Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Liz Wells- Photography a Critical Introduction - Book review

Photography: A Critical Introduction

This book is described as an introduction to the theory of photography and is a recommended read for anyone studying photography at a higher level of education or entry level college course. For me this was a much easier read than Graham Clarke's "The Photograph".  Each chapter in the book introduces and debates a specific field of photography and points you in the direction of further reading and resources.

The first chapter, for example, is subdivided into:
  • Aesthetics and technologies
  • Contemporary debates
  • Histories of photography
  • Photography and social history
These could all be pretty heavy going debates but the text is engaging, clearly written and concise even for a student new to photography theory. This isn't a book that is full of photographs. There are a few images from some very familiar names such as Bill Brandt, Lee Friedlander and Dorothea Lange and also a few from photographers who's work I will need to research further as they are totally unfamiliar.

A few images in the book are individually analysed in detail as case studies. E.g. Dorothea Lange - Migrant Mother from 1936 shown below. It is discussed in terms of the politics of the time, in relation to the intention of the photographer, considered in terms of race, gender, class amongst other things and why this image, when compared to the other 4 images of the same subject, acquired such an  iconic status.

Migrant Mother
  I particularly enjoyed this aspect of the book. Further chapters discuss the genres of documentary and photojournalism, photography and the human body, advertising, photography as art and a final chapter on electronic imaging which all go into just as much analyses and detail.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone studying photography and I am sure I will be returning to my copy again and again. The book is full of resource material including websites, a list of public archives, suggested further reading and a very useful glossary of terms to help new students like me, who are unfamiliar with the academic jargon, understand the modern from the postmodern or the structuralist from the post structuralist.

Image reproduced courtesy of - Library of Congress- Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection rep no. LC-USF34-9058C see http://www.loc/gov/rr/print/res/071_fsab.html

Liz Wells book cover image reproduced courtesy of Bridgeman Education.

1 comment:

  1. I bought this book at the weekend on your recommendation - looking forward to reading it based on your report here!