On Photography
Where: Palau de la Virreina
La Rambla, 99
Barcelona
Barcelona

Current exhibitions

Susan Sontag
Ⓒ Dominique Nabokov

On Photography
Susan Sontag

09.06.2020 – 27.09.2020


Curator: Valentín Roma

In 1977 Susan Sontag published, under the title On Photography, a compilation of texts written from 1971 to 1977 for the legendary magazine The New York Review of Books.

The book immediately gained wide acclaim, becoming a veritable combat manifesto: at the end of the “century of the image”, as the 20th century was called, a visual literature began to assert itself that combined outreach and sophistication, and that countered both the theoretical straitjackets of the time and historicist narratives.

On Photography ventures further along the path first trodden by Walter Benjamin and Roland Barthes, both key mentors of Sontag’s; it converses with the sort of socio-political analysis developed by Siegfried Kracauer, Umberto Eco and especially John Berger; and it anticipates later readings such as those of Camille Paglia and, in a different way, Siri Hustvedt.

However, what perhaps opens up the popular essay of this American writer is a discourse on the image that is based on the association of opposing ideas and authors, photographic ekphrasis and a certain contemporary morality, all delivered with the abrasive, fast-paced style that characterises Susan Sontag’s work.

In this respect, it should be noted that On Photography belongs to a long list of books that, without being strictly rigorous, were decisive in the formation of a way of looking at the world in the 20th century; books that turned away from the inner sanctums of academics and specialists and arose out of personal poetics, sometimes from untimely perspectives.

The exhibition is based on the hypothesis that On Photography could be read as a curatorial exercise; that is, that Sontag wrote her various texts following a way of working that verged on exhibition curatorship. Hence, after the emptying of each and every one of the references provided by the author, they were rendered in museum language, constructing a sort of three-dimensional essay in which the sources, the images and their narrative links lie on the same level of reading.

This exhibition inaugurates the new ground floor spaces, which seek to expand and incorporate the content of La Virreina Centre de la Imatge out towards La Rambla. It forms part of a series of proposals that take a new approach to Susan Sontag’s legacy.

In this way, 2017 and 2018 bore witness to the cycle On Photography, in which 12 women photographers engaged in successive dialogues, interrelating their paradigms, their practices and their stances.

In turn, in 2019, on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the writer’s death, La Virreina Centre de la Imatge and Arcàdia published the first Catalan translation of On Photography, together with two additional texts, also previously untranslated.

Poster for the film 'The Cameraman', by Buster Keaton, 1928
Poster for the film 'The Cameraman', by Buster Keaton, 1928
Maxime du Camp, 'Colossus of Abu  Simbel',  ca. 1850. Courtesy of The  Metropolitan Museum of Art, New  York. Gilman Collection, gift of the  Howard Gilman Foundation, 2005
Maxime du Camp, 'Colossus of Abu Simbel', ca. 1850. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Gilman Collection, gift of the Howard Gilman Foundation, 2005
Nadar (Gaspard-Félix Tournachon), 'George Sand', 1864
Nadar (Gaspard-Félix Tournachon), 'George Sand', 1864
Advertisement for a Leica Leitz camera, 1973
Advertisement for a Leica Leitz camera, 1973