Beauty lies in the eye of the shutter controller

Posted in Uncategorized on December 23, 2008 by mediasaucy

Susan Sontag presents important distinctions about the differences between cultural meanings of taking a photograph in China versus Western cultures. To those newly ingratiated in “photo culture,” taking a picture is more than whimsy, it is a ritual, Sontag says. It involves organization and posturing. The capture of a moment is always with intent, and those new to photo culture don’t spend frame of film flippantly, they metre them so that each photo is a document, a placeholder in time.

She also points out the different value photographed people of the past placed on having their portraits taken versus the way that we, as casual users, collect many, many images of ourselves. The older generations might just have one enlargened family portrait, for example, while now that the means for taking pictures is more affordable to the everyday user, we snap away without restraint.

Still, in taking pictures, Sontag points out that there is still a sort of moral code of what is acceptable and aesthetically beautiful, versus those things that one morally should not capture on film. In a way, photography is subject to the mores of society by what the censors would deem tasteful vs disgraceful.

“Not only are there proper subjects for the camera, those which are positive, inspirational … and orderly, but there are proper ways of photographing, which derive from notions about the moral order of space, that preclude the very idea of photographic seeing,” she wrote.

Sontag uses the example of some of the shots in Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Chung-Kuo and the reactions of critics that he intentionally went after what was old and ugly, sides of humanity that should not be seen, and therefore produced an undesirable film. But Antonioni was only approaching his medium with hoesty; he was including some of the most human moments, such as a person blowing his nose or using the bathroom–things that people do every day, but those things that the moral sensors find displeasing to see close up or discuss. (Think of all the times someone has pointed a camera at you and ordered you to smile, even though you don’t feel like smiling. Doesn’t that moment of dishonesty and play at a transformation more disfiguring? A smile on someone’s face could look almost grotesque at the wrong moment, say like at a funeral).

What is appropriate at a time is represented by staging. Whereas, sometimes reality can be absurd, and when those moments are captured by film they are most marked, sometimes shocking–always worth remembering.

Timing can separate a portrait posed by a wedding photographer from a snapshot captured by a photojournalist. A snapshot occurs in the moment; in a portrait or staged shot the moment is scripted and it takes time to organize.  One is meant to convey a deliberate sentiment, the other is simply meant to chronicle–like taking the temperature on a thermometer–and is, at its most innocent, completely objective.

Filmmaker John Waters is an interesting specimen and a deep advocate of free speech and spontaneity. In his films and other graphic art, intentionally pushes the envelope to test how far audiences will tolerate things that are considered foul, distasteful and deviant. In his early work, he was known for using transvestites and ex-hookers as his film stars–people who by their characteristics would not be deemed suitablet to be placed before the viewing public by Orthodox Hollywood types, but whose very quirks and ideosynchricies he embraced and shoved out onto center stage.

John Waters’ movie, “Pecker,” is full of parody and critique about the world of the photographer as artist. He uses this movie as a vehicle to dissect the critics and collectors of the art world, and to poke fun at postmodern aesthetics of value and beauty in art for its many paradoxes.

At one point, the main character’s art agent, looking to replace him after her dumps her, introduces him to her newest client–a blind photographer. With the blind photog, Waters plays on the idea of spectacle and photographer capture. During a dance party scene, the blind photographer bobs up and down, spasmodically snapping away with elation. As the viewer, we know that his snapshots can have no composition nor intention–the most anyone can hope for is that when developed anything even appears in the frame.  And if anything does, it appears without context, except that it was snapped by a blind photographer. So, there the art’s meaning & worth belongs only to the reputation of the artist, and can have no essence or “aura,” and very likely little aesthetic worth.

This is an amusing critique on art photography, because most people consider that its value is its great power to replicate, as Sontag discusses, and the power of the image to usurp in meaning and worth the position of the original. If we can’t “See” God, could he appear in one of the blind photographer’s photographs? And even if he did, would we recognize him? Afterall, we don’t know what he looks like.

Is art only valuable because it resembles something, or is the “spectacle,” of something more real? Without the real, is it really only the “nothing of nothing”?


If a tree falls…

Posted in Uncategorized on December 23, 2008 by writeinbk

I really enjoyed these last reading as they spoke to my passion of film and photography from a unique perspective. In Susan Sontag, On Photography, she opens by stating “Reality has always been interpreted through images…”. I found this similar to the philosophy question ‘if a tress falls in the rain forest and no one is around to see it, does it make a sound.  Image, spectacle, and cinematic are intertwined and interdependent on one another.  Images must have an audience and images are a part of the culture that audiences create. The defining point is the message these images, or I could say art, portray. Like the tree, if someone takes a picture, and no one ever sees it, does it constitute as art? What would it express?

Society of the Spectacle

Posted in Uncategorized on December 23, 2008 by katiekoep

The image, the spectacle and the cinematic are all quite interconnected concepts that seem to overlap in many places.  The image represents that which exists around us.  The spectacle describes how we see those images.  It refers to the ways in which we string images together to create thoughts, ideas, opinions.  “The images detached from every aspect of life fuse in a common stream in which the unity of this life can no longer be reestablished…The spectacle presents itself simultaneously as all of society, as part of society, and as instrument of unification” (Debord).  We use our minds, our imaginations to fill in the gaps and make sense of things.  So it seems the spectacle being a product of ourselves, appoints the human mind as its medium.  We are the medium and it seems the spectacle, being our own creation, created to project our own views, belongs wholly to us.  The image, however, remains the property of the culture.  We are presented with the images only to incorporate them into our own spectacle.

In Cinema Isn’t I See, It’s I Fly, Paul Virilio chronicles the evolution and development of filmmaking from its beginnings.  He describes the cinematic as a third tier, combining both image and spectacle.  He refers to images in this context as photographic reproductions of original objects.  This is how Sontag discusses images as well in her essay on photography.  I suppose this type of image becomes the property of the medium used to create the reproduction and of the audience who views it more so than a possession of cuture itself.  The representation becomes its own image with its own properties.  But Virilio discusses how these representations come to affect our own individual spectacles.  He explains that because we see war only through the filter of a cinematic representation based on someone else’s spectacle, that then becomes our spectacle.  Or at least the basis for it.  We can still create have our own opportunity to think about and construct things in a way which we think makes sense, but it is significantly influenced by the information we receive and the filters it goes through before we receive it.

Thus, the image, the spectacle and the cinematic all seem to mesh together into what is our culture today.  It is the product of and property of the culture, the audience and the media.

Media, Cinema & Image

Posted in Uncategorized on December 23, 2008 by murtaza14


Photographs and paintings certainly create an image. But again the essence of both these pieces of art varies from each other to a large extent. Images are indeed able to usurp reality because first of all a photograph is not only an image (as a painting is an image), an interpretation of the real; it is also a trace, some-thing directly stenciled off the real, like a footprint or a death mask. (Sontag, Pg 154). Personally to me, photographs are that piece of art, through which one can explore and see the world around us. It is an imagination of the photographer that he/she tries to capture using the camera as a tool. The photograph often reflects the inner dignity of the subject being photographed. If taken properly photographs can be exclusive in sharing one’s own personal experiences, that might bring ecstasy in the making and sharing with others. On the other hand, I think painting is the medium through which the artist tries to pen down his/her feelings and inner thoughts using a medium like a canvas or a paper.

In “Susan Sontag on Photography”, Susan talks about the relationship between photography and reality.  She says that photographs become an extension of the subject, which is distributed like images that become an act of classification. Today we see a lot of images and interpret them in many different ways. Modern world is the world of advertisements. These advertisements in the form of images stare at us from the public squares, daily papers, magazines etc..and we all interpret them in a different way. Sontag depicts the idea that images desensitize the real thing, as people’s perceptions are distorted by the construction of the photograph. She adds that the demand for photographs has not stopped and that she has impacted the audiences understanding of reality, as photographs have adapted to a form of surveillance<;. Hence I would conclude by saying that the ‘image’ is the property of the audience.

Virilio highlights that there is no war without representation. As the war gets more scrupulous, it never breaks from the ‘pre-technical’ ideas of war as deception and illusion, spectacle and captivation. He argues that cinema fits perfectly when capturing the war machine as it ties together the cultural and economic strengths between the industries.According to Virilio cinema is just not mass production of images, pans and taking shots, zooming in and out, editing, etc. <>Today cinema is just not an extension of a stage-play, but also with the latest technology available the most fantastic scenes and happenings can be presented and even the limitations of time and space can be transcended. To me, cinema as a form of media is the only form that can serve an effective medium of demonstration. Hence I would conclude by saying that the ‘cinema’ is the property of the audience, media and culture tied together.

Finally, a spectacle is the public sphere we live in. Today media, an important means of communication, is a vast source of information that entertains people across the country. Its ability to mold thoughts and form opinions can make one count it as a governing force of sorts. The various impressions it leaves upon the human mind, the views and ideas it may propagate, affect people’s lifestyles, their way of thinking and being. Guy Debord says, “The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images.”(DeBord p.4). A very good example I can think of, to explain this comment, is how different cultures, religions and societies have been spectacled by media in India over a period of years, especially to attract foreign visitors and tourists. Indian society has traditional socio-cultural standards and a spectacle is all one needs to make one see that world, clearly and demonstratively. Hence I would conclude by saying that ‘a spectacle’ is the property of the audience, media and culture, all tied together.


All Three Together

Posted in Uncategorized on December 22, 2008 by katherineer



I believe that images, spectacles, and cinematic are all alike because they show something and have a message. They are forms of art constructed by individuals to relay a certain message.  When asked the question if it is a property of the audience, media or culture, I think that they are the property of all three. With an image, there is an audience, and by showing this image, it is the example of sharing art, a form of media. Within the image of art, there are many things incorporated such as culture because when an artist creates, it is because they are inspired with what is around them, such as their culture.

Say Cheese!

Posted in Uncategorized on December 21, 2008 by micawave

Marey's photo gun

Marey's photo gun

Images belong to individuals and at the same time allow individuals to participate, through mass possession, in a shared cultural experience. As Sontag describes, an image, is not merely a copy of a thing nor an illusion or shadow of the real, but a residue of the energy it emanated at the moment it was photographed. The photograph is more than a resemblance of what it represents, it is a physical manifestation of a subjects energy. In it’s photographic capture, an image maintains some of the meaning and value of the thing it represents. In possessing a photographic document you posses in some part, what the photo represents. This concept of photography as a means of possession, is no more clearly depicted than in the original manner in which movement was initially captured on film. There is no shortage of significance to the fact that the earliest experiments in capturing movement on film used the technical mechanism of a gun to move the film through the camera, allowing the photographer to literally shoot the subject onto the negatives.

“The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images.”(DeBord p.4)

As a culture becomes more dependent upon creating and consuming images, the spectacle arises as the dominant mode for communicating all experience. In such a heavily mediated environment, any experience, to be relevant for social discourse, must be documented to the point of becoming a spectacle. Here, each individual must continually be in the process of creating spectacle of their own lives, through image documentation, in order to make their lives a worthy point of intersection for social relations. Such self documentation serves a dual purpose, as Sontag no doubt referencing the panopticon, describes; cameras create a spectacle for the masses and a surveillance for the rulers (Sontag p.178). As individuals strive to create mass spectacles from their lives, they are taking possession of their identities yet at the same time, present them within the public sphere, opening their personal lives to the observation, dissection and judgment of those seeking to maintain cultural control.

Are we the “image”, “spectacle”, and “cinematic”?

Posted in Uncategorized on December 21, 2008 by christinatx

From Debord’s text, a spectacle is our society that we live in today. We are inundated with constant imagery that has been manufactured or a source of creative reproduction. There is a separation between reality and replication; genuine and imitation. When I think of spectacle I have a perception of something or someone becoming transformed into media news. A spectacle is a manifestation of entertainment in our society, but as Debord infers we cannot truly see it because it is us and we are surrounded by it. “It is the heart of the unrealism of the real society” Debord states (140). The spectable that we are familiar with today through media is created, yet we see it as real. I found it particularly interesting when Guy Debord asserts that the spectacle is fashioned in order “to make one see the world by means of various specialized mediations…” (142). I wonder if we are so unaware of the spectacle that we can never truly return to a sense of reality.  If Debord is correct, then this is our reality since we created it and it would be difficult if not impossible alleviate the spectacles that surround us.

According to Sontag, the creation of a photograph is more than just an image; it holds a sense of capturing a moment in which no other medium alike can. Sontag argues that painting is more or a representation and does not retain the interests of some if given the choice to choose between. Is painting a medium that can no longer continue to progress? My roommate is in the MFA program at and just went through final critiques. She mentioned to me that one student was given especially tough and callous feedback from not only the instructors, but the students as well. It was mentioned that everything that could have been done with painting has already been done. I found this especially interesting and fascinating. Is the image, as Sontag suggests more captivating due to the originality of the moment (155)? I do agree with Susan that photography is more consumer -friendly. Photography and the replication of images allows for constant mass distribution and sharing of places, events, etc. When discussing Proust, Sontag states that the relation to photography is not only “extensive and accurate” , but “texture and essence” (164).With the mass distribution of images, I cannot help but think about the nostalgia that may become lost. With the internet, images can easily become other’s property, altered, and then reproduced again. I assume that we can alleviate unwanted distribution through our own personal choice of not sharing, but that is not our culture today.

Cinema, as discussed by Virilio also touches on the replication of reality in order for viewers to feel the experience. This is evident in the precise coordination of movements and actions during scenes. Cinema seems to encapsulate the “image”, “spectacle” and “cinematic”. The abilities to use this technology within combat were a great advancement, but also seen as evidence of the cinematic due to the advances in capturing film. Virilio creates a link between the advances of military technology to the visual representations in war films. There was a use to create an image of what war was like and help deliver a form of propaganda to those back home. With our current war, images, videos, and stories have been distributed to us through the media.

The arguments that are presented by this week’s authors are reminiscent of the discussion that we had in class during the Benjamin and Baurdillard. They share similar observations with regard to our perception and altered perception of images in that the reality that we live in is impacted by the visual representations that we are surrounded by. The “image”, spectacle”, and “cinematic” are property of our culture. As we verge into and explore the use of our technology, we are testing the limits and capacities of what we can do. All three elements are the result of the progression of our media.

Happy Holidays!