Visiting the exhibit was a sobering experience for me; some of the photographs really struck a chord with me and opened my eyes to the destructive nature of war. Besides being an emotional experience, it also made me think about analyzing historical photographs. I agree with Sontag on her point that we are doomed to be spectators, but only when applied to images of events that were before our time. I felt this first hand while at the exhibit. For example, when I viewed an image from WWI, I felt very detached from the event I was looking at, in this case it was a group of soldiers loading a cannon. I tried to immerse myself in the work and gain a better understanding, but I couldn’t escape my role as a spectator. However, when I saw the sequence of 4 photos of a soldier fighting in Iraq, I was very engaged in the images and found it difficult to stop looking at them. I definitely had a different experience looking at the more recent photos than the older images, and wouldn’t classify myself a spectator by any means when I looked at the newer photos.
But why was I feeling like this? Was it because I felt more connected to the newer images because I understand the context in which the conflicts are happening? Thinking back to what Burke wrote in Eyewitnessing, that seems like a very likely case…I’m grasping the intrinsic meaning of the photos. If I read more about WWI and gained a better understanding of the events surrounding that conflict, would I feel the same way about images of that time? Or am I doomed to be a spectator? I think Sontag’s claim applies to images of events that occurred before our time, but that isn’t to say we still aren’t able to analyze and learn the intrinsic value of a historical image. However, I think it is fair to say that an analysis of an image that occurred during our time would be much more detailed than an analysis of an image from the deep past.