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Of Academic Interest
on January 1, 2008
If a photographer might think that a picture is worth 10,000 words, why would one need a book of words about photography? Wouldn't a few well chosen photographs have obviated the need for this book? Probably not, because the aforesaid major premise is probably wrong, or at least overstated. There are some concepts that are so complex that they can't be expressed in pictures. That presumably was the thought of the editors.
In his introduction Charles Traub, who is the chair of the School of Visual Arts' department devoted to photography, says that the world of photography has changed in recent years and that the writings included in the book are designed to prepare the fine arts student to enter into the world of contemporary photography. In order to do this the authors have divided the book into four parts: "Reflections on the Medium: What It Means to Photograph; How Others See Them: Considering the Photographer; Finding an Audience: Working with the Professionals; and Guide for the Uneducated: Higher Education and Photography. Each Section contains several short essays ranging from less than a half page to 11 pages. Although the editors disavow any idea of providing photographic instruction, the piece by Henri Cartier-Bresson comes the closest to instruction. On the other hand, the piece by Dave Eggers, in which he describes the thoughts running through the mind of a young women waiting to take a gritty but artistic photograph might be interesting to a creative writing student, and while a bit of fun, does not seem to be useful to a photographer. The interview with Charlotte Cotton, a museum photography curator, seemed the most accurate and insightful description of the current photographic art market. For me the most useful piece was an outline of how to critique a photograph by Ralph Hattersley.
The Amazon star system is not useful in the evaluation of a book like this. The readings in this book are a mixed bag. I suspect that most photographers, including those earning a living from their work, will find little to benefit them here, although they may find some of the articles of interest. On the other hand, for the individual earning a Master of Fine Arts in Photography, and interested in entering into the contemporary art photography market, the essays may prove useful.
If they have not done so already, those who want to read more about photography, with an emphasis on its history as well as its philosophy might do better to read an old classic, "Photography in Print: Writings from 1816 to the Present" by Vicki Goldberg.