Basic Critical Theory for Photographers by Ashley La Grange

Learning points from the book: Basic Critical Theory for Photographers, Ashley La Grange, Taylor and Francis, 2013

Chapter 3 Sontag
p 30 ‘despite capturing reality photographs are also interpretations’.
p 33 ‘The moral impact of disturbing images lessens as people are continually exposed to them and become used to them’.

Chapter 5 Rosler
p 114 ‘Documentary photography has power because the images are more disturbing, and have the potential to generate arguments more radical than commonly considered. By using them to campaign for reform rather than radical or revolutionary change allows them to be institutionalised by the government so limiting their effect.
p 114 ‘which political battles have been fought and won by someone for someone else? ‘
p 116 ‘The question of documentary in the wholly fabricated universe of advertising is a question that can have no answer. ‘
p 118 ‘Believability of documentary photography under attack from 2 opposing camps. From the left “legitimises and enforces the wealthy classes dominance over the poorer classes while pretending to be fair and universal. ” From the right debates ”revolve around formal aesthetic considerations ignoring the content and political or ideological dimension of the images.”


I found Sontag’s first point particularly interesting, it encapsulates much of the argument about ‘the camera never lies’. Any photograph is always going to be an interpretation of a scene through decisions the photographer makes on

  • framing – what to include or exclude
  • composition – what will be in the scene and what may be emphasised because of their positioning in the image
  • viewpoint – close-up or stood back
  • post capture processing.