When an art wants to grow up and become a science, there’s often a lot of nonsense involved.
In the case of psychology, that nonsense unfortunately involved horrid things happening to animals. Behavioural psychologists had to find out how a baby monkey would react to being separated from its mother. Billions of rats were sacrificed in equally useless intellectual pursuits.
Susan Sontag’s book, On Photography, published in 1977, seems to have been written to help photography grow up. In my view, photography subsequently grew inwards; a generation of solipsistic navel-gazing work emerged. Work that may have been relevant to its author and a chosen few who embraced ‘On Photography’ as a little red book but tedious to anyone not seeing the world through a Sontag-filtered lens.
Whilst I know one should separate an author’s personal life from their professional competence, I find it hard to ignore Annie Liebowitz who has done an excellent job of being the zeitgeist photographer of a vacuous celebrity-obsessed age.Martin Parr has been able to perform a similar role without embracing the era that he photographs.
Fortunately, a little white book has been at hand since 2005, Geoff Dyer’s truly original analysis of photography, ‘The Ongoing Moment‘. Dyer’s book describes the dilemmas of great photographers convincingly enough to make me want to honour their legacy.