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This is the second volume by Sontag on photography, and it is in many ways a continuation of the investigations of the first book. To better understand the book and her views, I'd suggest that the reader needs to read 'On Photography' first. Sontag starts her essay by talking about Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas, and Woolf's rejection of the assumption that all feel the same way about war. The book talks about the history of war photography, which is intimately bound with the history of public tolerance of violent photos, During the course of reading, I had to look up several examples cited by the author, the horrors of Vietnam War, World War, the 1857 Sepoy rebellion in India etc. which turned out to be difficult but necessary and eye opening. While Sontag does not provide any revolutionary ideas, the essay is a succinct and thorough examination of the issues surrounding photography. A photograph cannot immediately transmit understanding. A photograph cannot help us understand what it is to fight and kill in war or to have to dig up bombs or lose loved ones. A photograph, though a means of objectifying and transmitting memories, lacks context for a more complete individual understanding of events. It is equally about what does not make it to the frame than what does! What are we not seeing? Is the left out version not equally important? Or even more important? Even though Sontag does not offer us a grand thesis to keep in mind or a solution to the issues that plague photo journalism, she gives us thought-provoking observations. She notes, for example, that displaying photos of dead bodies is less taboo the more foreign and exotic those bodies are, how staged photos in today's time are used to generate distrust and enmity between communities and countries
For anyone shocked, even ashamed, by their very own prurience in observing the suffering and pain of others, this is worth reading. We are bombarded with images of war, of the agony of other human beings. It seems whatever reaction we have, or even how perversely attractive such observation is, we can perhaps never actually fully know the reality of any "other". I believe - is it faith? - that in knowing ourselves in our full depths we CAN come to know. "The Tao can be shared but never divided", and "differentiation does not mean separation". In knowing, we act, rather than merely feel.