Monday, August 5, 2013

Photography: what's to learn in books?

In my elevator landing
I have spent years thinking about the merits of reading. There has also been the occasional post here about reading. Yes, there is the very nature of reading, the learning of something through the written word, and there has been the mention of the pure enjoyment of the act. I think I have mentioned at some point or other that I was not a natural at reading, nor was I child who read books. In fact, the truth is, I hated reading and that was that. The turning point, of course, were the long months of Desert Storm. Reading became a great escape.

There is no real secret that I read fiction. This is almost without exception. Looking at my bibliography over the course of this blog, it's evident what I like to read. I am not a person who reads biography, how-to, memoir or history texts. I am just not that person. I like fiction. I think there is more to “real-life” in fiction texts that the average biography, how-to, memoir or history text readers may think. But I did say, almost without exception.

I just spent the last several weeks reading photography books. How-to guides, history texts, and biography. In a funny turn of events, I have read 60 such books that I would normally not be inclined to read. And, I have been delighted with what I have learned.

Before I go further, let me explain the beauty of a photography book. First, there is a text, whether it's an essay, a review or a brief biography. Following that, there is page after page after page of photographs. So, when I say I've read 60 books, it's not as impressive as it sounds. I looked a a great deal of pictures and I learned a thing or two about a thing or two.

In my brief research, I have learned the history, the techniques, the movements, the groups and the photographers. I've learned about the pioneers: Louis Daguerre, Andre Kertesz, and Josef Binko. I learned about Paris from Jacques Henri Lartigue and Eugene Atget. I learned about the American Depression with Dorthea Lange, Russel Lee and Mary Post. There was the West Coaster and the f/64 club: Ansel Adams, Paul Weston and Tina Modotti. There was the Magnum Group and the war that was Robert Capa, Chim and Don McMullin. Then there two writers I admire that surprised me with their photographs: Wright Morris and Eudora Welty. And I found a terrible amount of inspiration with Duane Michals. In short, all the names and movements I just mentioned I would never have known before this period of research.
After reading about Ray Man: my coffee pot.

A few interesting points here:
First, I had no idea how vast the world of photography is or the depth of its history.
Second, How-to guides are written by photographers and it shows.
Third, I think a picture is worth well over 1,000 words.
Fourth, The more I read, the more I could put pieces together.
Fifth, The more I read, the more I wanted to read.
Sixth, It takes more than a camera to make a photographer.
Seventh, I believe the photographer is dead.
Eighth, I believe the photograph is dead.

So, why bother? I look into a view finder. It's all framed in the view finder. It's the quiet light at late day and the shadows and gradients that I never would have guessed existed before.
The floor of my building and the third floor of the library.

What about the books? Reading this set of texts has led me to a specific vernacular, various histories and new thoughts. I would recommend this to anyone. And should you want to learn about photographers, photography or photographic techniques go to your public library. At the Multnomah County Public Library, there are probably 600 books on the subject. I only read 10% of what is available.     

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