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  1. #1
    MatthewDunn's Avatar
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    Looking for books on 20th cent. Photography criticism

    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. #2
    Bob Carnie's Avatar
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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. #3
    MatthewDunn's Avatar
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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. #4

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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. #5
    agnosticnikon's Avatar
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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. #6
    TheFlyingCamera's Avatar
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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 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. #7
    MatthewDunn's Avatar
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    You guys are awesome...keep it comin'.

  8. #8
    TheFlyingCamera's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by agnosticnikon View Post
    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.
    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...-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. #9

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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.
    van Huyck Photo
    "Progress is only a direction, and it's often the wrong direction"

  10. #10
    TheFlyingCamera's Avatar
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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.

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