My friends Amy O and Brad stopped by this weekend to have a chat and catch up. At some point, while Amy O was obsessively playing a game on her phone, she was thumbing through the March/April issue of American Photo. She asked what was so great about the Leibovitz photo of Susan Sontag at Petra. Amy maintained that everyone takes that same photograph at Petra. I think that to fully understand a photograph, you have to consider the original context and the external context. Knowledge of the photographer, the subject and the circumstances enhance a viewer's understanding of the photograph. The external context is also important. How was the photograph presented? How and where a photo is seen affects it's meaning. In this case, the photo, published in an issue of American Photo about the work of Leibovitz, was one of many photographs in the issue from Leibovitz's long career. It is helpful to know the work of Leibovitz and Susan Sontag to establish the context. Sontag has written extensively on photography in her book, On Photography and Regarding the Pain of Others and was Leibovitz' partner. On the surface, the photograph is a nice black and white image of a tourist at Petra, but underneath the surface, it's much more.
Annie Leibovitz - Susan Sontag at Petra, 1994