Monday, 1 November 2010

Graham Clarke - The photograph

The Photograph - Book Review

This book was included with my course notes when I signed up for "The Art of Photography." It's not the easiest of reads especially if, like me, you haven't done any formal studying for some time or studied art or art history before. You'll probably find yourself re-reading pages or even chapters several times until you understand the text.

The chapters are well organised starting with "What is a photograph?" which gives a short history of photography starting with the first "heliograph" by Joseph Niepce in 1826 and them continuing through the decades until 1990 and includes images by Diane Arbus, Robert Mapplethorpe, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston and Man Ray.

The introduction goes on to establish a distinction between amateur and professional photographers i.e. "between photography as an art (with the stress on individual creativity and expertise), and the photograph as a mass- produced object."  Is the author suggesting by this that only professional photographers can produce "art" ?  I think there would be many amateurs who would disagree. However he does go on to explain that in the history of photography "as few as 200 photographers have determined the terms of reference and the frame of meaning for the history of the photograph." 

The remaining chapters of the book are divided into the different genres of photography e.g. The Landscape, The Portrait, The Body photography and gives examples of how each area has developed with critiques on various photographers who have influenced the subject.

Many of the photographs contained within the book are instantly recognisable although the analysis and critique by the author may be harder to understand. The style of writing is very complex and academic - this book is not a who's who of photography and you're not necessarily going to agree with the authors viewpoint on all the images. 

The two most salient points of the book for me were that " we must remember that the photograph is itself the product of a photographer "  and that "...the photograph is, in the end, open to endless meanings."

Image reproduced courtesy of Bridgeman Education.

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