The Nature of Photographs by Stephen Shore
It’s hard to find good books that explore the nature of photography that are actually written by photographers. Stephen Shore is a modern master of photography. His book, The Nature of Photographs, proves that he’s a masterful writer on photography as well.
It’s a brief volume. The actual text can be read in a single sitting. But, I wouldn’t recommend it. Take some time with the book to read and think through his observations. Read it more than once. I think you’ll learn a little more each time you do. Interestingly, Shore’s writing can be more accessible and straight-forward than his photographs.
Shore takes a very simple premise — looking at the four major choices which every photographer must make (or which will be made by the camera if the photographer doesn’t make them). The four being flatness (the transformation of the three dimensional world into two); frame (every photograph requires that some portion of the original scene has either been excluded or included); time (“there was one instant, one two hundred and fiftieth of a second…”) and focus (which can place emphasis on a particular element of a scene or in the case of many of his own photographs serve to equalize dozens of elements that in nature the eye would ordinarily and unconsciously prioritize).
These are concepts that are simple, yet can be infinitely complex in the real world of photography. Shore also discusses the physical and mental nature of photographs and concludes with this observation: “When I make a photograph, my perceptions feed into my mental model. My model adjusts to accommodate my perceptions (leading me to change my photographic decisions). This modelling adjustment alters, in turn, my perceptions. And so on. It is a dynamic, self-modifying process. It is what an engineer would call a feedback loop.
“It is a complex, ongoing, spontaneous interaction of observation, understanding, imagination and intention.”