Day14. Regarding The Pain of Others- A Book Review

This is the book I was talking about the other day. I shouldn’t describe it as a “cool” book. Just want to make your curious. This is actually a serious book talking about photography, especially was photography. Written by Susan Sontage, a notable critic regarding to one of her works: On Photography (Haven’t read this one, but soon will).

The book is to argue the initiative meaning about war photography. Our inured feeling about the pain when we see the disturbing images appear everyday in our daily papers. What those images trying to convey some messages between our lives and those in the fields seems pulling us further away from the reality. In my case, I don’t even feel anything about the war photography. People tend to ignore, or feel indifferent about the images while the media keep bombarded us with them.

” Photographs then to transform, whatever their subject; and as an image something may be beautiful-or terrifying, or unbearable, or quite bearable- as it is not in real life.”    p79

Even the purpose of the images seems contradictive. What can we do to such situation? What are the images trying to teach us, if any, except of blank horror? Rarely, there is information about the victims. Is the image being transferring around the world helps those who needed? What about the photographer? Do they get more attention than those they shoot at? When I read the book, I kept thinking about the iconic images that stand out in our history. Mostly they are shocking images. Are we tend to enjoy such images by viewing the pain of others? I bet everyone knows this image, a terrifying-looking-Afghan girl, pictured by Steve McCurry from National Geographic. What I’m trying to say is that her terrifyingness became a material that more and more photographers look up to.

” The hunt for more dramatic (as they’re often described) images drives the photographic enterprise, and is part of the normality of a culture in which shock has becomes leading stimulus of consumption and source of value.”        p23

Another point by Sontage is “public memory.” It is the images that recording, forming our history. More powerful than video-where in the book, Sontage indicated that still images are more likely to be stacked into our heads-and words, images, especially those iconic ones are going to stay in human history, while others will be forgotten. This reminds me of the Chinese Civil War. No specific image is actually recorded this war while it is one of the cruelist historic stage in our history. The book written by Ying-Tai Lung, Big River Big Sea—Untold Stories of 1949, points out the same argument that the history of such event has been forgotten in a way that we only remember the bullet points of the facts. The new generation will not remember the way those who came back from the big river during those 10 years. Therefore, image guides, leads, manipulates our memory.

Saying so doesn’t mean that image itself is an unnecessary mean of conveying idea. But rather those who trying to convey certain ideas should always look at their works in the meaning of the overall society. For those who look at them, should always be aware.


Day 14. In a damp weather

Day 14. In a damp weather: The leaves have been washing down by the rain on the sidewalk.


By the way, have a great guest speaker in our class today: Amy Thompson.  It is great to learn things from a photographer point of view, especially in a crappy rainy day 雨天 (yuV tian-).

Big River, Big Sea — Untold Stories of 1949


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