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12 Most Important Quotes from Susan Sontag on Photography

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Susan Sontag’s On Photography is one of the best studies of photography that you can find.
It delves into the idea of ‘transparency’, where photographers have eliminated the boundaries of art and are faced with the prospect of being free to capture.
Her book is a collection of six essays that explore photography in the deepest of manners. A commentary on how images shape our world and affect the societies we are part of.
Below, we have selected 12 quotes to inspire you and give a quick idea of what the book is about. There is a reason why this is a mandatory read for photography students.
A street photographer holding a Canon DSLR - Susan Sontag on photography quotes
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12. “Photographs cannot create a moral position, but they can reinforce one—and can help build a nascent one.”

11. “To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability… All photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.”

10. “…there is something predatory in the act of taking a picture. To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them that they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed.”

the silhouette of a woman and baby walking past two large steel bridges - susan sontag on photography quotes

9. “Photography is become one of the principle devices for experiencing something, for giving an appearance of  participation.”

8. “Needing to have reality confirmed and experience enhanced by photographs is an aesthetic consumerism to which everyone is now addicted. Industrial societies turn their citizens into image-junkies; it is the most irresistible form of mental pollution.”

7. “To photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed.”

A street photography shot of a business man having his shoes shined - susan sontag on photography quotes

6. “To collect photographs is to collect the world.”

5. “The painter constructs, the photographer discloses.”

4. “Photographs are a way of imprisoning reality…One can’t possess reality, one can possess images–one can’t possess the present but one can possess the past.”

3. “Using a camera appeases the anxiety which the work-driven feel about not working when they are on vacation.”

A street photography shot of smoking workers - susan sontag on photography quotes

2. “Photography makes us feel that the world is more available than it really is.”

1. “Photographs were seen as a way of giving information to people who do not take easily to reading.”

Bonus. “When Cartier-Bresson goes to China, he shows that there are people in China, and that they are Chinese.”

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