a start at reading

Yesterday, two packets from Amazon landed on my desk at work. They contained:

  • The Photographer’s Eye – Michael Freeman (ILEX, 2007)
  • Photography, A Critical Introduction, 4th Edition – ed. Liz Wells (Routledge, 2009)
  • Behind the Image Research In Photography – Anna Fox & Natasha Caruana (AVA Academia, 2012)

After work, I stopped off at The King and Queen for a pint and to have a first look at the new books, having enough time to read the introductions before I went on to the tube and home. The following quotes (one from each book) jumped out:

You can disregard theoretical debates (…) thereby limiting critical understanding and (…) restricting the depth of understanding supporting your own work (or) or engage consciously with questions of photographic meaning (…) which can be brought to bear (…) upon your own photography. (1)

Research and exploration are vital elements of the photographer’s practice (…) This book introduces a new range of research methods for photography and suggests new ways of thinking about the medium. (2)

A great deal goes on in the process of making an exposure that is not at all obvious to someone seeing the result. This will never prevent art critics and historians from supplying their own interpretations, which may be extremely interesting but not necessarily have anything to do with the circumstances and intentions of the photographer. (3)

I also had a quick skim through all three, looking at the pictures and was struck by how many of the illustrations in The Photographer’s Eye were familiar from the course book; I looked at the small print at the front and discovered that Freeman was the sole named author, and it follows much the same progression as the book. I’m trying to work out whether to read the relevant sections of the book before or after doing the exercises (or indeed before or after writing the exercises up). I think I’ll  probably do a mixture, but try and restrict the ones that need a reaction to the work I’ve to the “read later” category.

A couple of other thoughts on the reading have started to coalesce in my head.

Firstly, the three books (from the 3 quotes) occupy positions along a spectrum running from theory to practice with Behind the Image occupying the mid-point. Therefore it is likely that they will be useful at different times during the course. This does not of course mean that they will not be complementary to one another, just that I need to be careful about when I apply their insights and when I forget about them.

Secondly, my first degree (Joint Honours English Literature and Film & Television Studies from the University of Glasgow) contained a lot of Critical Theory so I felt a jolt of recognition as I looked through Wells’ introduction. I know I won’t throw a strop at the language used and that I am comfortable with the idea of situating myself within discourses and history and of viewing art (or maybe “art”) from an engaged position but I also know that this is critical theory and as such is best used on your own stuff retrospectively or – in moderation – as you plan a task or edit the results rather than when actually taking pictures. It will help with the question of what exactly I am doing with photography, but probably won’t aid me greatly in the doing of it in much the same way that too much angst-ing about the rule of thirds may not be helpful when you’re taking pictures either…

Lastly, and I’m not sure exactly why, I think I will enjoy Behind The Image and get a lot from it. I think the most important thing for me to work on during TAoP is how to link pictures into something more than individual, discrete images. My first impressions of this book, suggest it might help me move into a position where I am working on a series of projects which may one day be completed. The tone of the writing seems engaging too. This can only be a good thing!

Quotes – 1: Freeman; 2: Wells; 3: Fox & Caruana

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