In Plato’s Cave (Susan Sontag)

Sontag has referenced particular photographers and specific images.
The following links will be useful during your reading of “In Plato’s Cave”.

Eugene Atget
Walker Evans
Dorothea Lange
Marc Riboud
Diane Arbus
Don McMullin
Werner Bischof

According to Socrates, physical objects and physical events are “shadows” of their ideal or perfect forms, and exist only to the extent that they instantiate the perfect versions of themselves. Just as shadows are temporary, inconsequential epiphenomena produced by physical objects, physical objects are themselves fleeting phenomena caused by more substantial causes, the ideals of which they are mere instances….
The allegory of the cave (often said by scholars to represent Plato’s own epistemology and metaphysics) is intimately connected to his political ideology (often said to also be Plato’s own), that only people who have climbed out of the cave and cast their eyes on a vision of goodness are fit to rule.

extracted from Wikipedea


  1. Is Sontag’s essay a neutral critique of photography? What does the opening line mean? Is it a clue? How is this a critique of Humanity as well?
  2. Can photographic images be made that are not Shadows of Reality?
  3. We usually think about photographic content. What does Sontag say about the photograph as an object? How does scale affect the way we experience the photographic object?
  4. How do photographs modify our experience of reality?
  5. Infants learn to identify reality linguistically i.e. with labels / language. A word is used to signify a thing. Does Sontag suggest photographs now function as signifiers of reality largely replacing the word, especially the word in print?
  6. How do photographs function as an anesthetic / desensitizer?
  7. How does the proliferation of photographic imagery affect its demand?
  8. As artists, you are communicators. Sontag seems to believe that any photographic image is only a shadow of reality. Therefore are all photographs necessarily reductive?

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