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John Palcewski's Journal

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[Bleep] On The [Bleep]
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Deborah Eisenberg in the New York Review of Books says "Susan Sontag's presence, in essays, interviews, fiction, film, and theater, wove itself so firmly into our culture that when it vanished upon her death in late 2004, one became abruptly aware of the delicacy of the fabric." (Full review here.)

As for making images, she says that "to photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed", and "there is an aggression implicit in every use of the camera."

Many years ago I eagerly began to read Sontag's meditation "On Photography," but found it wholly opaque and incomprehensible. By happenstance a week later my editor sent me to cover her at a lecture she was scheduled to deliver at Lafayette College, in Eastern Pennsylvania. I took a position near the lectern and was about to fire away, when I was pulled aside by the college's public relations director.

"You must NOT photograph Ms. Sontag while she speaks," the woman said, "she does not permit it."

I lowered my camera.

When Songag concluded her twenty-five minute lecture--which to me was as incomprehensible as her book--she unsmilingly addressed me, the only photographer in the room, and said: "You have exactly one minute to do your picture taking."

Being relatively young, arrogant, and excessively thin-skinned, I found her imperious command offensive. So I raised my Nikon and took a single shot. Then I turned and walked out.

My editor, an unrepentant sexist pig, loved both the story and the image. "Bitch on the rag," he said.





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It gets better each time I tell it!

I recently ordered the first volume of Sontag's journals & diaries-two more are suppose to be coming out in the future.

Those are more likely to make sense than her labored abstractions on photography.

she also wrote a couple of novels-I have them but have not read them-I always found Sontag an interesting woman-one of kind

That's a great portrait! You really are a very gifted photographer.

Sontag's ideas on photography are actually very interesting, although I agree with you that her writing style is unnecessarily abstruse. Basically she thinks the proliferation of cameras has turned us into a voyeuristic species, one that's more content to look at life than to interact with it.

Thanks, very kind of you to say. Sontag is probably right, but I prefer the simplicty of Diane Arbus. She said she took pictures because if she didn't, no one would ever see what she saw.

I probably wasn't paying close attention but I didn't recall the part about the book she was promoting at that time being specifically about photography. That just adds to the absurdity of it all!

What sorts of things did she have to say about photography anyhow? Was there anything at all coherent there?

She may have been making perfect sense, but I suspect that the difference in our IQs made it impossible for me to follow. I'm smart, but not THAT smart!

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