Writer: Susan Sontag & war photography

Posted on by Ben Hodson

War photography is clearly something that draws the public’s attention to the reality of the world around them.  The writer Susan Sontag suggests that there is now “ war without photography” (Susan Sontag 1977).  As Sontag compared photography to previous forms of art, she suggested that along with the invention of photography came a greater level of “sanctity” to the imagery.  The images were suddenly connected closely to truth.  In terms of documenting war it was now no longer created by the imagination of the artist such as in Goya's Los Desastres de la Guerra (The Disasters of War).  My initial assumption was that we could see in a direct and quantifiable way the dramatic effect of a single photograph on the course of a war. 

After exploring two of the most likely images to fit this description from the Vietnam War, this assumption appears not to be totally correct.  I found that there are too many other factors which contributed to these changes.  I would therefore suggest that an image can contribute to a change in the course of human history. However, it cannot solely cause a dramatic permutation without other major factors influencing this change.  The problem with this research is that it mainly comes from secondary sources and it remains impossible to find recorded text which is objective.  War, (especially where the USA or the UK are involved), has the tendency to produce strong opinions.  Not being alive at the time of the Vietnam War has made it hard to know how well the history books had recorded all the information that would be relevant for my line of enquiry.