Photography - Social and Cultural Implications

Social and Cultural Implications

There are many ongoing questions about different aspects of photography. In her writing "On Photography" (1977), Susan Sontag discusses concerns about the objectivity of photography. This is a highly debated subject within the photographic community. Sontag argues, "To photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed. It means putting one’s self into a certain relation to the world that feels like knowledge, and therefore like power." Photographers decide what to take a photo of, what elements to exclude and what angle to frame the photo, and these factors may reflect a particular socio-historical context. Along these lines it can be argued that photography is a subjective form of representation.

Modern photography has raised a number of concerns on its impact on society. In Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954), the camera is presented as promoting voyeurism. 'Although the camera is an observation station, the act of photographing is more than passive observing'. Michal Powell's Peeping Tom (1960) portrays the camera as both sexual and sadistically violent technology that literally kills in this picture and at the same time captures images of the pain and anguish evident on the faces of the female victims.

"The camera doesn't rape or even possess, though it may presume, intrude, trespass, distort, exploit, and, at the farthest reach of metaphor, assassinate - all activities that, unlike the sexual push and shove, can be conducted from a distance, and with some detachment."

Digital imaging has raised ethical concerns because of the ease of manipulating digital photographs in post-processing. Many photojournalists have declared they will not crop their pictures, or are forbidden from combining elements of multiple photos to make "photomontages", passing them as "real" photographs. Today's technology has made image editing relatively simple for even the novice photographer. However, recent changes of in-camera processing allows digital fingerprinting of photos to detect tampering for purposes of forensic photography.

Photography is one of the new media forms that changes perception and changes the structure of society. Further unease has been caused around cameras in regards to desensitization. Fears that disturbing or explicit images are widely accessible to children and society at large have been raised. Particularly, photos of war and pornography are causing a stir. Sontag is concerned that "to photograph is to turn people into objects that can be symbolically possessed." Desensitization discussion goes hand in hand with debates about censored images. Sontag writes of her concern that the ability to censor pictures means the photographer has the ability to construct reality.

One of the practices through which photography constitutes society is tourism. Tourism and photography combine to create a "tourist gaze" in which local inhabitants are positioned and defined by the camera lens. However, it has also been argued that there exists a "reverse gaze" through which indigenous photographees can position the tourist photographer as a shallow consumer of images.

Additionally, photography has been the topic of many songs in popular culture.

Read more about this topic:  Photography

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