Sontag and the Image Machine in Iran

Younes Saramifar, Nils Bubandt (Editor), Thomas Schwarz Wentzer, (Editor)

Research output: Chapter in Book / Report / Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review


Susan Sontag, a controversial political activist and philosopher, interrogated ways of seeing photograph, taking photographs and depicting the pain of others. Her system of thoughts teaches how to ask relevant questions before and during any fieldwork where an anthropologist examines nature of realities, visual representations and meaning-making processes around visual mediums. She uses them to examine operations of representations without limiting images to either frames or contents. Furthermore, she pushes the definition of frame beyond the limits of the rectangular borders around each photograph or image. Therefore, thic chapter explore Tehran, Iranian capital and visual representations of Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) along Susan Sontag to locate and unpack the universe of meanings which is produced by Iranian propaganda machinery and received in various ways by Iranians. This chapter applies Sontag’s framework based on her critique of photojournalism and visual representation of conflicts to broaden approaches of visual anthropology. The main argument stresses a photograph can represent at best if only its photographer does not try to report or to transfer assumptions about reality but instead allows a photographic composition to emerge from the encounter with others. This chapter follows such encounters through ethnographic stories and fieldworks in Iran and demonstrates what Susan Sontag calls a mystic receptivity between viewers and visual representations turns photographs into the beginning of fieldwork rather than its end. I follow the social life of images and visual to show how a Song-inspired visual anthropologist we can narrate lives of others if photographs would be the beginning of her research and not its end goal.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPhilosophy on Fieldwork: Case Studies in Anthropological Analysis
Place of PublicationLondon
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jul 2022

Bibliographical note

Bubandt, Nils and Thomas Schwarz Wentzer, eds. (2022). Philosophy on Fieldwork: Case Studies in Anthropological Analysis. London: Routledge


  • Susan Sontag
  • Philosphical Anthropology
  • visual anthropology
  • Representation
  • Propoganda
  • Fieldwork method
  • Ethnography
  • Anthropological Theory
  • Application of Theory
  • Martyrdom
  • Ethics of Research
  • Moral positioning
  • Engaged scholarship
  • reflexivity
  • Conflict Anthropology
  • Middle East
  • Iran
  • framing
  • Anthropology of Media
  • Visual analysis
  • Visual Studies


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