“To photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed” Susan Sontag.
I have a whole collection of images that I cannot resist taking of people photographing other people or things. and I was reflecting on what it is about the subject that almost compels me to take them. So I have been meaning to get out my copy of Susan Sontag’s book, On Photography for at least a year and this seemed like a good time! This was taken in MOMA in NYC during September. It is the famous Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh. I remember how many people crowded around it, standing at a distance and how many people photographed it. To take a likeness away with them perhaps? But why? This has to be one of the most photographed and reproduced paintings in the world and its definitely well known judging by the amount of people who came to admire it. I have, for a long time now been interested in what lies behind the typical tourist photograph, the family in front of the well known cultural landmark or icon, perhaps the gates to Guinness’s brewery in Dublin or the with Eiffel tower or the Arc de Triumph in the background. To me it seems that these images are taken as evidence, like early scene of crimes photographs were, to record something for posterity, to make the experience more real. Once we photograph something we feel we can never forget it.
“Most tourists feel compelled to put the camera between themselves and whatever is remarkable that they encounter. Unsure of other responses, they take a picture. This gives shape to the experience: stop, take a photograph, and move on. The method especially appeals to people handicapped by a ruthless work ethic – Germans, Japanese and Americans” (Sontag. S. 1977)
“it seems positively unnatural to travel for pleasure without taking a camera along. Photographs will offer the indisputable evidence that the trip was made, that the program was carried out, that fun was had”
Of course I myself am a tourist with a camera too.
Often I find I look at photographs believing what I am seeing, mistaking what I see before me as the truth, as fact. But the subject of a photograph is not what is in the image but what it represents, what it symbolises.
“Photographs are as much an interpretation of reality as paintings and drawings are”
“A way of certifying experience, taking photographs is also a way of refusing it”
“Photographs, which cannot themselves explain anything, are inexhaustible invitations to deduction, speculation and fantasy”
“Like guns or cars, cameras are fantasy machines who’s use is addictive”
Sontag. S. 1977. In Plato’s Cave. From On Photography. Penguin Books 1979. London