Looking for books on 20th cent. Photography criticism

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by MatthewDunn, Aug 6, 2013.

  1. MatthewDunn

    MatthewDunn Member

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    Perhaps a bit of a strange request here, but I enjoy the intellectual pursuit of learning about other photographers, their work, etc. as much as I enjoy learning about technique, gear, etc. I was wondering if there is a good text out there that covers 20th century photography from an academic criticism type of perspective (i.e. something that you might be asked to read in an Art 101 type of class). In the larger picture, what I am trying to do is to put together a syllabus for myself - a list of books that everyone who is serious about analogue photography and the history of our medium and its most prolific users should read.

    Thoughts?

    Appreciate your consideration in advance!

    -Matt
     
  2. Bob Carnie

    Bob Carnie Subscriber

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    August Sander would be a photographer everyone should know about
    Joseph Sudek , Brassai , Penn, FSA group work, Magnum photographers to name a few.
     
  3. MatthewDunn

    MatthewDunn Member

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    Sorry, to be clear - I feel like I know the names - was wondering if there is a definitive work of criticism out there that covers one or more of them. But as I noted in the original post, sincere appreciation for your consideration. And some of the names you mentioned I don't know, so I am off to do some research!
     
  4. jumbosilverette

    jumbosilverette Member

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    Some books I've enjoyed on photography: A.D. Coleman's Light Readings, Roland Barthes Camera Lucida, Susan Sontag's On Photography.
     
  5. agnosticnikon

    agnosticnikon Member

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    I'll give you two that I've enjoyed. The first is "On Photography" by Susan Sontag. This is a fairly philosophical book about photography, and photographs. A lot of people don't like it because she is not a photographer, and the book contains no photos. But she has been a close friend to Annie Leibovitz for many years, so I assume she has some knowledge of photography. This can be a kind of dry read, but I still liked most of it mainly because she is NOT a photographer. Published in 1977 originally I believe.
    The other is "talking pictures" by Marvin Heiferman and Carol Kismaric. This is an unusual book I came across a few years ago, published in 1994, that has people from all walks of life talking about photographs they like. Most are famous, or at least know for something, such as Diane Keaton, Dennis Hopper, and Rosa Parks. Their choices and comments are not necessarily a critique, but their opinions and views on the photos they choose and just photography in general, are interesting.
    There are many books to choose from in this vein, but I thought of these off the top of my head, and like them because they were written before digital, when it was all about film.
     
  6. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    from an intellectual/theoretical/analytical perspective, you should read Susan Sontag's On Photography, and Roland Barthes' Camera Lucida, if for no other reason than to understand why you disagree with some of what they say. For a history, there are quite a few books - the Beaumont Newhall book is a good overview but he has his biases (heavy favoring of the f64 school over the pictorialists, for one thing). I'll put together a more complete list when I get home and can scour my personal library for titles.

    As for photographers who worked in the 20th century, I'd start with F. Holland Day, Clarence White, Alfred Stieglitz, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Edward Steichen, Paul Strand, Edward Weston, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Lola Alvarez Bravo, Tina Modotti, Aaron Siskind, Minor White, Harry Callahan, Ruth Bernhard, Lisette Model, Wynn Bullock, Paul Outerbridge, W. Euegene Smith, Eliot Porter, Jan Saudek, Josef Sudek, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Martin Chambi... I can go on for pages :smile: In the list I've provided, I've sprinkled in a few folks you may not have heard of or thought about as much, because photography is truly an international art form and there are important people working in the medium outside of the US and western Europe who we should be aware of.
     
  7. MatthewDunn

    MatthewDunn Member

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    You guys are awesome...keep it comin'.
     
  8. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    The Susan Sontag book was written before she had any relationship with Annie Liebovitz. I've had my issues with it, particularly how she uses certain images to come to conclusions about photography and honesty (the most notable example is her discussion of Roger Fenton's "Valley of the Shadow of Death" photo of the road outside Sebastopol littered with cannonballs, which is actually in "Regarding the Pain of Others", and Errol Morris discusses this at length in his New York Times article series - http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/09/25/which-came-first-the-chicken-or-the-egg-part-one/ ). I also take issue with her radical feminist critique of photography - by buying into the gendering of photography as a male activity, she not only ignores and undermines the work of numerous female photographers, she also perpetuates gender stereotypes of photographers and photography. I got into a big discussion about this question over on Rangefinder Forum regarding her comment that photography is sublimated murder.

    For a critic, I'd also highly recommend reading Errol Morris as another voice of analysis.
     
  9. doughowk

    doughowk Subscriber

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    A very good intro to the intellectual aspects of photography would be "Basic Critical Theory for Photographers" by Ashley La Grange. He synopsizes and puts into perspective much of the 20th century critiques of photography.
    Anything by Robert Adams is worth reading.
     
  10. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    Another tome worth considering: Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before, by Michael Fried (he was a professor of mine in college). Classic Essays on Photography, edited by Alan Trachtenberg is another worthwhile volume to peruse, and Toward a Philosophy of Photography by Vilem Flusser. Again, you may or may not agree in part or in whole with anything any of these folks say about the subject, but they're worth consideration.
     
  11. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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  12. agnosticnikon

    agnosticnikon Member

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    Yeah you're right about Sontag. Sometimes my brain lags a little behind my fingers. I know she wrote other things about photography after she got together with Leibovitz, but they had no association that I know of in 1976-77. I also don't agree with everything she wrote, but I still don't regret reading this book. Still food for thought in it.
    And just to stir things up a little, how about Diana & Nikon, by Janet Malcolm. (No, it's not about Princess Diana and her camera) I believe there was a revised edition of the original, but I haven't read it.
     
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  13. jp498

    jp498 Member

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    You gotta know how the non-photographer artists will understand photography things, and Sontag adds to that understanding. That she expresses herself well is something to learn from, but of course I found things to disagree about. She's probably well know because she expresses herself very well. I had to read "On Photography" in college.

    I'm really interested in photo history more than photo critique.
     
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  15. David Brown

    David Brown Subscriber

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  16. darkosaric

    darkosaric Subscriber

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  17. erikg

    erikg Member

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    "The pleasure of good photographs" by Gerry Badger, and anything else by him for that matter.
     
  18. Silver Halide / Zone

    Silver Halide / Zone Subscriber

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    I have an encyclopedia of photography, originally purchased around 1969. If I got a good offer I might consider selling it. Be advised it would be expensive to ship.

    Marc
     
  19. DannL

    DannL Member

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  20. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    An alternative to the Newhall history - The New History Of Photography, by Michel Frizot.
     
  21. frotog

    frotog Member

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    I'm surprised no one has mentioned John Szarkowski - "The Photographer's Eye", "Mirrors and Windows", and especially "Looking At Photographs". Also check out any prefaces from the books published under his watch at MOMA. It's worth it to track down his essay from the OOP 4 vol. Atget retrospective, one of the most eloquent and insightful essays ever written on a photographer. On the flip side, Richard Bolton's "Contest of Meaning" was required reading during the initial MFA bubble in the late nineties. While interesting for its contrarian stance to the prevailing modernist, historical POV as laid down by the powers that be at MOMA, "Contest of Meaning" hasn't stood the test of time as gracefully as the humanist perspective that Szarkowski championed.

    Bill Jay was a fun, insouciant critic of photography as well being a photographer himself. His portraits of other photographers are pretty great...http://www.billjayonphotography.com

    I've never been able to understand how Sontag's lackluster work became required reading for undergraduate students in photography. My experience has been that students' work gets noticeably worse after they have read "On Photography".
     
  22. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

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    I'm really not big on philosophy/critical analysis being all that important in one's personal library. But I can recommend The Nature of Photographs: A Primer by Stephen Shore.
     
  23. Jim Noel

    Jim Noel Member

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    I second the recommendation of "The Photographers Eye", and "Looking at Photographs". Also "Pictorialism to Modernism" which is an excellent illustrated discussion of photographers. and processes in the 1st half of the century.
     
  24. AgX

    AgX Member

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  25. cowanw

    cowanw Member

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    A book I have enjoyed rereading many times is " The New Vision" by Maria Morris Hambourg from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. While it seems to follow the usual "everything follows Stieglitz" trend, a careful reading allows a line through Clarence Whites' Students to the Modernism of the 1920's and 30's. Christoper Phillips essay is good and makes me want to get a copy of his "Photography in the Modern Era: European Documents and Critical Writings, 1913-1940 "
     
  26. Dali

    Dali Subscriber

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    Maybe the Aperture anthology edited recently can be part of your to-read list? The selection of articles is pretty wide to cover multiple aspects of photography.