- It took Sontag decades to let her skepticism about heart-warming beliefs in technological progress, burnished in the age of Cold War certainties, give way to uncertainty and despair. In a sense, her voyage was part of the debate about photography and sympathy, spurring on a quarrel over whether the camera helped or hindered. Looking back, we can see the arc from heroic reportage to waning confidence in photographic objectivity. We were left poised between cynical disbelief and humanitarian urgency. In between the two is moral ambiguity, a realm that expands as the manufacture of images goes digital and their circulation goes global.
- Until now, the question has been: does a photograph make us act, or does it dull our senses? That question preoccupied Sontag. But it is too blunt; it misses that the photo works both ways. The photo is neither the answer nor the obstacle to our capacity to sympathise across distances. The camera gives feeling and emotional power, but insight comes from beholding the photo as an image made by events, and links that chain the viewed and the viewer in a shared, if often disjointed, narrative. The distance between them is connected by choices and small, forgotten acts of posing, staging, shooting, editing, selecting, captioning, circulating and making strangers visible to one another. These everyday practices of turning photos into stories that connect the viewer to the viewed may not dissolve moral ambiguity, but understanding them helps turn the passive spectator into a more active witness.
- Sub-title: "Photography came of age amid the wars and atrocities, as well as the humanitarian aspirations, of the modern world."
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