March 28, 2009

Susan Sontag, et al.:

Image ─ Time

If fine art were literature, and painting were poetry, then photography were language. Because of, among others, its unprecedented power to immortalize and multiply any image, not only the one that can be spontaneously perceived by human naked eyes, photography is definitely not a mere form of art; it extends beyond art. “Photography is a medium with which art is created.” Susan Sontag elaborated this idea in her book, On Photography (OP, 1976). The assertion that photography—and, of course, cinema—is a language had occurred previously in, for example, Andre Bazin’s work. By focusing her attention mainly on photography and suspending its connection with cinema, Sontag strengthened the assertion and developed it further. In OP, a slim book that stands as one of “the most original and important works on photography,” Sontag even calls photography as a meta-art: a medium to create art and at the same time the highest aspiration of art. In the 19th century Walter Pater dictated that all art constantly aspires towards the condition of music; that is to achieve a match between form and content, to entirely dissolve the distinction between the two. Sontag, in the 20th century, revised Pater’s dictum and emphasized that all art aspires to the condition of photography instead. Along with its capability to live like music that is to make its medium as its very content, photography is also essentially democratic in terms that practically anyone can make it—in the same breath it offers revolutionary energy annihilating the discrimination between ugly art and beautiful one.

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