GUEST BLOG – Betty Ann Jordan on Looking at Photographs with Susan Sontag

“Like a pair of binoculars with no right or wrong end, the camera makes exotic things near, intimate, and familiar things small, abstract, strange, much farther away.”
–Susan Sontag

In Susan Sontag’s essay collection On Photography, every sentence is a zinger, and almost every idea a game-changer. Written in a take-no-prisoners manner (one imagines Sontag was always the smartest person in the room), it handily won the National Book Critics’ Circle award for criticism in 1977.

Flipping through this brilliant and fractious work, one can readily see why it would be rewarding for a group to tackle.

Girl princess at birthday, by unknown

Girl princess at birthday, by unknown

Among the myriad issues she identifies, Sontag anticipates the privileging of photographic images over print in the 21st century: hence her tart observation that, “Photographic images now provide most of the knowledge that people have about the look of the past and the reach of the present.”

We’ll also discuss the supporting evidence she offers for her contentious statement that, “Photographic seeing leads us to look at reality as an array of potential photographs, creating estrangement rather than union.”

Woman Subway Veil Sorrow by Evans

Woman Subway Veil Sorrow by Evans

NB: In a departure from previous years, the 2013 art session will take place entirely in a seminar environment in Old Vic. (There will be one optional afternoon excursion to the spectacular new Ryerson Image Arts Centre.) On the first three mornings we’ll consider the essays, “America, Seen Through Photographs, Darkly”; ” Melancholy Objects”; and “The Heroism of Vision.” The last two mornings will be devoted to unpacking Sontag’s overview essay “In Plato’s Cave.”

Member of Parliament, Sanders

Member of Parliament, Sanders

On the first morning, by way of getting to know each other, participants are invited to bring several photographs or reproductions of photos that they find haunting. Each ensuing day we’ll also look closely at reproductions of several of the photographs discussed in the book (which is not illustrated.) Guided by Sontag, and in each other’s company, we’ll come to a deeper understanding of the aesthetics and ethics of photography.

For more information and to register, click here.

Betty Ann

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