Aug 28, 2020 in Analysis

Photography as a Defense against Anxiety and a Tool for Power

Since time immemorial, reality has been related through images and philosophers such as Plato. These have made efforts to diminish people’s reliance on representations by showing direct ways through which to grasp reality. The modern culture, which is continually engaged in the production and consumption of images, has contributed to the stability of social structures. In her On Photography, Susan Sontag recognizes that photography grasps an almost unlimited authority in the contemporary society. She says that photographic images are capable of replacing reality as they act as mirrors or representation of relic reality. Besides, Susan Sontag says that practicing photography can be a defense against anxiety and sometimes a tool of power. In the broadest sense, these claims are valid, and I side with her analysis. The primary aim of this paper is to consider how taking pictures can be a defense against anxiety and sometimes a tool of power based on Susan Sontag’s On Photography.

I agree with Susan Sontag’s claims that photography can be used in defense against anxiety. The basis of Susan Sontag’s On Photography is photography’s inferior but inexorable version of reality. Sontag’s book presents and discusses six essays on the philosophical question of how truth may be observed and knowledge expanded. Sontag also examines photography as a tool, an endavor that improves people’s way of seeing, and industry. Her perspectives are that photographs level and beautify everything. Whatever the subject might be, photography makes it aesthetically pleasing. According to Sontag, taking a picture is an aggressive act that makes reality atomic and manageable. Besides, photography denies interconnectedness and continuity while conferring on each moment the character of a mystery. By alienating people from direct experiences, photographs provide more intense second-hand experiences and illusions of knowledge.

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Today, ‘why do we take pictures?’ is undoubtedly a loaded question being asked all the time whenever one is seen taking pictures. Looking into Susan Sontag’s On Photography, more than one answer arises for this inquiry. In the current era, photography is indeed one of the most widely practiced hobbies worldwide, especially with today’s advancement of the camera and smartphone technologies. These have made it easier than ever before for people to take pictures every minute and the moment they wish. It is thus acceptable to say that photography has become an inherent part of people’s daily lives. People use it as a defense and a tool for power in various ways.  

Firstly, photography is the best way to capture and hold memories, subsequently helping people become less anxious. In real life, time is fast passing, and people are becoming busier than ever before. As such, it becomes necessary to practice photography so as to capture people’s mundane routines, holidays, and special events. Unquestionably, taking pictures is a form of capturing reality, which helps people to remember important memories better and longer. Photographing, according to Susan Sontag, instills a sense of reality and existence.  Her claims are true when I bring them into the perspective of personal experiences. Once in a while, I look at pictures that were taken of me as a young child. By just mere looking, the images spark a special feeling of wanting to remain young forever. Mainly, I am moved when I look at my birthday photos. They remind me that waves cannot crash against the shore at the same. Similarly, I appreciate the fact the some special events such as birthdays happen only once in a year. Photography is perhaps the only practical way to preserve forever the memories that come with such occasions. Photography can thus be said to be not only a way of preserving the past but also a way of handling the present. With photographic images becoming more widely spread in the modern times, it is easy for people to become less anxious as they can better grasp reality.

Secondly, photography has the power to move, and can thus be used as a tool of power. As Susan Sontag notes, it is through photography that people’s attention and emotions can be directly grabbed. For instance, in September 2015, a photographed image of a 3-year-old child who washed ashore in Turkey at the height of Europe’s refugee crisis went viral grabbing the whole world’s attention and emotions. From the event, it is acceptable to say that a person can communicate his or her feelings best through photography. For instance, the subject matter in the said photograph was humanity and human rights in dealing with refugees.  The picture marked a considerable shift in the debate on how to handle the surge of refugees heading towards Europe in search for better lives. Similarly, in the recent past, I have developed an intense interest in human civil rights, which has influenced me to look at hundreds of photos from Southeast Asia where humanity is worst affected by adverse evils of poverty and hunger. For instance, photographic images of Indian communities affected by the longstanding India-Pakistan territorial boundary conflict are lovely but communicating a sad reality and the truth of the pain the people are suffering. Such photographs present heavy themes and have a significant impact on the modern consciousness on humanity issues. As Susan Sontag’s On Photography notes, a photograph is the best way to convey how real a sensation was. 

Thirdly, photography teaches people to become artists. It is through photography that people can best express themselves through an art form. In the recent years, people are found of capturing things they consider unique. For example, one can notice a beautiful landscape during a road trip and capture it. By doing so, one would be creating something new. According to Susan Sontag, photography addresses and represents its object and ultimately becomes a part of it. Photography is thus a form of acquisition because when one photographs an object or an event, it becomes a part of the object. It thus befits an artistic approach through which people can capture a reality by picturing it. Later, it becomes possible to hold the photograph, but not the reality. In this perspective, people can easily cope with anxiety every time they look at the photos they took earlier. For example, by trying to paint or draw earlier taken photos, one’s mind can momentarily shift from focusing on what causes stress. The main point here is about finding something enjoyable, which can repeatedly be done for a long time. 

In conclusion, the paper reviewed Susan Sontag’s claims in her book entitled On Photography that photography can be used as a defense against anxiety and a tool for power. Her claims are ideally admissible, acceptable, and valid. Using personal and news-making events in Turkey and Southeast Asia, I agreed with Susan Sontag’s claims on the role of photography as a defense against anxiety and a tool for power. In some ways, photography and the picture taking activities are some of the ideal ways through which people can reduce anxiety in their daily lives in a fast paced and a stress filled world. Similarly, photography can be a tool of power in that it helps to grab people’s attention and emotions, especially on touchy issues. Therefore, the paper affirms that Susan Sontag is right in describing photography as a defense tool against anxiety and an instrument for power.

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