Sunday, 29 March 2009

Inspiring and not so inspiring photography books

Foyer, Barcelona

The picture above is of the foyer of the CaixaForum in Barcelona where I stumbled upon a major Diane Arbus exhibition. I had never heard of her and the exhibition blew me away. I couldn't stop thinking about how powerful photographs can be and I decided then (2005) that I would get back into photography after a long spell of neglect due to, mainly, getting on with the structures of life (qualifications, jobs, marriage, house, etc). Photography was well into the digital era and I thought it was a good time to get back into it. I bought the book Diane Arbus (An Aperture Monograph) and still flick through it for inspiration, which is a bit odd because my photographs will probably never have the same subject matter as her. That said, her work inspires me.

Another book I often look at is The Great LIFE Photographers (Bulfinch). Within the covers of that book lie many outstanding photographers. I remember being in Borders in Inverness waiting for my wife to make her purchases and simply losing myself in that book.

The Photograph as Contemporary Art by Charlotte Cotton is jam packed with a range of styles and photo ideas and is written with great insight and knowledge.

I read Annie Leibovitz at Work and A Photographer's Life 1990-2005 last year and was left surprising ambivalent and in no great way, inspired. I love so much of her work but can be left flat by others. It was the same with her writing. She works very hard and was clearly in the right place at the right time but, I don't know. The jury is still out on her.

On Being a Photographer David Hurn (Magnum) in conversation with Bill Jay was a very honest and insightful read. I recommend it. Less satisfactory was Image Makers Image Takers by Anne-Celine Jaeger, but it was good to read the thoughts of so many photographers and gallery owners.

I find the catalogues from exhibitions worth buying. Vanity Fair Portraits, How We Are: Photographing Britain, Harry Benson and Cartier-Bresson's Scrap Book to name a few.

I feel it necessary to study the work of others, to emulate the work of others on the road to finding your own voice and style. When I was learning to play the guitar in my teens I listened to blues, country, rock, jazz and tried to play in that style just to learn what made them different. I see it as just the same with photography.

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