The Irrelevant Surrealism of Sontag

“As if only by looking at reality in the form of an object-through the fix of photography-is it really real, that is, surreal.” 1


Firstly I must confess that I find the above quote as surreal as Sontag finds photography. A quote written in a book critiquing photography that has no images. It appears that the author wishes to leave a visual image in the readers mind, through the frame of her values and ideology. Isn’t that what photography does with pictures?

I have really enjoyed this research trail and have a greater enthusiasm for photography, and have more insight into the production of photography.

With regard to research methodology, having enthusiasm, determination and desire are what matters. I am willing to go to galleries, to review and evaluate the work of photographers and other artists. I read every day, watch Youtube video and tutorials. All of which means that I will learn and I will develop in technique, understanding and creativity.

I have found a few techniques that I have learned through the Introduction to Higher Education module, and through trial and error, that will be necessary to study effectively.

ITEP map for planning research sources



Writing a brief assignment/essay plan


Use voice recordings when watching TV or video as a source

Write references as I go along and refer to OCA resources for OCA’s Harvard Referencing

When I have studied before I have used pen and paper for recording my notes and quotes, and then typed them up. This was the first time that I have used a computer as a method of recording and organising notes. I have found that on the whole it is easier, although I do get tired more quickly this way, and need to take more study breaks.

I have had consideration to my motives for making the photography that I enjoy, but this project has helped me to explore that even further. Having interview accounts from Benjamin Lowy and Sebastiao Salgado has been invaluable, as has On Photography. There are times that I have felt myself agreeing with Sontag and also those where I have disagreed, but she has pointed a spotlight upon the implications of and reactions to photography. More importantly than this though, she has guided me to be more considerate of what I am leaving in my lens, why I am leaving out the wider part of the scene, and how my ideology affects the photography that I make.

As for the debate about being an embedded or non embedded photographer? I believe that we are all embedded photographers. Salgado’s upbringing and politics affected his career and choices, as much as did Benjamin Lowy’s family situation and the recent deaths of his colleagues, as much as Abdul-Ahad life as an Iraqi national lving under the regime of Saddam Hussein. After reading Sontag I believe it is impossible for any of us to say that we are “independent” photographers.

(I have decided not to include the questionnaires that I completed whilst going through the introduction to higher education course as they contain personal information relating to my health.)

What becomes more surreal is that if I remain aware of my ideologies and motives when making photography then Sontag is irrelevant, and yet Sontag will be an author that I return to repeatedly to ensure that I remain focused and aware of how and why I project my construct of self in my work.

Click to read the full essay

Essay Resources

1 Susan Sontag; 2008; On Photography; London; Penguin Modern Classics

2 Sebastiao Salgado; 2000; Migrations – Humanity in transition; Aperture




6 Benjamin Lowy; 2011; Iraq | Perspectives; Duke University Press; also

7 Katy Parry; 2010; A visual framing analysis of British press photography during the 2006 Israel–

Lebanon conflict; In – Media, War and Conflict, Sage Pub; p69 + 79 and

8 Allan Thompson; 2011; The Media and the Rwanda Genocide; Pluto Press

9 Susan Sontag; 2004; Regarding the torture of others; In – New York Times; 23rd May 2004 see


Other Resources Viewed and Read



Sebastiao Salgado:Exodus by Lelia Salgado; Taschen Books; 2016

The visual fix The seductive beauty of images of violence Jane Kilby; European journal of social theory; March 14 2013

Violence in War and Peace: An Anthology; Nancy Scheper-Hughes and Phillipe Bourgois; Wiley; 2004

Rwanda Revisualized: Genocide, Photography, and the Era of the Witness; Frank Möller; Alternatives: Global, Local, Political Vol. 35, No. 2 (Apr.-June 2010), pp. 113-136

Projecting Trauma, War Photography and the public Sphere; Haim Bresheeth; Third Text; Vol 20, Issue 1, Jan 2006, P57

Photography The Whole Story; Juliet Hacking; Thames and Hudson; 2014





The Salt of the Earth; Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado; Curzon Artificial Eye; 2015