This week I have been looking through some old family photos and came across this gem of my Grandad and his dog. For me, photographs are like Plato’s cave. As we study them, we view the ‘shadows’ of time; it is as close as we get to viewing that reality. Cameras run parallel with family life: ‘Not to take pictures of one’s children, particularly when they are small, is a sign of parental indifference’. Susan Sontag argues photography becomes a rite of family life; it hardly matters what is being photographed as long as photographs are taken and cherished. [1] Photographs do not seem to be statements about the world but pieces of it, miniatures of reality that anyone can make or acquire.[2] This black and white photograph captures the joys of childhood; a young boy on the beach with his pet dog, there is something out of the frame making him laugh whilst the dog looks on. As described in Allen Shelton’s Dreamworlds of Alabama (as wacky as I found the reading), it seems natural to associate a man I have never met (in such a reality) but grew up with with this photo[3]. We deem photographs valuable because they give information; however, Sontag argues their value as information is of the same order as fiction.[4] There is the sense the camera captures the same reality as the interpretation of the world as paintings and drawings. The Farm Security Administration photographic project of the late 1930s focused on the precise expression on the subject’s face which supported their own notions about poverty, light, dignity, texture.[5] What is going on behind the lens of the camera in this picture? What is it that makes my Grandad so happy? If this picture were to be taken a minute before or a minute after, would it capture the same reality, or would it be different? Susan Sontag highlights these dilemmas stating the ultimate wisdom of the photographic image is to say: “There is the surface. Now think – or rather feel, intuit – what is beyond it, what the reality must be like if it looks this way”, this leads to inexhaustible invitations to deduction, speculation, and fantasy.[6]


For some photographs taken by The Farm Security Administration Photographs:

[1] Susan Sontag, On Photography, (London, 1978), p.8.

[2] Susan Sontag, On Photography, (London, 1978),  p.4.

[3] Allen Shelton, Dreamworlds of Alabama, (London, 2007), p.33.

[4] Susan Sontag, On Photography, (London, 1978), p.22.

[5] Susan Sontag, On Photography, (London, 1978), p.6

[6]Susan Sontag, On Photography, (London, 1978), p.23.  

One Response to “”

  1. this photographer looks at capturing emotion in a specific subject so might be a good source

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