Regarding the Pain of Others
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Twenty-five years after her classic On Photography, Susan Sontag returns to the subject of visual representations of war and violence in our culture today.
How does the spectacle of the sufferings of others (via television or newsprint) affect us? Are viewers inured--or incited--to violence by the depiction of cruelty? In Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag takes a fresh look at the representation of atrocity--from Goya's The Disasters of War to photographs of the American Civil War, lynchings of blacks in the South, and the Nazi death camps, to contemporary horrific images of Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Israel and Palestine, and New York City on September 11, 2001.
In Regarding the Pain of Others Susan Sontag once again changes the way we think about the uses and meanings of images in our world, and offers an important reflection about how war itself is waged (and understood) in our time.
we may believe the claim made for that picture, which Capa took at some distance from his subject: we see no more than a grainy figure, a body and head, an energy, swerving from the camera as he falls. These Cambodian women and men of all ages, including many children, photographed from a few feet away, usually in half figure, are—as in Titian's The Flaying of Marsyas, where Apollo's knife is eternally about to descend—forever looking at death, forever about to be murdered, forever wronged. And
photographic troves to be exhibited and preserved in museumlike institutions. Among such archives of horror, the photographs of genocide have undergone the greatest institutional development. The point of creating public repositories for these and other relics is to ensure that the crimes they depict will continue to figure in people's consciousness. This is called remembering, but in fact it is a good deal more than that. The memory museum in its current proliferation is a product of a way of
snapshot of the little boy in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943, his hands raised, being herded to the transport to a death camp—can be used like memento mori, as objects of contemplation to deepen one's sense of reality; as secular icons, if you will. But that would seem to demand the equivalent of a sacred or meditative space in which to look at diem. Space reserved for being serious is hard to come by in a modern society, whose chief model of a public space is the megastore (which may also be an
with loose rocks and the litter of war: shell casings, crumpled metal, a boot that holds the lower part of a leg.The scene might be a revised version of the end of Gance's J'accuse, when the dead soldiers from the First World War rise from their graves, but these Russian conscripts, slaughtered in the Soviet Union's own late folly of a colonial war, were never buried. A few still have their helmets on. The head of one kneeling figure, talking animatedly, foams with his red brain matter. The
any more. 4. Capa's already much admired picture, taken (according to the photographer) on September 5, 1936, was originally published in Vu on September 23, 1936, above a second photograph, taken from the same angle and in the same light, of another Republican soldier collapsing, his rifle leaving his right hand, on the same spot on the hillside; that photograph was never reprinted. The first picture also appeared soon after in a newspaper, Paris-Soir. 5. The deflating realism of the photographs