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Criticizing Photographs: An Introduction to Understanding Images 4th Edition

3.7 out of 5 stars 40 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0072977431
ISBN-10: 0072977434
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About the Author

Terry Barrett is Professor of Art Education, with a joint appointment in the Department of Art, at The Ohio State University, where he is the recipient of a distinguished teaching award for courses in criticism and aesthetics within education. He has authored four books: Interpreting Art: Reflecting, Wondering and Responding; Criticizing Art: Understanding the Contemporary (2nd ed.); Criticizing Photographs: An Introduction to Understanding Images (4th ed.); and Talking about Student Art. He edited the anthology Lessons for Teaching Art Criticism, published articles in Aesthetic Education, Afterimage, Art Education, Exposure, Camera-Lucida, Dialogue, Cultural Research in Art Education, New Advocate, New Art Examiner, Studies in Art Education, Teaching Artist Journal, Theory into Practice, Visual Arts Research, and many chapters in edited books. He is an art critic in education for the Ohio Arts Council, consults museum education departments, juries exhibitions, and conducts workshops on studio critiques and writing.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages; 4 edition (July 21, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0072977434
  • ISBN-13: 978-0072977431
  • Product Dimensions: 7.3 x 0.5 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #61,137 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Conrad J. Obregon VINE VOICE on June 11, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
NOTE: This is a review of the third edition of this book, which Amazon is also posting under the fourth edition, which is a substantially better book. For people interested in the fourth edition, please read my review which appears under the title of "Getting Better."

A look at the subtitle to this book, "An Introduction to Understanding Images", might lead one to believe that it is about photographs and what makes them good or bad (or if there are such things as "good" and "bad" photographs). But instead it is about photographic criticism, primarily written. And even then it really doesn't tell you very much about how to write criticism yourself, or how to interpret what you read, or how to develop patterns of thought that would enable you to criticize in a useful fashion. Instead most of the book is concerned with the pigeon holes into which different kinds of photographic criticism can be put.

An unstated thesis of this book seems to be that the criticism of photographs is an art form itself. Certainly anyone who has read something like Walter Benjamin's "the Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" might agree. But if it is an art, then it has both form and content, and any book claiming to teach one about the art (I almost said craft) had better address those points. To know that there are theoretical schools like Postmodernism or Feminist Theory is useful to those trying to organize photographic criticism and may be helpful to the photographic critic who is trying to decide what his own approach is, but knowing that these schools exist does not help a critic as much as a knowledge of how to look at a picture and organize a written commentary.
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Format: Paperback
A diversity of critical voices and photographic approaches is explored, giving the reader access to a rich world of creative thoughtŠBarrett defines criticism as "informed discourse about art to increase understanding and appreciation of art." He organizes his treatment of the four major activities of criticism‹describing, interpreting, evaluation, and theorizing‹which in turn address four basic questions: What is here? What is it about? How good is it? Is it art? ŠThe book provides in two short appendixes, practical advice on writing about photographs and on conducting casual and directed discussion of photographsŠ Monterey Peninsula College, Anne Canright
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
When I reviewed the third edition of this book several years ago, I didn't rate it highly, but I thought that perhaps the fourth edition might be a better book, and it is.

Despite its subtitle, which might lead you to believe it is about understanding pictures, the bulk of this book is directed at formal criticism of photographs. After an introductory chapter on the nature of criticism, Barrett suggests a process for criticizing photographs that includes description, interpretation and judgment. The author also suggests a classification scheme for photographs which he believes could be useful in forming judgments, although I found it no better then many other taxonomies and at times difficult to apply to many photographs. Throughout he mentions many schools of analysis, like formalism and feminism and shows how these schools might influence criticism. He then launches a foray into photographic critical theory which is concise but accurate and which deals with such questions as the truth and morality of photography. He finally talks about the act of writing criticism and also about critiquing photographs.

Barrett illustrates his points with many helpful examples of written criticism. Most of the examples deal with pictures of the modern or post-modern school, but the information is transferable to other kinds of photography. The book is illustrated with both color plates and black and white plates, although the black and white plates are spread throughout the book, which leads to a lot of page flipping. It would be nice if the next edition included a page number when these plates are referred to.
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Format: Paperback
Criticizing Photographs remains one of the most important books in the field, and Barrett has updated the text with new photos to discuss. His new editions include worthy changes and are not ploys to sell new copies. I have used his books for years in an advanced photography college class.
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Format: Paperback
Having never taken a course in art appreciation, I found this book to be an excellent introduction to interpreting photographic images. The comment above about this book serving as a framework is a good one. Essentially any photograph will fall into one of the categories, giving the viewer a frame of reference within which to interpret and appreciate the meaning of the work. It forces you to slow down and think about each photograph you encounter, ultimately enriching the viewing experience. I highly recommend it for photography aficionados and photographers alike.
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