Jan 22, 2010

Hanging out with Susan and John

Magritte, La Clef des Songes, 1930. Reproduced on the cover of Ways of Seeing.

On my reading list this summer: On Photography by Susan Sontag and Ways of Seeing by John Berger. They belong to the list of iconic art history texts that I have always felt guilty about failing to read. Well, guilty no more: I can happily move them from my 'to read' to my 'done and dusted' booklist. Some of my favourite snippets:

Through photographs, the world becomes a series of unrelated, freestanding particles; and history, past and present, a set of anecdotes and faits divers. The camera makes reality atomic, manageable, and opaque.
-- Susan Sontag, On Photography chapter one, In Plato's Cave

If I could tell the story in words, I wouldn't need to lug a camera.
-- Lewis Hine, On Photography, anthology of quotations

Photography is a system of visual editing...Like chess or writing, it is a matter of choosing from among given possibilties, but in the case of photography the number of possibilities is not finite but infinite.
-- John Szarkowski, On Photography, anthology of quotations

Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognises before it can speak. But there is also another sense in which seing comes before words. It is seeing which establishes our place in the world.
-- John Berger, Ways of Seeing

The way we see things is affected by what we believe... when an image is presented as a work of art, the way people look at it is affected by a whole series of learnt assumptions about art.
-- John Berger, Ways of Seeing

The art of the past no longer exists as it once did. Its authority is lost. In its place there is a language of images. What matters now is who uses that language for what purposes.
-- John Berger, Ways of Seeing

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