Susan Sontag: On photography – Adriana Chiru #yr2
Susan Sontag's On Photography (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1973) represents a diverse collection of writings, from which I have chosen to use the single theme presented in the essay "Melancholy Objects" (pp.51-82.) to explore the meaning of this essay, with emphasis on the function and implication of such images in mass culture. In particular, I will explore the perceptual mechanisms that are responsible for Sontag's interpretations.
Susan Sontag’s “ On photography” is a philosophical ..
Throughout her essay, Sontag defines the origin of a melancholy object as that which is born of distance. or separation from reality. This distance may be temporal, spatial, political, or cultural. For example, Curtis's photographs of North American Indians provide both temporal and cultural distance that present-day viewers in mainstream North America find remote, and as such, melancholy. Regardless of the type of distance involved, the effect generated is similar. Melancholia, like comedy, is derived from the disparity between that which we know to exist and that which we perceive. Melancholia is commonly experienced as sadness, a sense of remorse, as seen in the main tradition of American photography by Jack Kerouac who speaks (in his introduction to Robert Frank's The Americans) of "the agility, mystery, genius, sadness and strange secrecy... you end up finally not knowing any more whether a jukebox is sadder than a coffin" (p. 66).
It is interesting (and we can see now why Sontag considers this) how surrealist notions of beauty interface so elegantly with the theory developed so far in this essay. We should not expect that Sontag wants us to gain equivalent effect from both surrealist art and melancholy photographic imagery. In fact: