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Light Readings: A Photography Critic's Writings, 1968-1978 Paperback – September 1, 1998

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Editorial Reviews


...a must-read for anyone serious about photography... -- The Wall Street Journal, Taylor Holliday

About the Author

A. D. Coleman is the author of numerous books on photography. He lives on Staten Island, New York City.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 341 pages
  • Publisher: University of New Mexico Press; 2nd Revised & Enlarged edition (September 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0826316670
  • ISBN-13: 978-0826316677
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,389,260 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Conrad J. Obregon VINE VOICE on March 13, 2008
Format: Paperback
The world of photography criticism is a confused one. Serious photographers often divide the process of image capture into two parts: technique and vision, or what most critics might call form and content. When a photographer thinks about criticism, he thinks about whether he had a worth-while vision and how and whether the techniques that he used, like framing, depth of field and shutter speed contributed toward conveying that vision to a viewer.

At the other end of the continuum is critical theory which is mainly concerned with the social and historical significance of photographs in general and usually is approached from one or more philosophical points of view, like semiotics, feminism or formalism. Critical theory for the most part seldom addresses photographic technique, and rarely, except by example, deals with the individual picture.

In between is what I call "public" photographic criticism which is usually written not from the point of view of the photographer but of the viewer. One might hope that such criticism, like the criticism of paintings or literature, would be aimed at helping other viewers to understand what a picture is about. (I suspect some people may already find me out on a limb by suggesting that a photograph is "about" anything.) Since technique often reveals what an image is about, or as literary critic Mark Shorer stated, "technique is discovery", I always hope that the public critic will explain the role of technique in the work of the photographer. Critics of painting will not only talk about the overall feeling of a painting and whether they cared for it or not, but also the way the light was used, and perhaps even the effect or use of brush strokes and other techniques.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Tom Brody VINE VOICE on January 27, 2008
Format: Paperback
LIGHT READINGS is 307 pages long and contains 25 separate essays, each from one to five pages. There are 34 reproductions in black and white. They are newsprint quality reproductions. The reproductions are large--full page--and include works by Wright Morris, Charles Gatewood, Duane Michaels, Geoff Winningham, Julio Mitchel, Jerry Uelsmann, and others. Thus, we have a nice selection of photographers familiar and unfamiliar to the interested public.

The essays include these titles: Paul Strand, Jerry Uelsmann, Roy DeCarava, Roger Minick, Photography and Conceptual Art, Diane Arbus, Minor White, New Japanese Photography, and others.

Regarding Paul Strand, A.D. Coleman writes, "There as been no change and little growth in Strand's image-making since the publication of The Mexican Portfolio in 1933, and his continued romanticization of the noble peasant seems increasingly mawkish and patronizing." (page 189).

Regarding Yousuf Karsh, "his much-vaunted style appears to be a trap from which he is incapable of escaping even momentarily." (page 213).

Regarding Lucas Samaras and Leslie Krims, "The subversion of expectations is central to all the contemporary arts, photography among them." (page 239).

Regarding Wright Morris, A.D. Coleman writes, "Coming to terms with one's past is hardly an original theme . . . all is vanished [in the locations photographed by Wright Morris] the people moved or dead . . . only the photographs endure to prove that any was more than a dream, thus they take on an awesome significance, like a handful of scattered potsherds at an archaelogical site." (page 245).
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By John Kwok HALL OF FAME on November 30, 2003
Format: Paperback
I wish I had read A. D. Coleman's "Light Readings" years ago when I was studying photography. I have no doubt I would have become a much better photographer than I am now, taking to heart his profound commentaries on photography when it became accepted finally as one of the fine arts. Not only was A. D. Coleman the first major photo critic in photography's history, his early essays set a literary and intellectual standard which few have attained. In this newly revised, updated edition of "Light Readings", Coleman offers us some fascinating remarks on the Museum of Modern Art and its pivotal role in shaping the direction of fine art photography, most notably through the personal tastes of John Szarkowski, its autocratic director of the photography department. In one of the unpublished essays now appearing in the current edition, Coleman offers a harsh criticism of a book regarded by some as an important collection of photographic criticism, written by a well known novelist and essayist. Those interested in reading some of the most important themes and issues confronting photography in the late 1960's to mid 1970's will find Coleman's book an invaluable resource. And yet, it is more than just an important first-hand history of photography, but a thoughtful, penetrating look at the medium by one of its most astute critics.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 17, 1999
Format: Paperback
" . . . When [W. Eugene] Smith turned his activist attention to the mercury poisoning of the waters of Minamata, Japan, in the early `70s, then-New York Times photography critic A. D. Coleman wrote, `It seeks to be, and succeeds in becoming, not a product but a process, a tool for change.' While some may take issue with aspects of Mr. Coleman's oeuvre of humanist criticism, none would deny that as this country's first and foremost photo critic he has made a singular contribution to the field, broadening both the definition and discussion of photography. " A collection of his writings from 1968-1978 called Light Readings has long been a must-read for anyone serious about photography, and has now been reissued in an expanded second edition."
--Taylor Holliday, The Wall Street Journal, December 4, 1998
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