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Photographing is essentially an act of non-intervention

July 22, 2011

Susan Sontag writes that “to photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed.  It means putting oneself into a certain relation to the world that feels like knowledge – and, therefore, like power.”[1] 

Photographing people, according to Sontag, “turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed.”[2]

“Photographing is essentially an act of non-intervention,”[3] according to Sontag.  “Although the camera is an observation station,” she explains, “the act of photographing is more than passive observing.  Like sexual voyeurism, it is a way of at least tacitly, often explicitly, encouraging whatever is going to keep on happening. To take a picture is to have an interest in things as they are, in the status quo remaining unchanged (at least for as long as it takes to get a ‘good’ picture), to be in complicity with whatever makes a subject interesting, worth photographing – including, when that is the interest, another person’s pain or misfortune.”[4]  Photographs are also often furnished – and accepted – as evidence of real events, but Sontag notes that “there can be no evidence, photographic or otherwise, of an event until the event itself has been named and characterized.”[5]

Again, the connection may seem distant, but I am interested in how violence is represented to younger readers in literature produced in ‘democratic’ societies – and I do wonder how photographic images of war influence our reading…


[1] 4 Sontag, Susan (1977) On Photography. Penguin Books:London.

[2] 14 Sontag, Susan (1977) On Photography. Penguin Books:London.

[3] 11 Sontag, Susan (1977) On Photography. Penguin Books:London.

[4] 12 Sontag, Susan (1977) On Photography. Penguin Books:London.

[5] 19 Sontag, Susan (1977) On Photography. Penguin Books:London.

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