what she sees as the cheapening of experience that the proliferation of photographs in our society has caused. She argues that photography has enshrined a superficiality of experience and contributed to the overvaluation of appearances to a point where image has (subconsciously) replaced reality as reality. In many ways this shift in our modes of cultural perception is shattering; it is also completely inevitable and irreversible. As an example: who after seeing Ansel Adams's stunning photographs of Yosemite could help feeling slightly underwhelmed when experiencing the real thing? Certainly, Yosemite in person retains a certain cachet simply for its "bigness", but the mystique, the mysticism of the Adams photo is going to be missing from most people's experience of the real place. The image genie is out of the bottle... and Sontag is here to tell us that we have to live with the consequences of its release. On Photography is a lengthy exploration of the implications of the genie's (photography's) work on society. The book is full of insights into the meaning of an image-saturated society, but you won't find many conclusions at the end. It is, as a good work of criticism should be, a collection of numerous deep and provocative statements with few prescriptions. Sontag leaves it up to you, the reader, to sort out the pieces for yourself.In fact, one of the things I found most interesting about the essays was that although Ms. Sontag evaluates many of these societal trends she doesn't seem to have a strictly negative response to any of them. Her attitude seems to be that if, for instance, the easy availability of images of Half Dome makes us enjoy Half Dome itself somewhat less, that rather than stopping looking at pictures of Half Dome or photographing Half Dome we should instead re-evaluate what experiencing Half Dome really means to us. Since we've invented a new society, and new wa

An essential introduction to the importance of photography.

This is the ONE book I always tell my students to read, not because they will be better photographers but, because they will be better equipped to see and understand how photographic images have influenced our culture and our self- images. This is now more important than ever in the age of digital photography and images which are crafted to manipulate our feelings and decisions to consume, vote, love and even whether we like ourselves.It establishes a consciousness about the subject which is incisive and memorable. It is a brilliant work and a great contribution.

On Photography Mentions in Our Blog

On Photography in What's Your Shelf Style?
What's Your Shelf Style?
Published by Ashly Moore Sheldon • April 13, 2021

Lately we’ve been asking you to share photos of your books with us. Whether shelves or stacks or armfuls, there’s something so beautiful about seeing the way you display these treasured belongings. Here we discuss the important question of how we arrange our beloved books.

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