In this book, Susan Sontag muses on war photography as a reflection of humanity. We see iconic photos–like the one of the kids running and crying in Vietnam or different concentration camp snapshots or pictures of lynchings–and have a range of feelings. Anger, helplessness, guilt. We want to look away, but we also want to look. And sometimes the more we look, the more distanced we can become. The shock can wear off, or the meaning can be altered depending on the caption or presentation. Still, we trust photography to tell us the truth, even though it can be staged and manipulated or exploited.
War photography as a genre is a fairly recent phenomenon. We didn’t used to get access to the visuals of war. In the almost 20 years that have passed since this book was published, our experiences with war images has only become more commonplace. But, like she says, every war isn’t captured on film. And we almost need to see it in order to care (and not for long). There is distance partially because the moment already happened. Now we have live feeds where we watch war as it happens or just happened. On top of that, we are also the photographers and the subjects. The “we vs they” dichotomy Sontog sets up in the beginning of the book has not totally collapsed but it has changed.