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Reading Lately: Thoughts on Photography

In the past, I’ve done a lot of reading (both in books and online) about how to take pictures. Sometime in the last few months, however, I realized that I’ve read very little about the why of photography–why we photographers do what we do, and the philosophies behind it. So, I started here, with A Photo Student blog’s list of writings on photography.

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Based on the blog’s list, I snagged On PhotographyCamera Lucida and Towards a Philosophy of Photography from the library. I didn’t read the books in any particular order (nor do I claim to have the first drop of previous knowledge about the subject!) but, from just jumping in, I found Flusser’s Towards a Philosophy of Photography the most fascinating, by far. Like, it took me forever to finish because I kept reading passages aloud to the Mister and discussing what he was saying. Sontag’s On Photography is considered one of the most highly-regarded books of this kind, and I found it very interesting, too—though I probably would have enjoyed it much more if I as read it as part of a class, with some guidance and discussion. Barthes Camera Lucida is much more personal, and my least favorite of the three, but it still offers some valuable insights towards how to think about photography.

One of the other two in the stack is Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland. I checked out this book after reading The War of Art and wanting to continue reading about the process of making art–and, if that book is a total kick-in-the-pants towards making the art you’re passionate about, Art and Fear is like an after-class drink at the pub with your cool art professor. Bayles and Orland really put words to what it feels like to struggle through the art-making process. I would recommend it to anyone involved in any artistic endeavor, especially in conjunction with The War of Art–the first as a sympatheic understanding of the difficulty of the process, and the second as the encouragement to actually do something about it.

The last book up there is The Civil Contract of Photography, which I’m just getting into now. A half-page into this book I felt totally engaged because, for the first time, I felt like I found the perfect intersection of my interest in photography and my study of political science. In the book, Ariella Azoulay “reconsiders the political and ethical status of photography,” using the examples of the Palestinians of women in Western societies. So far, I’ve found her ideas really compelling, and I can’t wait to get further into the book.

I do think reading these books has helped me deepend my understanding of photography, and I hope to keep reading more. What about you–do you have any suggestions of books about photography, specificially, or that help us in understanding the process of producing art of any form?

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