Susan Sontag is an American author born on January 16, 1933 in New York City, New York. After graduating high school, she attended the University of Chicago and later enrolled at Harvard University to study philosophy and theology. Sontag began her foray into the literary realm with the publication of her first novel entitled The Benefactor (1963). While she wrote on the side, she also taught philosophy at various schools around the city, including Sarah Lawrence College and Columbia University. In 1977, Sontag published On Photography, a series of essays that explored the nature of photo-taking in the modern day. She later released a book in 2003, Regarding the Pain of Others, that dealt with the same topic but in the context of war imagery.
Regarding the Pain of Others discusses how photographs of war influence people’s perceptions of violence. Photojournalists are constantly struggling to balance integrity and the need to evoke sympathy when it comes to documenting a particular event. Sontag points out issues of authenticity, censorship, and bias when it comes to the photographic medium.
When it was published in 2003, Sontag’s book received a great deal of praise from critics and readers, but failed to surpass the acclaim of On Photography. Peter Conrad of The Guardian describes Regarding the Pain of Others as “serious enough, but hardly weighty. It is short, and by rights should be a good deal shorter: it derives from an Amnesty lecture, and labours to amplify and relentlessly repeat its original argument.” Nevertheless, it succeeded in garnering a nomination for the National Book Critics Circle Award. This was Sontag’s last published work before her death on December 28, 2004.