Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Photography Books


As I indicated last week, I have been reading, although my reading these days tends to focus on the non-fiction, academic books of writing and photography.  I spent the better part of this past weekend reading, skimming, and taking notes on a variety of photography books that I have obtained from the library and I thought I might share my findings with you.

Most of these books are not "how to" use a camera.  While I am by no means an expert on the operation of my DSLR (I still tend to keep the setting on automatic for fear of missing of the shot), my interests in reading about photography is in learning how to truly accept the camera as a way of viewing the world around me - and trying to capture my perspective of that world.  While this is not a difficult concept for some, this is an entire paradigm shift for me.

See, I have always enjoyed taking pictures - but in my black-and-white world, the camera was a memory keeping device.  Plain and simple.  I would take out the camera when we would celebrate birthdays, holidays, and vacations.  Otherwise, it remained in the closet.

But I am learning that the camera is far more versatile than that - and the camera can allow anyone the opportunity to make a statement (with or without using words to clarify that statement) and can give even the most handicapped artists (which is what I consider myself) the means to express themselves in a creative manner.

I have had a vision of combining my love of photography, my passion for writing, and my need for travel. This trip to Paris is my first step into making that vision a reality.  And these books are helping me to hone that craft.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I am currently enrolled in an online class that encourages the exploration of self through photography and writing.  I am thoroughly loving the format and the online friends that I have met these past six weeks.  I have learned that Flickr is not only a great site to store photos, but it is also a fantastic way to journal.  Anyway, to help keep the momentum of this class going, I have also discovered a couple of books that focus on this same theme:

Exploring the Self through Photography by Claire Craig.  This book seems to be geared toward a group class setting, something that I am not quite ready to pursue.  And I must confess that I have only skimmed it.  BUT.. the first paragraph of the preface made me stop in my tracks and open my eyes to new possibilities:

My grandfather was a photographer.  Most weekends he would be busy at weddings or christenings, preserving memorable moments in the family history.  However, his image-making was not restricted to special occasions.  Along with weddings and christenings he would photograph the familiar: objects, places, people; the first television he owned, the contents of the fridge; cards, trains, buses; the time it snowed so we hard we needed to dig ourselves out of the house.  These scenes created a record of everyday life and were made extraordinary by virtue of their ordinariness.
He took pictures of the contents of his refrigerator?!  This blew my mind - and made sense to me all at the same time.  I hope to learn to slow down my life enough to realize that there is vitality in the ordinary.

A Creative Guide to Exploring Your Life by Graham Gordon Ramsay and Holly Barlow Sweet.  I absolutely loved this book and have decided that I need to add it to my personal library.  It is very reminiscent of Inner Excavation which I have discussed on this blog before, but it has a little more depth to it, I believe.  Graham is a professional photographer and Holly is a licensed psychologist.  Together they have created a series of prompts and exercises to help one discover the true north in life:  what makes us tick; what gives us meaning; what do we hold near and dear to our hearts.

While I don't feel that I have the time now to devote to these exercises, I know that this is something that I want to  find the time to pursue in the future.

Serial Photography by Harald Mante.  This is one of those books that truly opened my mind to the idea that there is indeed beauty all around me - I just need to become more observant.

I have always been pragmatic and organized.  In the days of film cameras, it was not pragmatic for me to take pictures of ordinary life because, quite frankly, it was not a priority financial expense.  But with the advent of digital photography, the expense of developing is a non-issue.  I can take hundreds of photos and only choose to print a few select ones.  I think my brain understands the digital phenomenon, but my subconscious is still focused on the per picture cost.

So once I accept the fact that taking pictures is really a very affordable hobby, the question then becomes, what is worthy of a picture?  As I have already outlined, I am learning that anything that I come in contact with during the course of the day is fodder for photo exploration.  What I really like about this book, however, is that it has shown me a way to take the seemingly random pictures and put them into some cohesive whole.  Couple the organization aspect with the very clever mosaic app and now I see how even I can begin to be creative with photography.

Some of the chapters initially are a bit perplexing to me.  For example Chapter 3 is titled, Tables and Chairs.  This does not really attract my attention as a photographic subject.  However....when I stop to think of the fact that I hope to spend lots of time in a variety of Parisian cafes - sitting at an outside table --- all of sudden this now gives me purpose.  I will be in contact with tables and chairs all week - and what a unique way to document this aspect of my trip.  The subtitle of the chapter is Familiar Workday Objects - which should certainly open an entire world of potential still lifes in the weeks and years to come.

I have found that I am drawn to color above any other aspect of art (such as texture, line, shape, etc) but it has never occurred to me to take a picture of something because I like the color.  However, Serial Photography has almost given me permission to photographic whatever I find pleasing to the eye - whether it makes sense or serves a purpose - for the simple reason that I like it and it brings me joy.  So I think I will also be in search of the color Purple in Paris - as that is the color of the year for me.

For the second time this year I have skimmed the book Expressive Photography edited by Tracy Clark.  For about six months now I have followed the blog Shutter Sisters.  Each day they have an interesting photo and then a thought provoking post that coordinates with it.  They ask others to comment, sharing their pictures on the thought of the day.  I enjoy looking at all the different interpretations of the prompt, and the different photography styles.  This book was born from that blog.  The book includes quite a bit more technical information than the others and for that reason I feel that it is not exactly for me at this moment.  Never fear, however, I anticipate obtaining it again for the third time this winter when I have a bit more experience under my belt, and perhaps a bit more free time indoors to devote to its study.

God is at Eye Level by Jan Phillips is another thought provoking book for me.  There are numerous quotes scattered throughout the book that I have found worthy of writing down myself, and the author's compassion for the human spirit and the world at large is compelling.  What I learned from the first quick skim of this book (it definitely requires a re-read later on) is that we can seek to find metaphor in nature which speaks to us and our own personal lives.

I believe I did that for the first time this spring when I went walking during Mom's illness and discovered the withering leaf hanging on to the tree (Mom)  with with new Spring growth budding around it (the arrival of my granddaughter, Brynn).  And while this metaphor may not be easily discerned by others who might come across the photo, it has a deep connection with me.

In fact the common theme that I have noticed from reading all of these books is that the photographer must be willing to slow down, live in the present and be mindful of the moment.  The photographer must be willing to have his camera at all times and be willing to take pictures of any subject matter.  The photographer must be willing to change perspective and see the object from various points of view, or he may just miss the meaningful shot.  And above all, the photographer must actually take pictures.  As with anything in life, if it is worth doing, it is worth practicing.  And the more you know - the more you realize you don't know.  And that is ok.  Because the goal is not to take the perfect photograph - the goal is to enjoy the journey.

4 comments:

C.B. James said...

I admire how you dive in and learn about your hobby. I'd love to see reviews of books like these as a regular feature somewhere. Most of us just write about novels, but I'd love to have a source for how-to books.

Years ago I started taking pictures of the meals we had in restaurants while travelling. These were back in the film days. Adding them to the scrapbooks I made of each trip helped them come alive. Everyone I managed to con into looking at the scrapbook mentions those photos.

And I must take exception to one of the book's titles. The single best thing I ever did to improve my own pictures was to stop taking them all at eye-level. Dropping down to one knee for a new angle made a dramatic difference.

Now I'm off to take a picture of the contents of my refrigerator. Maybe I'll do the pantry shelves as well and make a mosaic.

C.B. James said...

I admire how you dive in and learn about your hobby. I'd love to see reviews of books like these as a regular feature somewhere. Most of us just write about novels, but I'd love to have a source for how-to books.

Years ago I started taking pictures of the meals we had in restaurants while travelling. These were back in the film days. Adding them to the scrapbooks I made of each trip helped them come alive. Everyone I managed to con into looking at the scrapbook mentions those photos.

And I must take exception to one of the book's titles. The single best thing I ever did to improve my own pictures was to stop taking them all at eye-level. Dropping down to one knee for a new angle made a dramatic difference.

Now I'm off to take a picture of the contents of my refrigerator. Maybe I'll do the pantry shelves as well and make a mosaic.

bermudaonion said...

Since we got our DSLR camera, we've become more interested in photography. Carl is willing to experiment, but I'm like you, I generally keep the camera on automatic. I need to check out some of these books and become more adventuresome.

Kathleen said...

So glad to read that you are making the time to pursue one of your passions this summer. I am always in awe of those that take wonderful photographs. I never seem to get the great shots that my sweetie does when he has the camera. I think having "the eye" is just a talent that passed me by!

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