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Photography, War, and Representation: Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas by Sontag

Apr 20, 2023 | 0 comments

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Apr 20, 2023 | Essays | 0 comments


Photography is an art, yet it also a domain for scientific questions from diverse disciplines of science, which requires a multidisciplinary approach. The art of photography focuses on shedding light on the perception of the image from a neuroscientific viewpoint to describe the esthetic reactions to pictures. Sontag is one great author that debunks a particular number of commonplaces concerning the images of war and atrocity, underscoring the significance of these images and undercutting hopes that they can convey very much. According to Sotag (2003), photographs are accessories to the act of remembering. Regarding the Pain of Others written by Sontag highlights more about what we do and don’t remember as it is about representations of suffering-photographs of war and disaster, for their value. Sontag provides a robust analysis of regular people using a filmic catalog offering robust relationships. Besides, Sontag focuses on inciting the readers using arguing statements to consider the activities in times when suffering comes as a third hand. Overall, Sontag reminds her audience that they can only see what the photographer wanted them to see. As such, this paper summarizes the first chapter, Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas, of Sontag, and later applies it in the description of specific Photographic Images.

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Chapter Summary

Chapter 1: Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas

The chapter introduces the concept of photography of war, which Sontag notes that war tears, the war ends, and war ruins. The author provides brave, yet unwelcome reflections of the roots in the face of the escalating fascist insurrection in Spain and fearless media coverage of the war in Iraq (p. 3). The impetus of Three Guineas is professionally documented in the initial pages of the book. It focuses on the Woolf suffering from a naïve illusion that war is universally repugnant to everyone and that the representations of the photographs of the war will no doubt generate collective consensus against it. In her book, Woolf had coached a particular response to a letter she received from a lawyer based in London, asking, “How in your opinion are/we/ to prevent war?” The feedback from Woolf immediately challenges the very grounds of the question from the London spectral lawyer and suggests that despite the lawyer and she may belong to similarly educated and privileged class, women, and men cannot, and do not, have similar responses to war. Consequently, she invites the lawyer to look together for her at a specifically gruesome set of photographs of war depicting the bodies mutilated and maimed beyond the recognition of any viewer as human. As a result, Woolf discovers this with a lot of rhetorical vivacities that the lawyer and she, irrespective of their differences, think the photographs horrific, disgusting, barbarous, and abominable.

Based on the observations, Woolf hurtles off to the conclusion that according to the author unthinkingly collapses the individual distinction she had used to start. Precisely, despite being separated by the age-old affinities of practice and feel of their respective sexes, the claim by Woolf is that both the lawyer and her respond similarly to the photographic representations of war. As such, given the state of the happy coincidence of emotions, they will unite and develop the ability to call for a stop to the destruction and abomination of mindless death (p. 6). Therefore, despite having attacked her interlocutor based on his presumption of the consensual “we’re in asking the initial question, Sontag observes, Woolf herself slips into the similar danger of proposing that there is any consensus at all in war repudiation. The images of the butchering of noncombatants, in the political occasion, begin to seep Iraq, and it is challenging by any imaginative stretch to argue that such representations evoke a refutation of war. Rather, as Sontag asks, do they not, in fact, often enough inspire greater militancy? Can they be indeed a universal “we” when the issues of question involve looking at people’s pain? Indeed, the posting of these rhetorical questions itself challenges the assertions by Wolf of a liberal consensus that draws its wordings from the goodwill and magnanimity of the educated demographic agreements.

Furthermore, the chapter proceeds by discussing the intellectual positioning of Woolf and rhetorically indicates that Woolf may not be naïve enough to let easily go of her intellectual positioning distinguishing between, besides, bellicose men that get seduced to battle by the torrid allure of sacrifice, as well as its promise of glorious patriotism. Also, the Lysistrata-inspired women who at all times must be distinguished from their warlike male equivalents. Sontag inscribes that the sweeping generalization by Woolf based on the universal repudiation of humanity wars rests on uncritical assumptions. Particularly, one that assumes that violence is by, and largely condemned by all civilians or citizens of goodwill. Likewise, the dogmatically believes in the photographic image transparency and its aptitude to deliver an undiluted truth. At this juncture, it is fairly easy for Sontag to convince the readers that the question of violence is much contested and depicts this self-evident issue, except to write that the history of wars has indicated that violence represents unjust or least necessary in the faces of the threatening enemies. Mainly, this context of Sontag’s attack on Woolf’s faith is that photographs have the ability to reflect an undistorted truth.

Sontag, (2003) argues that weaving in and out of the historical aspects of photographic images, the photograph is interpretative and has an author whose viewpoint we see, a frame that includes and excludes cognitive objects, a career depicting that moves away from the sovereignty of the author’s clutches, dissemination, and life of circulation that may or may not take make it the plaything of various interest groups struggling for authority and legitimation. The photographs, like other texts and representations, are flawed in being intimately tied up with the power, interests, positions, whether it was a victim of their struggle or not. Surprisingly, having argued in this approach on the representational quality of the photographic image, the author does not decode Woolf’s texts within her individual paradigm of thought. In essence, based on the suggestion of Sontag, photographic images depict their truth or untruths do exhibit individual polemic and rhetorical effects.

Photographic Images Description

World War II: Damage and Destruction Images (http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/world-war-ii-history/pictures)

The picture shows big buildings demolished and destructed as there are spillovers of the walls. Also, there are two people, a man, and a woman, with the man holding the woman and walking away from the photographer. The pictured man and the woman are carrying light bags on their back with the man putting on a cap. Tall buildings have been brought down fully and partially due to military action. Perhaps, this was after the war, and the two were walking to an unknown destination and that this was a developed city with a well-constructed road. Seemingly, the author wanted to show the demolitions and destructions, and the appearance of the two people is by a coincidence. Based on the assumption that they are walking away from the photographer, they might not have been the central focus. The readers of the images in the photograph can clearly see a massive loss of infrastructural development due to war. As Sontag writes that the quickest, driest way to convey the inner commotion caused by these photographs of war, so thorough is the ruin of stone and flesh they depict (Sotag, 2003). Indeed, people of different education and traditions would have diverse responses, but “we” might well respond in the same words. Therefore, it would be hard to credit the desperate resolve produced by World War II. However, as Sontag reflects that the shock of such pictures cannot fail to unite people of goodwill, the people portrayed in the photographs are antiwar, and perhaps consoling each other as they walk down the rocky road.

The images in the photographs show the destructions and damages that were done during World War II. Taking an aerial view, the picture indicates demolitions made by the soldiers during World War II. Although that author does not indicate the place where the picture was taken, it is obvious that there was massive destruction done on the infrastructure during the war. Sontag indicates that people perceive images of war from personal positions and that “we” should be taken for granted when looking at people’s pain. The photograph of World War II destructions and demolitions reflects the disturbing images of the aftermath of World War II. Also, the photo that has circulated all over the world through the media indicates the bravest humanitarian actions in the history of war. In chapter one of, “Regarding the Pain of Others”, Sontag reflects the Virginia Woolf of 1938. Looking at the image in the photograph, the image represents war even without further explanation. Even though we see may see different things in the same photograph, there are holes in the building walls and leftovers of spilled parts of the walls on the ground showing military actions.

The Photo of Kim

The photograph was captured during the dreadful Vietnam War in June 1972 following consequent war events. The image in the photograph shows a young woman running naked down the road alongside other children screaming in agony. The horrifying image of the Vietnamese girl running unclothed down the road away from the American soldiers with her arms outspread, while she screams in pain. The historical aspects of photography offer entry of the photography of war and something Sontag indicate that war ruins, war tears, and war is less necessary. The identification of the subjects in the photographs follows the weaponry, dressing code, and age. As such, from behind, the soldiers dressed in combat were the American napalms, and in front were the Vietnamese children running down the road. Notably, the images in the photograph represent particular stated positions, on the accuracy, genuineness, and reliability of the representations of the author of the photograph. According to Sontag, the suffering and death resulting from war are only for children, and since they are children, without any adjective attached to the word, the photograph that is considered one of the world iconic images arouses one of the bravest and biggest humanitarian actions in history.

The picture helped spread the suffering and pain of the civilians of the Vietnam War. Indeed, the picture provides a platform for our ability to understand the pain of others as it represents the problems of limits. The picture indicates an image of the atrocity showing the violence depicted through cruelty. The photograph shows the emanations of reality, discrete and perpetual renderings of truth, rather than the universal grammar of a consistently unfolding tale. There are no writings on the photograph; thus the message relayed and diffused represents assemblages of effect, unnecessarily appealing for to rational and consciousness, and narrative understanding of an interpretation photographic image. As Sontag critiques the illusions of Woolf that photographic representations of war generate universal consensus against it, it is observable that men and skeletal muscles. In a study conducted by (), the findings indicated that HRT improves the functions of muscles in women lack a similar response to war. Indeed, while Kim is in the midst of another young boy, she is the only one necked and screaming more with intense agony. The image of Kim depicts moments of disgust, barbarous, and the horrific aftermath of the war.

D-Day Photograph (http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/world-war-ii-history/pictures)

The photograph named D-Day shows two American soldiers standing in the cemetery saluting some of the fallen heroes of World War II. The two male soldiers in uniform with the American flag stuck on their combat are paying their last tribute to the numerous fallen colleagues. On the far end, two skeletal muscles. In a study conducted by (), the findings indicated that HRT improves the functions of muscles in women are standing in an opposite direction also facing the graveyard. The middle-aged woman holding her hands close to the chest is looking at the soldiers while the other woman on the far right corner is looking at the graves. It may be that the American soldiers in the photograph are saluting just one, several or the entire bodies rested on this graveyard. Reading from Sotag (2003), in chapter one, the soldiers are indeed in pain, and they can only show it professionally by saluting the buried bodies. Sontag indicates that observers of the photographs usually see the same images in the photograph through hypothetical shared experience. These pictures show how war shatters, evacuates, breaks apart and levels the built the world (Sotag, 2003). She further writes, “War tears, rends. War rips open, eviscerates. War scorches. War dismembers. War ruins.” (p. 8). The photograph documents the slaughtering of noncombat and armies that fosters greater militancy on behalf of the Republic.


Regarding the pain of others is a book that provides an example of differentiation. Particularly, in chapter one reviewed in the earlier pages of this essay, Sontag reminds the readers about Virginia Woolf Three Guineas published in 1938, yet written during the previous two years in the climax of the Spanish civil war. Based on the review and the analysis of the three pictures showing the war in Vietnam and World War II, the pictures show what war does. They indicate a particular way of waging war, away the time routinely describes as barbaric in which the civilians are the victims. The photographs rekindle the memories of pain undergone by the victims when the soldiers used tactical approaches to massacre, torture, mutilating, and killing of people during the war. In a nutshell, war is generic, and the images describe generic victims.


Sontag, S. (2003). Regarding the pain of others. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.


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