Asatoorian, Leone #11341
English 2 Honors, Period 5
31 January 2018
The Deceptive Nature of Photography
The art of photography is a timeless form of sentimentalism and communication that freezes moments of life in an effort to preserve their beauty and/or meaning. In essence, photography is the art of capturing a still image which visually appeals to the artist him/herself and/or to the audience that interprets the image. While photography is known to further human knowledge of the world, the English writer Susan Sontag refutes this idea to claim that this art form limits the understanding of the world in truth. Sontag’s philosophy regarding photography mirrors Plato’s theory of Forms, that true education is the soul’s recognition from mere shadows of reality to the Forms of worldly subjects (The Republic. 518c-d). Sontag reflects this Platonic perspective in her viewpoint toward photography in that what we see of the world distracts us from the true Forms in the world, and a photograph is only an imitation of the ignorance of humanity toward life. In this respect, whether it be the visual frame to which the image is restricted and the focus and beautification on the particular subject in the frame, the manipulation of the image after it has been taken, or the way in which photographs make the world appear, Sontag’s ideals on photography prove to be true in that photography ultimately leads us to further misunderstanding of the world, and instead provides subjective truths of the world that are only as real “as the camera records it” (Sontag).
The physical boundaries of a camera limit the photographs taken by that camera only to that frame, and thus focus on one subject or scene at a time. This focus and/or beautification on the appearance of that subject further shadows and illudes the true essence of that subject into solely being the appearance seen in the picture. In other words, the emphasis on one particular object for its beauty or significance accepts that object for what it is, and Sontag claims this acceptance of societal norms to be “the opposite of understanding, which starts from not accepting the world as it looks” (Sontag). Sontag continues to assert that understanding is based on how something functions, which must be explained through narration and time. For instance, a photograph of a foreign man shooting a police officer may bring awareness to the idea that the people of that foreign race are dangerous, and that we should be more careful around those people. However, the camera can only capture what its frame records, and the photograph could therefore hide the dead foreign men outside the frame that were massacred by that same police officer. Had the frame covered the entire scene, and explained what motive the foreign man had to kill that police officer, interpretations of the photograph would vary. This instance exemplifies Sontag’s claim that the “camera’s rendering of reality must always hide more than it discloses.” In a figurative sense, the frame will always hide more than it discloses because all arguments come with their counter-arguments, and in various instances, the artist only has to crop an inch of the photograph to completely cut out that counter-argument and mislead the context of a photograph to his/her audience.
The usage and lasting effect of photography is similarly dangerous with the introduction of technologies such as photoshop. These technologies can manipulate photographs to several degrees, to the extent that every aspect of a photo (its aperture, shutter speed, color, light, etc.) can be rendered. Using these modern manipulative technologies, photography, which is known to be a duplication and exact imitation of life, can become more of a creative art form. Our definition and view on photography as truth now not only ignores the true Forms of the subjects in a photo, but also deceives the audience (especially a young audience) into believing the truth to be a false representation of an appearance of a Form. For example, an ignorant child eyeing a photoshopped rendition of a banana would believe the true Form of that banana to be that photoshopped rendition. That photoshopped photograph may change every feature of that banana such as its shape and its color, and this now deformed, purple banana will be seen as truth to the child. In such a way, these technologies can only ever lead the audience of a photograph into deeper misconceptions of reality.
Modern implications of photography in advertisements, magazines, and media can likewise limit our understanding of the world through an entrancing “aesthetic consumerism” that paralyzes the audience in a materialistic world in which “the world seems more available than it really is” (Sontag). The deceiving nature of photography with its physical boundaries and technological manipulation has become choreographed in such a way that people become depressed at the sight of perfect lives, which are staged by photographers, that they see as they scroll down their feed on social media or find in advertisements. According to a study published by Psychology Today, Facebook users are proven to be more depressed after using the application: “Through a series of studies, researchers concluded that by the time people log out of Facebook, they feel like they’ve wasted their time. Their remorse over being unproductive causes them to feel sad.” Photographers’ jobs have been deduced to visual forms of seduction “to which everyone is now addicted,” and this materialism and commercialization blinds our understanding of the world to a point where a whole country can believe in fake news (Sontag). The true danger in these implications of photography lies in the fact that they have become societal norms, into which everyone is allured. One who doesn’t have a Facebook or a Snapchat or an Instagram or hasn’t been checking his/her news feed lately is now known to be “living under a rock,” which, in truth, symbolizes our ignorance to the dangers of photography, and marks the art form as “the most irresistible form of mental pollution” (Sontag).
Plato. Plato’s The Republic. New York :Books, Inc., 1943. Print.
Sontag, Susan. On Photography. Picador, 1977.
Morin, Amy. “Science Explains How Facebook Makes You Sad.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 7 Mar. 2016, www.psychologytoday.com/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201603/science-explains-how-facebook-makes-you-sad.