Friday, March 16, 2007

Sontag on photography

The powers of photography have in effect de-Platonized our understanding of reality, making it less and less plausible to reflect upon our experience according to the distinction between images and things, between copies and originals. . . [T]he force of photographic images comes from their being material realities in their own right, richly informative deposits left in the wake of whatever emitted them, potent means of turning the tables on reality--for turning it into a shadow (Susan Sontag, On Photography).

This seems true, but I wonder if it's true for people younger than I am. Sontag speaks of the feeling that photography is "magic," even for highly educated sorts who know better, because it is more than a copy: it is is a trace of the actual subject photographed. She mentions Delacroix's notes in 1850 about astronomical daguerrotypes, where he points out that the light left the star in the photograph before the process for capturing it had been invented. She doesn't quite make the leap to the photograph, as a trace, being like starlight: if the photo is a physical trace of the past--of the subject in the past--then it has the uncanniness of starlight. The past projects itself into the present. But maybe no one sees photographs that way anymore.

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