Books Every Serious Photographer Must Have

The best books on photography (regularly updated)

Why People Photograph. Book Cover.One of the consequences of my interest in photography is that I acquire and read too many photography books.

I hope to develop this site as a resource for other photographers seeking out the best in photography books. Not technical books. At least not many. But books that explore the history and aesthetics of photography. Books by people who are also fascinated by the craft and also share the belief that it is important.

This post summarizes a handful of books that I have found truly outstanding and that I believe must be in every photographer’s collection. Continue reading

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A Genuine Delight

The Ongoing Moment – Geoff Dyer, Vintage Press

I read a lot of books about photography, but there are very few that I would call delightful.

Paul Strand's iconic White Fence, Port Kent, New York, 1916.

Paul Strand’s iconic White Fence, Port Kent, New York, 1916. Credit the estate of Paul Strand.

But, that’s a pretty good description of Geoff Dyer’s “The Ongoing Moment.” The book won the International Center of Photography’s Infinity Award. I have absolutely no idea what that is, but whatever it is; this book certainly deserved the award. Continue reading

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The Incredible Sandhill Crane Migration

Cranes_1972-webIn early March we drove to Nebraska, picked up my sister in Lincoln, and then went on to Kearney to see the great Sandhill Crane migration.

If you’ve never heard of the migration don’t feel bad. I grew up in Nebraska and until last year, I was completely unaware of it. Continue reading

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Forget the Analysis and Just Read Camera Lucida

Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes


Elevator – Miami Beach, by Robert Frank. Barthes argued that a Punctum must always be an accident, unseen by the photographer. How then could Robert Frank have produced an entire book in which virtually every image pierces the soul?

I doubt if any book about photography has been more thoroughly dissected than Camera Lucida.

I have no illusion that I can add anything significant to the body of work on this small volume. It is a safe bet to say that for every one of the 119 pages in Roland Barthes’ brief volume, hundreds of pages have already been written.

Two recent and worthwhile volumes are Photography Degree Zero, edited by Geoffrey Batchen, which  contains 14 often challenging essays on the book and James Elkins’ What Photography is, which is more of a counterpoint, rather than an analysis of Camera Lucida.

There is more than enough material for anyone who wants to plumb the depths of critical analysis of Camera Lucida.

Rather than attempt to add anything to what has already been written, I have concluded that I would do best by suggesting that simply reading Camera Lucida and enjoying it without obsessing over every detail can be a rewarding and enlightening option.

There is something to be said for just joining Barthes as he takes the reader on his deeply personal journey to “learn at all costs what Photography” is in itself, and “by what essential feature it was to be distinguished from the community of images.” Continue reading

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Is Robert Adams the finest writer on photography?

Beauty in Photography, Robert Adams, Aperture

The measure of a great essay is that after one reads it, there is simply nothing more to say.

That is my reaction to Robert Adams’ Beauty in Photography. I have read it and re-read it. I want to comment on it, but frankly, I find it difficult to say anything that would not simply show how inferior my own intellect and understanding of photography is in comparison to his.

John Deere Agency, 1966, Copyright Robert Adams

John Deere Agency, 1966, Copyright Robert Adams

Adams worked as a college English teacher before becoming a photographer and it shows. I am hard-pressed to think of any photographer who writes more beautifully than he does. The writings of Stephen Shore and John Szarkowski  have a wonderful economy. In brief books using simple language they say more about photography than volumes that are many times longer and far more dense. Continue reading

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On Seeing: My New Salem Project

This is a modification of a talk I was honored to give on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012 to the Springfield (IL) Shutterbugs Camera Club.

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe

My first experience with New Salem State Historic Site was in the 1960s, when I was a child and my family came to Springfield on vacation. We camped at New Salem and I was enthralled with the site. Since moving to Springfield in the 1980s, I’ve returned to New Salem many times.

I started photographing at New Salem a few years ago. I’ve always been fascinated by history and by the physical artifacts of history. But, I also enjoy solitude and spending time outdoors, especially in the quiet of the morning or evening and in the winter and off season.

The idea of producing a long term project on New Salem developed gradually.

I think, at some point, I was tromping around New Salem after a snowfall and thought, you know, I really ought to try to take pictures in every season. My first thought was to try to document all the seasons and changes at New Salem. And, that was how it started.

It evolved from there.

I needed a goal and I thought that maybe I could come up with enough pictures for a book. I didn’t really give any thought to whether that was practical or not, but decided it was a worthwhile goal. Even if it was just something I did for myself, it would be something I could say I had done. Continue reading

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Camera Lucida: A Preview

Okay, I’ve said I really needed to read Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida. Happy to report that I not only finished it, but also waded through Photography Degree Zero, a series of essays on the book and then, to finish things up went back and re-read Camera Lucida.

Where to begin?

The obvious – I would add this book to my small list of books on photography that everyone should read and keep at hand to read again and again when you need inspiration.

I’m developing my own “road map” of how I want to tackle the book so for now, I’ll just say that I can see some benefit in looking at the book in conjunction with both Stephen Shore’s The Nature of Photographs and John Szarkowski’s The Photographer’s Eye.

I also want to take a close look at some classics, like The Americans and see if I can apply the concept of the “punctum” to images that have been generally acknowledged as some of the most significant in the history of photography.

I know I also want to put together a little addendum to the images in the book, finding some of the images that Barthes references but did not reproduce. I think that little exercise might be useful for other readers of the book.

And, finally, I have my own “Winter Garden” image of my own mother that, unlike Barthes, I think I’d like to share and talk a bit about.

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Something Fun

I am kind of proud of this. A picture of a street musician in St. Remy-de-Provence won first place for visual art in the annual “SCOPE” competition at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine here in Springfield.

Each year the school publishes a literary arts magazine awarding prizes in visual art, poetry and prose. Most of the times, when I’m taking pictures I’m never quite sure I’ve got just what I hoped for. And, of course, like most photographer, the majority are disappointments.

But, this was one of the those rare cases, where I knew I had a “keeper.” For a larger and better image, go to either my People or Places pages.


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Interview: Philip Gefter and Buzz Hartshorn

I enjoyed Philip Gefter’s collection of essays “Photography After Frank.” So, when I saw this interview by Gefter of Willis “Buzz” Hartshorn, the director of the International Center of Photography, I knew I would want to re-post it.

I’m not familiar with Hartshorn, but I’m aware of the ICP and apparently he’s retiring after having been the director there for 18 years.

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Stephen Shore Lecture

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