Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Struggling with the Ethics of Image-making: Sontag, Arbus, Snapshots, and Portraits

As part of the final project for our “Rhetoric of Social Documentary” class my students will be completing a brief documentary film on a local issue and so we spent this week talking about the ethics of documentary filmmaking and the discomfort many people feel in having their picture taken. We began the class with a discussion of Susan Sontag’s chapter “America, Seen Through Photographs, Darkly” from On Photography in which she considers the work of Diane Arbus and the shift in photography away from lyrical subjects toward material that is “plain, tawdry, or even vapid” (Sontag, 28). Sontag explores the artist’s decision to focuses on people she terms “victims” or “freaks” and argues that Arbus attempts to suggest a world in which we are all isolated and awkward.

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