Susan Sontag: On Photography
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Two weeks ago I strolled through a local book store and found a discounted edition of Susan Sontag’s “On Photography”. Since this is an absolute classic, I did not hesitate to buy it.
Susan Sontag is one of America’s most acclaimed writers. Through her close association with America’s photographic scene, she not only managed to get a close insight into the work of some very famous artists; in 1973 she also published one of the most famous theoretical works about photography. Though already almost 40 years have gone bye, this little Penguin edition is still a very good way to approach photography from a theoretical point of view. Reading it it becomes very clear that the essence of photography can never be technical. The approach toward the image and the execution of the photographic act contains a sensual as well as a cultural implication.
In her essays Susan Sontag not only describes the development of photography during the last 100 years; she also points out how the perception of images and subjects changed through the ages. “When anything can be photographed and photography has destroyed the boundaries and definitions of art, a viewer can approach a photograph freely with no expectations of discovering what it means.”

This book doesn’t help you making better images. But it will help you understanding the way you behave towards the subject and it places you in a broader cultural and historical context of photography. A book that should not be missed!
Susan Sontag’s “On Photography” can be purchased here!
For Singapore Readers: I purchased the book at Kinokoniya book shop, Ngee An City.

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Downtown Tokyo: April 2009
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In April 2009 I visited Tokyo for the first time in my life. I had never been to Japan and I was really looking forward to it.
I think most people who visit Japan for the first time are probably a bit disappointed at first glance. Tokyo has very little of the traditional Japan. Having been to most Asian capitals like Beijing, Seoul, Taipei, Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Saigon, and other major Asian cities, to me this seemed to be the prototype of all Asian city planners. It’s the cleanest city I’ve ever seen (even beating Singapore or Zurich!), and so orderly and organized, it’s almost scary. Unlike my Chinese experience, everyone is polite, leaves you space to breathe, and neither steps onto your feet nor bumps into you without apologizing. How nice!
Whatever there must have been of traditional buildings, must have been whipped out either by American fire bombs during WWII, or by Japanese bulldozers afterwards. Tokyo seems to be the most modern looking city I’ve ever seen.

However, said that, on second glance there is this element of chaos which seems to be lurking beneath all the orderliness, tidiness and cleanliness. The Japanese seem to have found a way to quietly protest against this boredom of order by adding little, almost invisible details of rebellion.

Tokyo 02 I found these in details on the street like this arrangement of tree/sign/bike along the most busy and expensive shopping street of Tokyo.

Another way of resisting the overwhelming pressure to conform with the mainstream is the fashion. Young people in Tokyo love to add details to their appearance which first surprise and irritate you, before you start to appreciate and admire their style which defies all standards of fashion and sets something typical Japanese.

Tokyo 06 The individualism of Japanese youth and their way of dressing is so profoundly Japanese and Asian that they were able to set their own fashion standards, different from the American/European fashion mainstream. Not surprising for a country that has a long history of design and aesthetics in everyday life. For me, the Japanese have a sense for shapes and composition that is not even matched by the Germans or Italians. No wonder they are also great in photography!
Walking around taking images in central Tokyo was great fun and I hope I will have the chance to go back next year. My HOLGA camera was the perfect tool to express what I saw and felt in Tokyo: the constant struggle between perfect order and anarchy!