Friday, July 26, 2013

Entry # 164 - "Picture This"

Butterflies - July 26, 2013 - Jan Bowman
I have been reading Susan Sontag’s Essays: On Photography.  Here is a thought-provoking passage from her essay, “The Image-World” that seems timely and relevant whether you agree or disagree with her philosophical positions on the power of cultural images. I’m imagining the ways a novel might explore this idea. Fiction has the space to expand this idea and explore it in depth. This collection of essays is worth the time you might dedicate to reading it.

“The Image-World”
Here’s an extended passage from it…page 178…

“A capitalist society requires a culture based on images. It needs to furnish vast amounts of entertainment in order to stimulate buying and anesthetize the injuries of class, race, and sex. And it needs to gather unlimited amounts of information, the better to exploit natural resources, increase productivity, keep order, make war, give jobs to bureaucrats. The camera’s twin capacities, to subjectivize reality and to objectify it, ideally serve these needs and strengthen them.” 

“Cameras define reality in the two ways essential to the workings of an advanced industrial society: as a spectacle (for masses) and as an object of surveillance (for rulers).”

“The production of images also furnishes a ruling ideology. Social change is replaced by a change in images. The freedom to consume a plurality of images and goods is equated with freedom itself. The narrowing of free political choice to free economic consumption requires the unlimited production and consumption of images.”

Jan Bowman - 6 Bees & 2 Butterflies - 7/26/13
Well. Okay. Sontag had much more to say on the subject of photographs and images. And as I think of our growing “connections” via Facebook and its assorted Internet cousins, I see the vast potential for positive and negative effects on the overall culture. 
But for now, here are two images of butterflies and some bees in my front yard garden. I’m not sure that they offer up a political statement – unless you happen to remember that massive spraying of pesticides has resulted in fewer of them.  The political and economic impact of that fact has grave possibilities for us all. Perhaps that is one of the many reasons I cultivate and tend my little garden. I can’t change the world. I can just tend my rose and remember Antoine de Saint Exupery’s statement that I have paraphrased here. “It is the time I’ve wasted on my rose makes it important – to me.”     And I hope no one minds that I’ve quoted this passage from Sontag’s essay – but it is a useful essay to read in its entirety.

About Jan Bowman

Jan Bowman’s fiction has appeared in numerous publications including, Roanoke Review, Big Muddy, The Broadkill Review, Third Wednesday, Minimus, Buffalo Spree (97), Folio, The Potomac Review, Musings, Potato Eyes and others. Glimmer Train named a recent story as Honorable Mention in the November 2012 Short Story Awards for New Writers. Winner of the 2011 Roanoke Review Fiction Award, her stories have been nominated for Pushcart Prizes, Best American Short Stories, a Pen/O’Henry award and a recent story was a finalist in the 2013 Phoebe Fiction Contest; another was a 2012 finalist in the “So To Speak” Fiction Contest. She is working on two collections of short stories while shopping for a publisher for a completed story collection. She has nonfiction publications in Trajectory and Pen-in-Hand. She writes a weekly blog of “Reflections” on the writing life and posts regular interviews with writers and publishers.   Learn more at or
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  1. This idea of the camera is an interesting one. I think the writer can also be viewed as a camera because a writer is the one who gives the work to the world and the reader then assigns what those words mean to him or her.

  2. What are we to do about the world where images make us imagine more than we can know? This is not a bad thing. Is an image that changes - more or less of the world that we long to know? I am trying to think of how photographs capture a world and I am wondering how words do this as well -- if not better than images. I do not have answers - I only have many questions.

    1. Two great projects come to mind:

  3. Italo Calvino, at the end of his essay "Visibility" from Six Memos, worries about how bombarded we are by images, especially by mass media, but ultimately affirms the writer's responsibility as one of image-production that subverts the pre-packaged, pre-processed images designed for mass consumption and as a means of protecting the status quo. In literature, writer and reader collaborate in the production of images, which distinguishes them, to an extent, from the kinetic images of advertising, politics, pornography, pulp, and a lot of television and cinema. But when it comes to competing with mass media in the marketplace of images, we writers have our work cut out for us.

  4. Yes. Beautifully said. I like Calvino's work and now I'm inspired to go back and reread (and think deeply about) Six Memos and I will start with "Visibility"...thanks for the thoughtful reply.