all photographs wait to be explained or falsified by their captions.

violence turns anybody subjected to it into a thing. But to those who in a given situation see no alternative to armed struggle, violence can exalt someone subjected to it into a martyr or a hero. (Simone Weil)

The image as shock and the image as cliché are two aspects of the same presence.

Photographs had the advantage of uniting two contradictory features. Their credentials of objectivity were inbuilt, yet they always had, necessarily, a point of view.

It seems that the appetite for pictures showing bodies in pain is almost as keen as the desire for ones that show bodies naked..[..] Perhaps the only people with the right to look at images of suffering of this extreme order are those who could do something to alleviate it—say, the surgeons at the military hospital where the photograph was taken—or those who could learn from it. The rest of us are voyeurs, whether we like it or not.

Stop this, it urges. But it also exclaims, What a spectacle!

all politics, like all history, is concrete.

the problem is not that people remember through photographs but that they remember only the photographs.

To remember is, more and more, not to recall a story but to be able to call up a picture.

Harrowing photographs do not inevitably lose their power to shock. But they don’t help us much to understand. Narratives can make us understand. Photographs do something else: they haunt us.

Wordsworth singled out the blunting of mind produced by “daily” events and “hourly” news of “extraordinary incident.” (In 1800!)

To speak of reality becoming a spectacle is a breathtaking provincialism. It universalizes the viewing habits of a small, educated population living in the rich part of the world, where news has been converted into entertainment—a mature style of viewing that is a prime acquisition of the “modern,” and a prerequisite for dismantling traditional forms of party-based politics that offer real disagreement and debate. It assumes that everyone is a spectator. It suggests, perversely, unseriously, that there is no real suffering in the world. But it is absurd to identify “the world” with those zones in the rich countries where people have the dubious privilege of being spectators, or of declining to be spectators, of other people’s pain, just as it is absurd to generalize about the ability to respond to the sufferings of others on the basis of the mind-set of those consumers of news who know nothing at first hand about war and terror. There are hundreds of millions of television watchers who are far from inured to what they see on television. They do not have the luxury of patronizing reality.

Susan Sontag – Looking at War