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On Photography

Written by: Susan Sontag
Narrated by: Jennifer Van Dyck
Length: 6 hrs and 12 mins

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Publisher's Summary

First published in 1973, this is a study of the force of photographic images, which are continually inserted between experience and reality. Sontag here develops further the concept of "transparency". When anything can be photographed, and photography has destroyed the boundaries and definitions of art, a viewer can approach a photograph freely, with no expectations of discovering what it means. This collection of six lucid and invigorating essays, with the most famous being "In Plato's Cave", make up a deep exploration of how the image has affected society.

©2003 Susan Sontag (P)2011 Audible, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"A brilliant analysis of the profound changes photographic images have made in our way of looking at the world and at ourselves over the last 140 years." ( The Washington Post Book World)
"Every page of On Photography raises important and exciting questions about its subject and raises them in the best way." ( The New York Times Book Review)
" On Photography is to my mind the most original and illuminating study of the subject." (Calvin Trillin, The New Yorker)

What members say

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Deb
  • 18-10-13

I'm Glad I Bought, Despite Some Negative Reviews

What three words best describe Jennifer Van Dyck’s voice?

Okay

Any additional comments?

I was concerned that this book would be negative about photography, based on some low star review(s). However, I think Sontag simply points out the many different points of views and backgrounds that photographers express through their work. I feel like Sontag is also giving a valuable history lesson of the leading photographers as well. She seems to also have admiration where she feels it's due, towards photography and photographers. After all, she was Annie Leibovitz's partner for over a decade, encouraged and admired her photography too. I agree with Sontag about both the negative and positive impact that photography can have. I'm glad I decided to listen. A good addition to my MA in photojournalism.

12 people found this helpful

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  • Gene Bowker
  • 02-08-14

one of the classics on photography

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

It is an easy listen and is one of the most important books on Photography

Who was your favorite character and why?

Hmm.. it is a selection of essays. The author (not a photographer) was able to write about how photography has influenced the world and been influenced

What about Jennifer Van Dyck’s performance did you like?

She has an easy voice to listen to

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

Photography's influence on the world

4 people found this helpful

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  • Chris
  • 21-12-15

Fantastic, but would rather read.

If you could sum up On Photography in three words, what would they be?

Machine gun thoughts

Any additional comments?

I really enjoyed this, but I'd recommend getting a non-audiobook version of it. The cadence at which thought provoking sentiments are shared is just too much for an audiobook. You'll want to re-read lines, see names, etc. It's well performed though, if a little monotonous.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Suzanne
  • 02-02-17

Deep

I enjoyed it very much--took me right back to my graduate studies and the sheer enjoyment of disciplined scholarly analysis and the "weighing and considering" of insights that spring forth. I will listen to it again!

1 person found this helpful

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  • K. Sadira Dorran
  • 17-08-19

A Good Exploration of the Subject of 20th Century Photography

This useful volume captures the period of the development of photography from early daguerreotypes up to the 1970s’ prolific use of photography in everyday households and in fine art.

I was particularly impressed with her coverage of and quotes by Edward Weston regarding his series of photos depicting the elegant grace of toilets, although I wonder if he made these with (more than) a touch of humor- humor was not sufficiently addressed, in my opinion, although wartime photos and their makers were. But how can we endure such keen awareness of humanity’s horrors without also appreciating both the truth and humor in images such as Weston’s toilets? Perhaps at the time this volume was written, Dechamp’s Dadaist urinal (presented shockingly as sculpture in his day, breaking through former definitions of art) was so famous that the parallels and humor were understood and implicit, although to neglect to mention Dadaism’s relationship with photography and indubitable influence on Weston’s series seems a great oversight from the perspective 2019 offers.

To be clear, this book is a wonderful introduction to the history and importance of photography, but was written before the advent of digital photography or the internet, so is far from current research or commentary.

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  • elizabeth mccracken
  • 09-03-19

Sontag rocks!

I love this book and Sontag’s brilliant mind. I am not crazy about the speed and cadence at which Jennifer reads this material.

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  • JoBo
  • 26-05-18

A picture is worth...,

I found Ms Sontag’s work to be an erudite, informative,historically illuminating journey through the mechanical, Intellectual and artistic processes that reside, sometimes uneasily, under the broad mantel;PHOTOGRAPHY. Well written and wonderfully narrated!! Thank you from a rank amateur photographer!

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  • yoguinha
  • 19-05-18

An Essential Book on Photography

This book has deeply impacted me many years ago and has become a constant reference. I find myself going back to Susan Sontag’s profound text over and over again. This is the first time I hear it in audio form and I thought it was very good. Narration is clear, paused and deliberate so that it is easy to listen to and follow the complex thoughts and reflect as you go. If you are a photography lover or interested in philosophy and contemporary issues Sontag’s essays won’t disappoint.

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  • Sandman
  • 14-04-18

Truly insightful and definitive non-fiction book

What made the experience of listening to On Photography the most enjoyable?

This is one of the best books around if your interested in some incredibly penetrating thoughts about photography, its history and its place in the modern world. A minor downside is that its a bit old and doesn't deal with some new issues in photography.

What was your reaction to the ending? (No spoilers please!)

It's non-fiction so no exciting finale other than people are still taking photos 😎

What about Jennifer Van Dyck’s performance did you like?

Straightforward and good for the long haul

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

This is one non-fiction book that wouldn't make a good film.

Any additional comments?

Susan Sontag was brilliant. I wish she had lived to comment on what's going on with photography now.

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  • MER
  • 16-07-17

Fantastic

The informational approach to the subject is told with such a great literary style that simply captures the audience's mind , concise and classic, perfect pace and tone for the subject, love every bit of it.

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  • Graham
  • 12-09-15

An excellent essay on photography

What did you like most about On Photography?

I have known about this book for decades but have avoided it as I always through it to be too much like a text book and highbrow. To be frank I would say that this is not a book to be read by a beginner in photography but if you do want to read why photography is a welcomed art and is valued then this book is the one to read.

it is well written though it can get somewhat tied up in jargon and I do wish it was in more plain english. But it is inspiring and interesting and when I started to read I really did wish to want to continue.

I have been a photographer for over 40 years and I know most of the well known and some less well known photographers but the book throws new light on the photographers I thought I knew and explains. like an artists painting, what the point of the image is and its impact.

I have this in both hardback and Audile versions and Will continue to delve into the book. On the downside, besides the cover there are no images in the book so when the book was initially published in the 1970s it would have been somewhat difficult to research the images and photographs Susan Sontag refers to. Now with the internet its a doddle and in so in may ways helps you appreciate even more the essays of the author.

Who was your favorite character and why?

N/A

What does Jennifer Van Dyck bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

She makes me imagine she is Susan Sontag.

Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Nope, its a text book!!!

Any additional comments?

Shame there can be no images!!

4 people found this helpful

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  • Paul
  • 04-09-13

hard going

What made the experience of listening to On Photography the most enjoyable?

This is a must read book for those interested in photography. This is not a book to listen to that will tell you how to improve your photography. This is a book that relays the style and the setting out of photographers and their work. This is of interest but I found the narrator somewhat aggravating with no real passion for what she was reading.

What do you think the narrator could have done better?

Bring more passion into the reading of the subject!

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No

Any additional comments?

I've given it three stars, which should of been a 5 as this is an important book in terms of photographic background

4 people found this helpful

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  • Isobel Birkinshaw
  • 10-09-18

Great to hear this in audio.

It's much easier to digest in audio form. I did a photography degree but you don't need that to read this just a keen interest in photography and the way we see the world as people.
It took me a while to get through though because it is such dense subject matter and I needed to take it a little at a time.

2 people found this helpful

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  • I. P. Gearing
  • 07-03-18

The classic book on photography

If you want to seriously study the form of photography then you have to read this book sooner or later. Make it sooner.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Paul Williams
  • 17-01-20

Still The Absolute Photography Bible

Although written 40 years ago On Photography is still the best and most insightful examination of photography and its place in the modern world yet written. As a professional photographer I am well aware of some of the myriad of possibilities photography is capable of. I am also aware how easy it is to be overwhelmed and get lost by the pure seduction of taking photographs. Reading On Photography allows me to re-emerge from the melee of being a photographer and to see clearly again what photography is and can be.

This most important photograph book is for anyone involved or interested in photography and its place in the world both as snap shot and art, which nowadays covers about everyone living in the world. It explains how and why photography remains the most powerful and relevant medium in the world today, which is why bit will remain so as long as people stay addicted to images.

Luckily the video camera and polaroid had been invented at the time of its writing On Photography so Sontag was able to discuss the instant imagery that is possible today on everyones phone. Its a shame Susan Sontag's not alive to give her thoughts on digital photography but as the nature of taking photographs has not changed with the new technology so On Photography has not dated.

For the last 30 years I re visit this book every few years and I am so grateful that I will now be able to listen to it too as well read it. Thanks Audible

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  • Stephen Gott
  • 04-01-20

A Meditation On Photography

This collection of essays by Susan Sontag,on the cultural and philosophical history of photography,is a very personal view.Although I didn't agree with everything the Great American Intellectual said,what she said was worth listening to and caused me to see photography in a different light.Well worth listening to,with an excellent narration by Jennifer Van Dyck.

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  • Marc
  • 10-10-19

Dire

this book sounds like it is rear by a robot.
Also I think it was edited by a computer,so it misses crucial words in a sentence.

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  • Andrea
  • 10-08-15

A classic

Sontag was a great wordsmith, and in this work she gives some great insights into the history and relevance of photography. I think it is as relevant now as it was in the pre-digital age.