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Susan Sontag on Photography Review

In the essay entitled “Why We Take Pictures,” Susan Sontag highlights how the practice and hobby of taking photographs has changed radically since the invention of the camera. She connects the modern incarnation of the camera to social aspects of human life instead of purely artistic or upper-class aspects. In doing so, she argues that taking photographs can help people deal with problems that may be not related to photography. Such problems include dealing with anxiety and regaining a semblance of power over their own lives. In addition, Sontag presents her argument about positive effects of photography related to the every day life of people by highlighting many different areas in which taking photographs can have beneficial effects and influence. I completely agree with Sontag’s argument because photography allows people to recapture control over their own lives, to frame their lives in a spirit-lifting way, and to foster deeper relationships and connections with other family members and friends.

The most therapeutic and beneficial effect of taking photographs in the twenty-first century is the ability to assert a renewed level of control over one’s life. Modern life advances in many technological aspects; however, life difficulties and sources of anxiety remain constant in lives of people, both rich and poor. Taking photographs cannot be defined as an ultimate solution to these difficulties and the problem of anxiety, but it gives people the ability to assert themselves more directly in their daily lives. Owing to photography, they can combat their anxiety with a feeling of accomplishment and a reminder to have fun and take in the beautiful world around them. Sontag writes, “Using a camera appeases the anxiety that work-driven people feel about not working when they are on vacation and supposed to be having fun…They take pictures”. The main idea is that taking photographs is a form of power where people can capture a moment and control that frozen amount of time. Currently, so many people feel as if they are controlled by some unknown powerful forces that if they get at least a little chance to improve their spirits it is a success. The improved ability to exert control over their lives with taking a simple photograph is a good solution. In my own life, when I have an opportunity to take a photograph of a beautiful sunset or a touching moment between members of my family, I feel much happier. It can flip my mood on its head and reinvigorate me with a sense that I am in control of my own destiny.

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In addition to regaining control, taking photographs as a social tool has another benefit. It also allows people to reframe their lives and the lives of those around them in a way that is enjoyable and memorable. The physical act of taking a photograph can ease anxieties in a certain moment only. However, the ability to reframe the way people view their life through long-lasting photographs can positively affect people for years to come. Sontag writes, “Their photographs will offer indisputable evidence that the trip was made, that the program was carried out, that fun was had”. Here, she is highlighting how taking photographs can help people focus on positive moments in life and forget about less positive moments. Owing to pictures, they can reaffirm feelings of fun and enjoyment; otherwise, such feelings might have been lost over the course of time without photographs there to remind people of their past.

Photographs taken at precise moments can impact the memories and determine whether one remembers an event as awful or extremely enjoyable. A couple of years ago, I attended the wedding of a family friend where I knew only few people. Undoubtedly, it was a rather boring evening for me. However, weeks after the event, my friend posted a photograph of one really enjoyable moment of me and everyone else dancing. This photograph is the only physical memory I can look back on now; so, my memory of that wedding is much more positive that it actually was. My friend’s photograph helped to reframe that wedding for me and subsequently improved my memory of an entire event. Reframing the past through photography is a tool that many people use. They do that even without direct understanding of the process. This impact illustrates how important the positive effects of commonplace photography have become in the society in the twenty-first century.

Ultimately, taking photographs is a way to share life with those one loves. It also helps to create a more collaborative and memorable society founded on strong relationships. In my own life, the luxury of photographing any and all important family moments and events is beneficial to my own life. It is particularly significant for me when it comes to remembering loved ones who have passed on. Sontag writes, as “the nuclear family was being carved out of a much larger family aggregate, photography came along to memorialize, to restate symbolically, the imperiled continuity and vanishing extendedness of family life”. Her argument about the power of photography to support and memorialize the family unit is absolutely correct. Modern people can enjoy a new opportunity not only to take photographs of and with people they love, but also to hold on to those photographs now and into the future. This is a benefit that the vast majority of previous generations lacked. Photography now is a practice of the masses and not solely a practice of the aristocracy. Sontag points out that photography as a social tool has strengthened the connections and relationships between family members and loved one in a truly meaningful way. I can look at the photograph of a loved one who has passed away or lives halfway around the world from me. At such moments, I think about love and joy I felt in the moment the photograph was taken. I feel that it helps me be better off as a person moving forward.

Sontag’s essay about the positive effects of photography on everyday human life forcefully and clearly presents photography as a social tool in addition to an enjoyable hobby. The rise of technology, in particular iPhones, makes taking photographs much easier and more readily at hand than ever before. That is why, understanding the positive effects of taking photographs on the human spirit and human relationships is paramount. Anxiety is one of the most common feelings in society today, but taking photographs works to combat the associative feelings of helplessness and isolation in a constructive and tangible way. Furthermore, modern people are searching for a way to regain a sense of power over their own lives and the way they think about the world around them. So, photography gives them the tools to frame their existence in a way that benefits the narratives important to each individual. The ability to reframe the past and the world around is a new ability of the present time. People in human history have not had it for centuries; however, people living in the twenty-first century have editorial control over how their life events are depicted and remembered. Taking photographs is known for the effect of extending to the valuable relationships and connections people have with one another. Thus, it reaffirms positive feelings towards other people and can even bridge the ominous divide of time, keeping people’s memory alive long after they have passed away. Sontag’s belief that photography is a tool that can make people’s lives better is accurate on many levels. People can clearly see that if they look inward and examine the effects photography has had on their own lives.

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