On Photography by Susan Sotag

882 Words4 Pages
Between 1500 and 1900, paintings and drawings were the main medium of visual art. They represented the universe based on the author’s imagination and technical skill. However, the birth of photography presented new possibilities and a new means to depict and show an accurate, complete and ‘authentic’ reproduction of reality. Based and inspired by Susan Sontag’s book, On Photography, this essay will discuss and explore the notion of the authentic image as well as what makes for an authentic photograph.

According to Sontag, a photograph is “able to usurp reality because first of all a photograph is not only an image, an interpretation of the real; it is also a trace, something directly stencilled off the real, like a footprint” . The photographer is able to show reality as one has not seen it before and in turn, the photograph becomes an integral part of the real. Martin Munkácsi, a Hungarian photojournalist defied and transformed the pictorialist fashion image of the late thirties with his customary approach. One particular photograph: ‘Boys at Lake Tanganyika’, epitomized the elements of serendipity and joie de vivre, which later inspired photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson (whom coined the term, The Decisive Moment). Bessayon says: “I couldn’t believe such a thing could be caught with the camera, it made me realize that photography could reach eternity through the moment” .

Despite this, Sontag emphasizes that we tend to believe there is more truth in a photograph than in the world surrounding us and goes on to say that “photographs are as much an interpretation of the world as paintings and drawings are” . With that being said, how might the supposedly sheer spontaneity and effortlessness of this image be more celebrated or ac...

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...ble to state that the photograph is an art form. In doing so, it would be more than fitting to distinguish the photography of Lachapelle as good or bad based on the authentic principles that seize to exist within photography.

In conclusion, authenticity has various meanings and connotations. Whether it is in a historical, expression or cultural context, authenticity is purely subjective and immeasurable. As Sontag puts it, “photographs alter and enlarge our notions what is worth looking at”. For example, when comparing that of David Lachapelle’s image to that of ‘The Girl in The Picture’ by Nick Ut taken during the Vietnam War. It does not suffice to say one is more or less authentic than the other. They represent two completely different reproductions of reality with divergent meanings and internal messages – essentially, they are their very own photo-realities.
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