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Less stupid or just less photographed ? The AWL pushes credulity .

In On Photography, Sontag refers to the technique used by Arbus, famed documenter of New York's marginalized (dwarfs, giants, transvestites, nudists etc.): "Instead of trying to coax her subjects into natural or typical position, they are encouraged to be awkward, that is, to pose. Thereby, the revelation of self gets identified with what is strange, odd, askew. Standing or sitting stiffly makes them seem like images of themselves." In a similar way to Arbus' subjects--whose real selves are undermined by the images the photographer wishes to present of them--Depp subverts his own persona and projects that of the various fashion photographers who shoot him for magazines. In this way Depp maintains the Hollywood illusion of himself as poster boy for celebrity eccentricity.

The photographer's power lies not only in determining how his or her subject poses, but also in how the image is ultimately produced (cropping, editing, Photoshopping, etc.); as Sontag put it, "in preferring one exposure to another, photographers are always imposing standards on their subjects." Small wonder that Julia Roberts could tell American Photo in 2004 that she feels "stupid," "goofy," and "nervous"--like Depp--when being photographed and, in the same breath, say that when she handles a camera (as in the film Closer, in which she played a professional photographer), it "instantly makes you the coolest person in the room."

Johhny Depp

Johnny Depp took his reputation for eccentricity a little too far last week. Interviewed in the November issue of Vanity Fair, the actor appeared to let his guard down when discussing photo shoots with writer Nick Tosches, a long-time friend and a godparent to one of Depp's kids. "Well, you just feel like you're being raped somehow," the actor said. "Raped. The whole thing. It feels like a kind of weird--just weird, man. Weird. Like you meet people and they say, 'Can I have a picture with you!' And that's great. That's fine. That's not a problem. But whenever you have a photo shoot or something like that, it's like--you just feel dumb. It's just so stupid."

The answer is clearly not provided on the big screen. On the contrary. Interestingly, Depp uses the term "stupid" at least a couple other times in the interview. One of them comes when he's describing his opposition to a staged cockfight in the upcoming film, The Rum Diary. Though the cockfighting scene reportedly looks real, the roosters were protected from killing each other with pieces of invisible monofilament (in accordance with American Humane Association regulations), a precaution he appeared to think detracted from the viscerality of Hunter S. Thompson's original scene. "I think it was stupid," he told Tosches. Extrapolating from that comment, Depp use of the term "stupid" suggests his aversion to false representation. Given his stated pleasure at being photographed by fans in his everyday life, it's the falseness of the photo shoot and the poses associated with it that seem to bother Depp.

Kristen Stewart:

Explaining her moodiness around paparazzi, Stewart contended that the public is not often privy to what happens before the pictures are taken. "What you don't see are the cameras shoved in my face and the bizarre intrusive questions being asked, or the people falling over themselves, screaming and taunting to get a reaction," she told Elle. "All you see is an actor or a celebrity lit up by a flash. It's so... The photos are so... I feel like I'm looking at someone being raped."

In the same interview, Stewart did, however, seem to be in tune with Sontag. "Your little persona is made up of all the places that people have seen you and what has been said about you, and usually the places that I am are so overwhelming in the moment and fleeting for me--like one second where I've said something stupid, that's me, forever."

-- Soraya Roberts


Though the camera doesn't "rape," it does "violate" its subjects, but according to Sontag, it's only a figurative violation "by having knowledge of them they can never have." Stewart herself cannot be possessed but as the subject of a photograph, an object that can be physically held, she is "symbolically possessed."

This so-called symbolic possession becomes all the more realistic when you consider the way photography works, which Sontag explained as "never less than the registering of an emanation (light waves reflected by objects) -- a material vestige of its subject." Because of this, images can "usurp reality" since it is essentially "a trace, something directly stenciled off the real." Sontag concluded by stating that the photograph being an extension of the subject captured, the image becomes a kind of means of acquiring the subject.

But Sontag's book rebuts the idea that photography has the power to capture a piece of one's real soul. "It is not reality that photographs make immediately accessible, but images," she wrote. What's confusing to celebrities (and much of the rest of the world) is that our era confounds reality with photographs. "Instead of just recording reality, photographs have become the norm for the way things appear to us, thereby changing the very idea of reality, and of realism," Sontag claimed, adding that the "true modern primitivism" is not to consider the image real, but to consider reality an image that can only be realized through photographs.


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