What would Sontag Say?

What would Sontag Say?


Looking at how many images are uploaded online every day, how many are consumed in our phones, devices where our eyes linger on an image no longer than 0.05 seconds before resuming the scrolling, I asked myself what would Sontag say today?

I thought about how easily people become morally outraged on social media, and then how easily they pass on the outrage to the next subject, as if the content is interchangeable and what matters is to maintain that never ending self-referential cycle without ever channeling that outrage in real life actions. We all remember the lifeless little body of Aylan Kurdi washed ashore, but nevertheless we keep witnessing a contemporary holocoust in our Mediterranean sea without really doing anything.

And there are so many examples that we could discuss, like the devastating images of the war in Ukraine. Are we reacting to those images in the same way now, after more than 100 day of conflict? Does shock have an expiration date? Does it wear off?

Then a paradox became evident to me, and it’s not an easy one to come to terms with. This repeated exposure to images is our bread and butter, our everyday, and there is no going back, but the “normalizing” effect that this repeated exposure produces can be of two opposite natures.

On one hand it could be dangerous and cruel when it regards the images of suffering, on the other hand the normalizing effect could be used in pushing for a more diverse, just visual world.

A mission that had led me in my career and one of the founding principles of PhotoVogue and our Festival. Indeed, we firmly believe in the capacity of art to change people’s gazes and minds. We have always framed issues of representation, hoping to influence visual literacy to help foster a more inclusive, ethical world.

This paradox, today more than ever, calls into question our responsibility as consumers of images: are we active responsible viewers or are we distracted passive voyeurs?

We should always ask ourselves what we are seeing, how to interpret it, what actions we should take, which effects of the repeated exposure to images need to be antagonized and which are welcomed. A humane, just and healthy society can’t be made up of passive consumers.

Our intention with this edition of the Festival is to start a conversation around what we will call The Overexposure Paradox. We would like to provoke a debate on how the ubiquity of images shapes our ability to feel, read and understand images, and the world that surrounds us.

The theme will be explored with essays by a diverse range of intellectuals that we will publish here on our platform in the days leading up to the festival culminating in live discussions at Base during the event.

We hope you will be with us!

Text by Emanuele Coccia

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