Photographs copyright of the various photographers
What I sometimes find useful to help me understand the thinking and concepts behind the photobooks I collect and write about here, are the occasional books that attempt to explore or describe the conceptual ideas of the photographer. Thus I wanted to share three books that have been sitting on my nightstand and which I have been poking at for the last couple of months.
All three of these books are very readable with the underlying concepts not confounded by vague or ambiguous terminology.
Susan Bright’s second edition of Art Photography Now (published by Thames & Hudson, 2011) is a stiff cover book that encompasses a substantial 238 pages, and the trim size is the largest of the three, thus providing large detailed photographs to absorb while in the reading. Bright attempts to explain the underlying concepts of contemporary photography by breaking photographs down into genres: portraits, landscape, narrative, object, fashion, document and city. For each of these sections, she supports her discussion by providing details of the work of a few of the contemporary photographers who may be exemplify this contemporary genre.
Photography the Whole Story (published by Prestel, 2012), is a book that is edited by Juliet Hacking, with the support of a vast team of contributors, with one contributor providing the details for the photographer(s) that accompanies each section. This is a very thick book with 573 pages and is not a quick read. The intent is to provide a chronological progression of how photography has evolved. A nice timeline is provided with the section discussions as trends, styles and types of photography have overlapped and this helps with the understanding of the potential interplay and possible context of the concepts. A photograph of a period photographer is then detailed over a two page spread to provide additional context for the section. As you should suspect, profiling a single photograph by Alfred Stiegiltz or Edward Steichen only hints at the possibilities, but does help with providing an overview of a particular trend. I found it interesting as to what the writer’s discussed of the photographs they analyzed. This book provides a nice historical grounding and context in which to place the current contemporary practices.
Elisabeth Couturier’s Talk about Contemporary Photography (published by Flammarion, 2012) is the smallest of the tree, a stiff cover book with 254 pages. Contemporary Photography is one of her many titles that she is the editorial director, including Design, Fashion, Cinema, Dance and Architecture. Similar to Bright, Couturier breaks down contemporary photography into genres (major concepts), providing a series of key dates and then profiles 30 photographers. Courturier has a section that discusses geographic influences.
Each of these books provide some interesting information and thoughts for consideration. Contemporary photography is not easy to write about, as the most current thinking is sometimes old news by the time a book is published. And each writer brings their own basis and context to their writing, probably with Courturier’s French background the strongest, and Photography the Whole Story having an equally strong English basis. Which is why they make for interesting reading.