Notes On Attention Paid

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2021.05.13 - notes on attention paid

02 Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag

… Sontag opens by taking up Virginia Wolf’s contention that War is a man’s game and folly… i certainly used to hold that idea in my head, that if women were in charge there would be much less war, maybe even no war, alas, i think the reason war is Men’s work is that men have been in charge of it for so long… as women increasingly take charge, little is changing…

…the broad case Sontag makes is that pictures of war atrocities seldom tell all the truth and are often put in the service of telling lies, propaganda…

…there are many uses of the innumerable opportunities a modern life supplies for regarding—at a distance, through the medium of photography—other people’s pain. Photographs of an atrocity may give rise to opposing responses. A call for peace. A cry for revenge. Or simply the bemused awareness, continually restocked by photographic information, that terrible things happen.1

…the inherent problem of documentary photography, how does it stay honest, believable…

…images have the power to make one feel all kinds of things, but people everywhere feel amidst contexts and realities that are different, sometimes vastly different, and so, they come to different conclusions and the image or film has yet to be made that actually prevented the madness of war… what power an image has depends on whose hands it is in and how they are using it to support their thesis… is all imagery propaganda?…

_In contrast to a written account—which, depending on its complexity of thought, reference, and vocabulary, is pitched at a larger or smaller readership—a photograph has only one language and is destined potentially for all.2

…on imagery in the service of commercial enterprise…

The hunt for more dramatic (as they’re often described) images drives the photographic enterprise, and is part of the normality of a culture in which shock has become a leading stimulus of consumption and source of value.3

…and…

in a culture radically revamped by the ascendancy of mercantile values, to ask that images be jarring, clamorous, eye-opening seems like elementary realism as well as good business sense. How else to get attention for one’s product or one’s art?4

…one of my principle complaints of the coverage of war by TV media is that it is presented much like a sporting event, with all the hype and the bevy of commentators to analyze every side of the matchup and convince the public to stay tuned because it is not possible to know for sure what will happen, and in staying tuned, we can sell you our products… the whole game in a society centered on the market is to direct as many eyeballs and ears to one place as possible and then sell whatever needs selling… presidential debates are also presented as sports spectacle to make them more appealing, but this undermines the seriousness of what is at stake and encourages the body politic to take sides…

… Sontag tells us that every photograph has a point of view, that of the individual making the photograph, and as such, it is not the recording of “unvarnished” reality, ever… the making and seeing of photographs is connected to a nervous system… even today, when picture taking can be automated, the setting up of the automation is connected to nervous systems, to a point of view, albeit that of the state or corporation surveilling…


  1. Sontag, Susan. Regarding the Pain of Others (p. 13). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition. [return]
  2. Ibid. [return]
  3. Ibid. [return]
  4. Ibid. [return]