Summary and Info
This is a very useful book for anyone who wants to understand what photographs mean; how a particular meaning is constructed by the photographer and how different meanings are interpreted by the viewers.
The book is a summary of `essential texts' on photographic practice and theory. It's not critical theory in the technical academic sense; rather it is a selection of texts that it is critical to understand to gain some insight into the workings of photography. The selection of texts covers basic ideas of how photographs are constructed to semiotics, structuralism, post structuralism and post modernism to literature, poetry and philosophy. The book is targeted to a variety of audiences from high school students, to university students and advanced practitioners. It does help though to have a basic understanding of semiotics to get into some of the more difficult material.
A few years ago I completed a Masters degree in photography and many of the core texts from the course are included in this book. It is all well done, the summary of the texts are clear (or as clear as it's possible to be with some of this material). la Grange usefully includes a series of questions after each text that explores the key points and debates from the text. He also suggests photographic exercises that can be undertaken to explore the individual points. The plus side to all this is that he provides a relatively easy route to understanding this material without wading through the original books and articles. The down side is of course that many people will now not read the originals and loose much of the detail of the arguments.
The book starts with John Berger's Ways of Seeing (standard fare for any photo course). He then summarises Szarkowski's The Photographers Eye and Shore's The Nature of Photographs. Inevitably (and rightly) we get a long précis of Susan Sontag's On Photography that draws out many of the problematic ideas and half thoughts from her book. This is followed by Roalnd Barthes Camera Lucida which is mainly useful for the idea of `punctum'.
We then get a series of shorter pieces: Martha Rosler In, Around and Afterthoughts, Clive Scott The Spoken Image: Photography and Language, Andy Grundberg's The Crisis of the Real, Bertrand Russell on Appearance and Reality, Italo Calvino's short story The Adventures of a
Photographer and some poems by Felix Morrisseau-Leroy and George Szirtes
Also included is Raghubhir Sing's River of Colour where he argues that western sensibility tied to Judaeo-Christian values allows the creation of black and white photographic practice, whereas in India the values and world view of Hinduism promotes only the exploration of colour; interesting stuff. Finally a short section of Robert Adams, John Baldessari and Peter Goodwin's Analysis of Particular Photographs
Its hard to see how anyone can really understand the nature of photography without working through these texts. La Grange's book is therefore fully recommended. Go read.......
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