Sontag on images of suffering

As I consume stories and pictures of the East Africa food crisis, these words from Susan Sontag keep rattling in my head. They were written in 1977:

“The vast photographic catalogue of misery and injustice throughout the world has given everyone a certain familiarity with atrocity, making the horrible seem more ordinary—making it appear familiar, remote (“it’s only a photograph”), inevitable. At the time of the first photographs of the Nazi camps, there was nothing banal about those images. After 30 years, a saturation point may have been reached. In these last decades, ‘concerned’ photography has done at least as much to deaden conscience as to arouse it.” (“In Plato’s Cave,” in On Photography.)

So how are our consciences doing now, another 30 (34) years later? Has the Internet—with its blasts of image galleries, videos, and interactivity—helped to revive our consciences, or keep them dead?


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