There’s at least one photo project on every page of this classic work on photography and there’s good reason for that. Sontag writes eloquently and persuasively about the medium and its influence on our societies. Despite being written in the late 1970s, it’s also extremely accurate about the current state of the art with the rise in mobile phone camera use.
Some of her ideas she repudiated apparently in her later essay On Regarding the Pain of Others. But almost all her musings have become entrenched in how photography is now seen and critiqued. In short, judging from how others have written about On Photography, it seems it had more of an influence than even she could have realised.
The influence of this work is reflected below in the rating I awarded for Legacy. Very few books attain 100% in this category, but Sontag’s work deserves this.
No one is going to agree with all the opinions she puts forward here, but by writing in the style that she did, at the time that she did, and being the contraversial character that she was, she sparked untold myriad of discussions about the art and photography has never been the same since.
The book isn’t an easy read. Sontag was an intellectual giant and it can be hard to keep up with her references at times. Right off the bat, you need a familiarity with Plato, and Wikipedia will be your friend and companion throughout the journey.
It is, however, a very rewarding read. For those of us involved in photography, there’s an assignment on virtually every page. You could spend an entire photographic life exploring all the questions her writing demands we attempt to answer.
There are plenty of people out there who feel Sontag was wide of the mark with some of her observations, but there are also so many who feel she was spot on. Again, the importance of On Photography lies not in the definitive answers it gives us but the very important questions it asks.