Photography and Text by Julia Chun, Copyright 2018
A Review of Susan Sontag’s Classic, On Photography
Throughout the book, I felt that Sontag’s messages were quite heavy, as if she was warning me about the weight my act of photographing could have. She described the act of taking a picture as an act of non-intervention, aggression, possession, work, interpretation of reality, beautification, and truth-telling. I didn’t agree to and couldn’t possibly resonate to all the claims she made, difference in view which probably comes from our difference in professionalism as well as our personal views. But to someone so newly introduced to photography and in a stage caught up with taking a visually pleasant photo, the points she brought up were a timely reminder on the weight and implications of photography.
Since I never had the intention of becoming a professional photographer, the purpose of every photo-shoot has been either for class or for my own satisfaction. I thought of it as a great opportunity to bring to life what I always pictured in my mind or a way of recording a fragment of my life using professional equipment I didn’t previously have access to. Its consequences were never heavy. But regardless of what my end goal was, I realized that some picture had to be captured in a certain way to fulfill my intention. Activists giving political speeches would be captured at the moment I felt best represented them, based on my subjective view of the matter. If I choose to take a picture of a particular moment, I am deciding to do so rather than taking an action to prevent something dangerous from happening or even asking my subjects to put themselves in the particular situation.
So although I may never grow to be a photographer whose pictures are used to let the citizens of the country reveal the horrors of war, while I continue to grow as a photographer aware of everything a picture could do, many of the points Susan Sontag made in the book will be relevant to me.
There were also points that just struck me, which made me happy to know that someone so professional also had the same experience in the journey as a photographer. “To photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed”. I always want to capture the best representation of each subject and I feel a strong sense of possession when I take a satisfying picture. Consider the picture below for instance.
About The Author: Julia Chun is a computer science major enrolled in the School of Engineering & Applied Science, University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2019. To access additional articles by Julia Chun, click here: https://tonywardstudio.com/blog/julia-chun-art-dance/