On Photography / 2018
Cover detail mimicking news paper clippings alluding to the surfeit of imagery we are faced with today.

Year: Spring 2018

Typology: Editorial

Size: 5 in x 8 in
Material: Mohawk Strathmore Soft Gray 80c Text

Typefaces: Neuzeit S by URW++ and Sectra by Grille Type

A book that establishes a dialogue between two important texts on photography: Susan Sontag’s seminal 1977 collection of essays On Photography, and fellow cultural critic David Levi Strauss’s 2003 book, Between the Eyes: Photography and Politics.
        The central idea of this project was to capture the authority, importance, and cultural significance of each text with every design choice. Sontag’s writing, operating at a level that not only critiqued but laid bare the historical contingencies that gave rise to the field of photography, was lucid yet theoretical. Whereas Levi Strauss focused his attention on more immediate issues of the day like the war on Afghanistan, and the role of photography in shaping public sentiment during the World Trade Center bombings.

On Photography / 2018
Cover detail mimicking news paper clippings alluding to the surfeit of imagery we are faced with today.

Even though both the authors approached the field of photography through different entry points—one theoretical and the other event-based—both Sontag and Levi Strauss paved the way for a new ethics of seeing. To Sontag, while photography had displaced painting to become the preeminent medium of faithful representation, it didn’t quite stop there. It, in fact, did something that painting never achieved: it represented the inane, the poor, the downtrodden, and the banal all in the service of a renewed truthfulness. A consequence of this endeavor was the rise of what Sontag called tragedy tourism where viewers looked at suffering subjects with an almost pornographic prurience and delight.

On Photography / 2018
The nearly 300 page book was conceived as a single signature, in an attempt to create an object that was physically “gluttonous,” alluding to the abundance of imagery we come face to face with today.

Interestingly, Levi Strauss takes a slightly different view on the role of aesthetics in capturing moments of tragedy, grief, and poverty as he speaks about the work of the photographer, Sebastião Salgado. Salgado rose to prominence through his Serra Pelada photo series that captured the plight of the 50,000 gold miners who scaled the Serra Pelada mine in Brazil everyday. To Levi Strauss, it was Salgado’s distinctive aesthetic stance in capturing the mine workers that raised awareness among people and incited institutions into acting against exploitation.
        Under no illusions about photography's inherent inadequacy in communicating the gravity of violence, deprivation, and poverty that afflict parts of the world, Levi Strauss insists that it is sometimes acceptable to aestheticize moments of tragedy in order to provoke action. Much like Dorothea Lange’s repeated restaging of the migrant mother with her children in 1936 to get that iconic shot which prompted the government to act, Levi Strauss too comes close to endorsing the popular maxim that an artist sometimes has to lie to tell the truth.   
        Most importantly, despite differing views on their larger visions for photography, both Sontag and Levi Strauss are united in their conception of photography as an arena of aesthetic and political interpenetration.

On Photography / 2018
The creep of the book is an effective signifier of the composition of the book. The portions in blue signal those spreads that have Levi Strauss’s text, while the portions in white belong to Sontag’s weighty theories on photography.

On Photography / 2018


1         Sontag, Susan. 1978. Susan Sontag on photography.

2         Strauss, David Levi. 2012. Between the eyes: essays on photography and politics.