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October 20, 2016




First, thanks for taking the time to bring the cameras on Thursday. I'm sorry we did not have time for you to talk about them and I'm grateful that you agreed to do so on Tuesday. It's important to hear from a photographer in all this.

Sontag is most definitely not a photographer and many photographers find her hostile to their work (see quotes on front page of this website). She is only casually interested, from time to time, in the testimony of photographers and never interested at all in the technical details. She's viewing photography from the perspective of a cultural critic (some would say europhile "cafe intellectual"). This is the old-fashioned rambling essay tradition, going back to Montaigne in the 16th C, where the essayist is really just exploring his/her own mind and impressions and associations, not giving a technical or scholarly or authoritative exposition on a subject.

Many have zeroed in, as you have, in her extreme statements about the camera as a gun-substitute and all her talk about picture-taking as "stalking, murdering," etc. She certainly does so "aggression" and "acquisitiveness" in all acts of photography, though not always a murderous type.

I appreciate your reflections at the end about photography immortalizing people in ways they may not wish. Take a look at the handout I have you called "The Boston Photographs" by Nora Ephron about an extreme case of "photographic ethics" -- do we have a right to "immortalize" someone's last moment of life---when they know they are about to die (and perhaps have their child die as well)? How do we reconcile the fact that an automatic shot camera captured this unforgettable image? That it's a great photograph in every technical and aesthetic way. What does this example provoke in us when we are debating the status of photographic knowledge, photography as art, as journalism, as a record of what actually happens to human beings?

Grade: 3

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Media Ecology Quote of the Day

  • “Americans no longer talk to each other, they entertain each other. They do not exchange ideas, they exchange images. They do not argue with propositions; they argue with good looks, celebrities and commercials. . . . When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience, and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility. ― Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

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