My secret and Plato’s Cave

When I look at photos for me it’s and image of the past, it’s evidence that this object/person in the photograph existed once upon a time. People today use imagery as evidence in court of laws or when documenting a crime to base their true facts upon, just like CCTV which look like stills of our streets, they are used to protect us and in some conspiracy’s i have read over ‘to spy on us’.

One of my hobbies when I am online is to look over old photographs showing history of Plymouth, I know it may sound boring but it’s not. Some reason seeing images of how the town looked before it was bombed of the old buildings, winding streets and the people fascinates me.

Looking into the past through photograph has always interested me and i love the idea of collecting loads of old photos of Plymouth and making a sort of archive. Recently there has been a trend of Facebook pages where you can join which show images of Plymouth from as far back as William Fox Talbot’s era and even paintings of the Hoe before it was all built up by man.


On Photography

Susan Sontag

Susan Sontag

  • Born in New York in 1933
  • She is a critic, novelist and film maker
  • She is an influential figure but also a controversial one
  • She died in 2004
  • She sparked controversy over the 911 bombings writing she wrote

Susan Sontag wrote:

“Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a ‘cowardly’ attack on ‘civilization’ or ‘liberty’ or ‘humanity’ or ‘the free world’  but an attack on the world’s self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions? How many citizens are aware of the ongoing American bombing of Iraq? And if the word ‘cowardly’ is to be used, it might be more aptly applied to those who kill from beyond the range of retaliation, high in the sky, than to those willing to die themselves in order to kill others. In the matter of courage (a morally neutral virtue): Whatever may be said of the perpetrators of Tuesday’s slaughter, they were not cowards.”

In the early 1970’s Susan Sontag started writing about photography which contained essays of reviews on books. She wrote about problems particularly aesthetics of interpreting images. The more she explored the more she thought about the doubts surrounding truth of imagery and the reality. She created a book

‘On Photography’ 1977

  • The book received the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism.
  • Her essays explored the value of the photographic image and the act of picture taking in modern culture.
  • Photographs, she wrote, have shaped how people see the world.
  • She discusses the moral of the camera and how that will affect the person your taking the image of.

Essay Titles

  • Plato’s Cave -make up a deep exploration of how the image has affected society.
  •  America Seen Through Photographs, Darkly – Susan Sontag inspects visions of America through the eyes of photographers and especially Diane Arbus.
  • Melancholy Objects
  • The Heroism of Vision – is a discussion about the relation between beauty in truth and their development throughout the history of photography.
  • Photographic Evangels – Susan Sontag Discusses the nature of the art of photography through various claims to the nature of essence of photography and aesthetic and moral views on photography.


Photographs furnish evidence. Something we hear about, but doubt, seems proven when we’re shown a photograph of it…the camera record incriminates…photographs became a useful tool of modern states in the surveillance and control of their increasingly mobile populations. In another version of its utility, the camera record justifies. A photograph passes for incontrovertible proof that a given thing happened. The picture may distort, but there is always a presumption that something exists, or did exist, which is like what’s in the picture. 

(Sontag, 1977, p4)

‘On Photography’ Chapter one: In Plato’s cave

Sontag discusses how in our world ‘Plato’s cave’ our vision of photography empowers us with freedom, creating rights and wrongs in imagery but not in comparison to what is right and wrong in our real world. Photography has its own ‘morals’ and helps us to share and voice our opinions without words. She argues how we collect imagery as a way of seeing our world in our heads or even our photo albums. She argues that collecting photographs is essentially collecting the world.

‘Photographs are as much an interpretation of the world as paintings and drawings are.’ Susan Sontag ‘On Photography’ Page 7

When we imagine the world we imagine it in images, they help provide knowledge of our past and present, and how we interpret them can give us different opinions of how something looks than how it really looks.

‘Photographed images do not seem to be statements about the world so much as pieces of it, miniatures of reality that anyone can acquire ‘ Susan Sontag, ‘On Photography’.

She argues that photographing the world is like taking ownership of it, it’s very much like this is my piece of it, how someone may document their holiday represents that you have done something with your life so you don’t look boring. Images show that you have actively participated in something which raises the facts about the truth of photographs and how so many people use photographs of evidence of something. Photographs are a testimony to someones life and events in the world, they are used to document truths and their are some shady truths with Art and truth.

‘Even when photographers are most concerned with mirroring reality, they are still haunted by tact imperatives of taste and conscience.’ Susan Sontag ‘On Photography’ Page 6

Susan Sontag believes photography is always an interpretation of the world, and how the photographer interprets its scenes where as where they point and shoot and even which angle they take it from. Whether its on the side of the photographer or the side of the viewer the way it is interpreted is always ruled by modern day conventions and ideals of the world and how people perceive it. Our reliance on the camera to record the meanings to our lives has become an almost addiction, looking at social networking sites you can see people document everything in their lives to show that they ‘exist’. It’s almost like our lives need to be justified all the time in photograph.

Another argument Sontag raises is A photograph creates the idea of eternal, the photograph will exist in other peoples minds for a long time, so if someone is interpreted in a certain way in a photograph people will remember this, whether its true or not. It is a way of participating in an event without being a part of it. Sontag sees the camera as a weapon ( a gun), and how the act of photographing as symbolic shooting, she even describes it as rape.She compare photography with rape because in photography we see people in a manner than is different than they see themselves and we gain knowledge of them which they will never share, so photography defines people into objects which can be subjected to symbolic ownership. Such as migrant mother, Dorothea Lang how she describes that who she was in the photograph is not who she is, but people see her as something she is not because of a photograph.

Photographs evident-ally creates evidence of family that once existed, or that adventure you went on as a teenager, even if the happiness was not real at the time, the need to air your photograph and your life is almost to document the truth of it. It is like your very own show or autobiography that something existed and so the happiness in the photograph should reflect on you in a good way, showing you were a happy person and your family are happy even if it’s not true. Photographs are essentially how you want to be perceived, when looking through someones photo albums you may only see fun or happy times, the perception you see may not be the reality. That is my opinion of all photographs

‘Just because it looks real does not mean it is.’

‘To photograph people is to violate them…it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed.’ Susan Sontag ‘On Photography’

Photography for Sontag is an attempt to connect with a passing reality, ‘photographs express feelings, both sentimental attempts to contact or lay claim to another reality.’ page 17.   Photography turns a moment into an event, because an event is something that is worth photographing, but it ideology which decides what’s worth the viewing. But although photography captures a moment and gives it meaning, its power is not constant. Repetition of images, be it horror or pornography, takes the edge off their affects and can become a repetition of imagery.
‘Photographs cannot create a moral position but they can reinforce one.’ Susan Sontag ‘On Photography’.
These days imagery is more effective than TV, the sharing online shows that imagery with wording can make the difference if it’s noticed or not. After all the meaning to the image would not be as important of it didn’t have signs or symbols or wording to make sense of it. Sontag argues that no image can ever be ethical or political knowledge, I am not sure if i agree with that but then their are always two sides to every story. But this statement i do agree with:
‘Needing to have reality confirmed and experience enhanced by photographs is an aesthetic consumerism to which everyone is now addicted.’ Susan Sontag ‘On Photography’ Page 24
These days things only seem to exist if they are being photographed.
Here are some images I found that made me feel Plymouth existed before:
The Hoe in Painting, where Tinside Pool is now 1700’s,  wish it still looked like this, but one thing i do think about since studying Art is whether this is the real picture of how it looked and whether the painting made it look beautiful or whether it really looked like this.
554575_433790146713081_381087229_nTaken by Rugg Monk, looking down Looe street c1896, isn’t the people in this photo fascinating, they all look quite happy, you can see the fine details on the roads, and even the character in their faces. Maybe they are related to you?579760_430851940340235_793102602_n
Children on Ebrington Street…
You can find more online at Plymouth History Appreciation Society on Facebook, if you were as inspired to see more as me take a look.
On another notes I found this online, this image is of the Brooklyn Bridge, New York in oct 7 1914 when it first opened the people are painters, i think the composition is great and also what a brave photographer!
If you want to see more go to:
(last accessed 16/04/2013, 14:52 published: Daily Mail, associated press.)
(last accessed 16/04/2013, 1453)

4 thoughts on “My secret and Plato’s Cave

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