The phrase, “There is an aggression implicit in every use of the camera . . . to photograph people is to violate them” was stated by Susan Sontag (1933-2004) an American writer, human rights activist, speaker, teacher and film-maker. One concern, however, was the fact that Sontag’s insisted onphotography as a sexual or aggressive practice. She stated,

«There is an aggression implicit in every use of the camera»; «That taking photographs is regarded as a social rite, device of power and used to defend anxiety»; «To photograph people is to violate them»; «just like cars and guns, the use of cameras is addictive and full of fantasy” (Jay 1982, 1).

She argues that camera makes people look like objects symbolically possessed and photography makes reality manageable, atomic but denies interconnectedness and confers a mystery character on each moment. Sontag’sremarks seem to be provocative and have led to curiosity because aggression among photographers has dominated since 1880s. Photographers themselves have found this difficult to accept particularly when the reader is able to identify contemplative type of people. The fact however is in the photographer’s willingness and desire to go against good behaviors within the social conventions as they take pictures..Sontag’s arguments On Photography drew the public’s attention and developed a string of critical and complementary polemics.Validity of Sontag’s statement as well as its criticismwill be highlighted in this critical synthesis and the relevance of herstatement to photo practice.

Sontag’sStatement is a Fair Claim

Photography is regarded as an activity thatalters the reality as it imposes a way of seeing. The camera in other peoples reality makes everybody a tourist and finally in one’s own reality.Sontag insists that pictures provide intensive second hand experience and exempt us fromdirect experience. This has been evidenced in the first two decades of glorious photography that is in all succeeding decades from 1840s and 1850s (Sontag 1977, 4). During this time, such mentality has increasingly spread due to technologywhich sees the globe as a set of potential photographs. For example, Dead soldier’s pictures brutally legible were first justified which clearly violated a taboo, became a simple duty to record. Brady stated that “The camera is the eye of history,»Therefore, studies attempting to deduce the attitude of the public to photography and photographers as clearly stated in contemporary literature, must consider the photographer as aggressor.

(Sontag. (2004)


istory however, has been allied with realism invoking truth beyond appeal making novelist to defend realism in photography than photographers’ would.Realism permits one to presenthard facts which can also be unpleasant. Such pictures for dead soldiers convey «a useful moral» as they show the reality in the war and the blank horror as opposed to its pageantry. The unnamed man in the Photograph captured by Diane Arbus holds the American flag and a badge saying, ‘I’m Proud’, the picture depicts how Arbus attempted to manipulate the viewer as they create their own opinions on the man.

(Arbus. (1967)

H“THERE IS AN AGGRESSION IMPLICIT IN EVERY USE OF THE CAMERA . . . TO PHOTOGRAPH PEOPLE IS TO VIOLATE THEM” 1.The preference we inherit or learn from images over the real things is seen as a danger at the expence of trying to believe in what we see without any valid reason. The image is fundamental to the unethical impact of camera to the culture. From this, it is clear that there is aggression in the use of camera.

Sontag highlights that recent photography is practices widely as dancing or sex amusement activity. Most photographers do not take camera work as an art just like other forms of mass art. It is however seen as a social rite; a channel to power and is also used to defend anxiety. More facts on the aggression in the use of camera are well explained by the 1881 Broadstairs seaside resort early incident. The story comes about when a man having inevitable camera met a group of young ladies having fun in the sea. Thereafter the ladies were struck with a large wave and one lady was spun around. She was laughing but breathless after being flung on sand. Her costume strap was pushed off her shoulder by the wave’s force. The lady in the process of replacing the strap heard a camera click and the camera man smiling. The lady quickly came out of water and snatched the camera after which she flung it out to sea.

ady felt embarrassed.The story could no doubt have a happy ending if the photographer had quickly apologized after observing the lady’s annoyance and given her the offending plate. The man would have learnt some salutary lesson that will help him on future occasions. It is clear from this that the lady experienced righteous indignation, the man however chose on self-satisfied smirk alienation. In such circumstances there are irrelevant legal rights of the photographer. His act clearly showed violence and hate. This is why Sontag considers amateur photographer as a social outcast especially when such incidences multiply. The implication of the double spread camera use invisibility on the other person is dated with curiosity in the recent setting and not a bizarre. Systems focusing on images diffusion, their maximum reproduction requires that star witnesses be created and must be renowned as zeal and brave in the procurement of disturbing but important photographs.Professional photographers having sexual fantasies when they are with the camera, according to Sontag have inappropriate and plausible fantasies. This is an implicit aggression in photography.

(Jay. (1982).

elt satisfied after taking the shot. The man triumphed althoughthe l“THERE IS AN AGGRESSION IMPLICIT IN EVERY USE OF THE CAMERA . . . TO PHOTOGRAPH PEOPLE IS TO VIOLATE THEM” 2A classic confrontation between the snapshot enthusiast and the public is observed and needs attention because a similar scenario will recur in years tocome.The fact that the lady saw the man’s grin after the camera click is perhaps the key aspect in the story. The photographer without considering the unwilling subject f

Sontag’s Statement is Not a Fair Claim

Even though the statement made by Sontag “is correct, it is on the other side controversial on the claims she made on photographers as it does not consider the entire photographers and photography. In fact photography in the current literature has been equated with the act of sex.It is observed that many amateurs and laymen use camera to introduce themselves to sexual and as a seduction tool. This has been epitomized for example in «Dear Abby» letter to her husband which is a similar attitude to what majority of photographers have,which said,

My husband uses a very clever gimmick to get acquainted with pretty young women whenever we are on a vacation. He always carries a couple of cameras to make himself look like a real expert photographer, and when he sees a pretty girl, he compliments her on her figure, or face, or hair, and asks her if she would mind posing for a few pictures. This never fails. Then he offers to buy her a drink or lunch or something so he can get better acquainted with her.”(Jay 1982, 14)

Critics insist that in the current world situation, violence and all arts are closely related and aggression in photography should be considered ona wider cultural set up. Even when the event has occurred, the photograph existence will still confer on the event some immortality and importance that would not have been enjoyed. Diane Arbus (1967) wrote “I always thought of photography as a naughty thing to do—that was one of my favorite things about it,”, “and when I first did it I felt very perverse.” We see that being professional photographer at times is observed as naughty in any case the photographer look into subjects that are regarded as marginal, taboo or disreputable. Without considering veracity presumption that provides to all photographs seductiveness, interest, authority, the photographers work cannot be exempted to the common suspicious commerce between truth and art. The occasions when photography is relatively, promiscuous, self-effacing or undiscriminating in most cases do not lower the didacticism of the entire enterprise. Idealizing mages for example for most animal photography and even for fashion are not considered aggressive as compared to work which brings about the plainness virtue.

Bill Jay explains that the photography act is something aggressive in many thinkers and writers attitudes. The roots of such attitude have been determined in snapshot fiends since 19 century. Photography however is not regarded as an isolated field but is seen to have interconnection with the other arts. It therefore draws its impacts from a similar cultural zeitgeist and then ripples out into the society covering all aspects of its past, future and age. The destruction art, violence and aggression are a modern culture requisite. It signifies the times as photography reflects the mood of the age. While a prose description cannot be different from a specific selective interpretation, photographs are often narrowly treated as a selective transparency. The intentions of the photographer are not a determinant to the photograph meaning which often bears its own career, blown by diverse communities’ loyalties that use the photograph.The admired photographers up to early 1970s documented memorable suffering sites that were mostly found in Africa and Asia (Sontag 2004, 30). Indian famine victims’ photographs were documented by Werner Bischof, Don McCullinphotographs Biafra famine/war victims andWhilst Carter captured a malnourished child’s picture in UNHCR camp in Sudan and a vulture besides waiting to feed on the carcass. The famine in India and Africa are not seen as «natural» disasters because they could be prevented, they were therefore regarded as great magnitude crimes. Photographs that were taken provided imaginary possession of unreal past as they help in occupyingwhere they seem to be insecure. Evidence is thus furnished by photographs such that things heard and doubted can be proven. A camera record in a different version of its utility justifies as it offers incontrovertible proof of specific event and this does not imply any implicit aggression on the camera use. Majority philosophizes on the good deal and visual meaning of photographer’s motives.


(Carter. (1963)

(Don. (1967)

(Bischof. (1951)


Sontag’s implication on the aggression of photographers is still rampant in the current society.Photograph is not observed as theoutcome of an encounter between a photographer and an event; taking pictures itself is seen as an event, and there are peremptory rights that ignore, invade or interfere with the photographing process.Discussion of the pro and against facts on Sontag assumption on photographers, whether or not Sontag’s statement that photographers often go against the models or subjects and if her statement has been thoroughly opinionated in a manner that the message and idea she is trying to convey has been distorted. The reflection on Sontag’s opinions and views on the subject is observed as exclusively one sided or deeply opinionated to be a fair claim. The camera omnipresence is persuasively suggesting that time is made up of interesting events that must require photography. This then makes it easy to decide that events underway despite the moral character should be allowed to occur so as to present its photograph.Despite the fact that photographers concentrate majorly in mirroring reality, tacit imperatives of conscience and taste still haunts them. Although the camera captures reality in some sense, photographs are able to interpret the world as drawings and paintings are.

My Practice

The critical analysis of Sontag statement on photographers’ is relevant to my photo practice as it enables me understand the applicable laws to photography.This will help me deal with the legal components of the use and taking of photographs. Since photograph users and photographers are always advised on the formulation of their personal ethical code, this critical synthesis is vital in achieving that. The similarity to my work can be determined when it is critically related to the abuse of both the subject and the model. The interventions by the camera are what articulate the very sense of photographer’s situation.As one decides on the look of a picture or prefer one exposure to a different one, photographers do impose standards on the pictures subjects.This in the ever-changing political landscape determines myinteraction between social norm and photography which is a vital and relevant discussion topic for photographers today. It also has social conventions that photographers must take into consideration. After having learnt that publishing peoples’ photographs lead to humiliation or suffering especially those depicted in embarrassing, private or painful situations, I am able to see the balance between ethical considerations related to the publishing or taking of photographs with the victim’s legal obligations within the law.


Bischof, Werner. Iconic photos, Famine in Bihar, 1951 https://iconicphotos.org/tag/werner-bischof/

Carter, Kevin. «The vulture and the little girl.» March 26, 1993. Digital image.Rare Historical Photos. June 17, 2016. Accessed May 23, 2017. http://rarehistoricalphotos.com/vulture-little-girl/.

«Diane Arbus | Patriotic young man with a flag N.Y.C. (1967) | Available for Sale | Artsy.» Artsy — Discover, Research, and Collect the World’s Best Art Online. Accessed May 23, 2017.https://www.artsy.net/artwork/diane-arbus-patriotic-young-man-with-a-flag-nyc-1.

Don, McCullin. Iconic photos, Two Orbituaries, 1967 https://iconicphotos.org/tag/don-mccullin/

Jay, Bill. The Photographer as Aggressor: When photography became a moral act, 1982

Sontag, Susan. Regarding the Pain of Others, 2004

Sontag, Susan. On Photography, 1977