The Pain Of Seeing


  • News?
  • History?
  • Propaganda?
  • Insight?
  • Investigation?
  • Curiosity?
  • Empathy?
  • Excitement?



In Griselda Pollocks book, Dying Seeing Feeling:  Transforming the Ethical Space of Feminist Aesthetics she quotes, ‘Since it’s invention we have relied on photography to function as a privileged verification of events we might otherwise never know.  In the twentieth century, photography was called upon to verify what we could not even imagine and hence not believe.’


‘The photographer was called to witness in a form that becomes both a document of the event and of the witnessing.’



Susan Sontag had a theory that, ‘If it bleeds, it leads’.

‘Being a spectator of calamities taking place in another  country is a quintessential modern experience, the cumulative offering by more than a century and half’s worth of those specialized tourists known as journalists.’

In Susan Sontag Regarding The Pain of Others 2003 she had many theories. One theory that she believed, was that photographs could be used as Cultural memory. She quotes;

‘Nonstop imagery (television, streaming video, movies) is our surround, but when it comes to remembering, the photograph has the deeper bite.  Memory freeze-frames; it’s basic unit is the single image.  In an era of information overload, the photograph provides a quick way of apprehending something and a compact for memorizing it.’

‘Remembering is an ethical act, has ethical value in and of itself.  Memory is, achingly, the only relation we can have with the dead.’



Another theory of Susan Sontag’s was that she believed we needed images for evidence.

She says, ‘We hope only (so far in vain) to stop genocide and to bring to justice those who commit gross violations of the laws of war (for there are laws of war, to which combatants should be held) and to be able to stop specific wars by imposing negotiated alternatives to armed conflict.’


Susan Sontag Regarding The Pain of Others 2003


Sontag also challenged the theory that images were used as Voyeurism.

‘Conscripted as part of journalism, images were expected to arrest attention, startle, surprise..The hunt for more dramatic (as they’re often described) images drives the photographic enterprise, and is part of the normality of a culture in which shock has become a leading stimulus of consumption and source of value.’

Susan Sontag Regarding The Pain of Others 2003



Susan Sontag stated that, ‘Photographs are a means of making ‘real’ (or ‘more real’) matters that the privileged and the merely safe might prefer to ignore.’

‘Photographs of an atrocity may give rise to opposing responses.  A call for peace.  A cry for revenge.  Or simply bemused awareness, continually restocked  by photographic information, that terrible things happen.’

She also argued that we may have become numb to the element of shock, as it is seen so often in the media in this day and age.



Images from:


Referencing: Griselda Pollock Dying Seeing Feeling:  Transforming the Ethical Space of Feminist Aesthetics

Susan Sontag Regarding The Pain of Others 2003


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