I have no doubt that it is a daunting task to write a history that encompasses the vast field of recognised contributors to the subject of photography. This book makes a brave effort and introduced me to a plethora of artists that I hadn’t met before. What I found difficult was the necessarily abbreviated summaries that the author has been forced to use in order to cover the vast area of material in such a small volume. After a while the book becomes an exhausting list of names and dates with very little meat to bring the individual photographers to life. Clarke rarely uses more than one example of a photographer’s work and covers a life’s work in a few words. However, in the same way as a wine tasting gives you an opportunity to glimpse the attractions of a good wine, this book has tempted me to learn more about some of the individuals mentioned. The biggest drawback is that Clarke isn’t the easiest writer to comprehend and I found the language that he uses to explain the artistic merit of his examples ranged from puzzling to bizarre. I acknowledge that by nature I am not someone who has found the theory of artistic comprehension of interest in the past. I am more likely to look for the absolute proof that science provides than the subjective assessment that art requires… but that is one of the reasons I am doing this course. However, Clarke does little to educate me when he uses sentences such as, “…he underscores the theoretical awareness which informs his work: the implications of linguistic theory, psychoanalysis, and semiotics for the way the image must be understood.” He does, however, open doors to give me a glimpse of what I may learn should I study some of the individuals in more depth.
Charlotte Cotton – The photograph as contemporary art
On the other hand I found Charlotte Cotton’s book a fascinating read. Her use of language was much more accessible and she made more effort to explain why she considered a particular photographer worthy of praise. Although her introduction mentioned that her aim was not to create a checklist of photographers I found that at times it became just that. Both Clarke and Cotton seem obliged to fit in a plethora of names and I often found it hard to keep track of how these photographers earned their place in history although I did learn a lot more about why they were considered ground breaking, particularly from Cotton’s explanations. I also found that Cotton went a long way to reveal how the styles of photography became defined and I enjoyed discovering how some of my own techniques have followed the same paths.
Of course reading about a photographer’s art doesn’t mean I can understand why it is considered worthy. It would be arrogant of me to dismiss someone like Joachim Schmid whose photographic contribution consists of saving other peoples discarded pictures, often scruffy and torn, which he then puts into an art gallery. I do, however, find it hard to acknowledge the skill or talent that Schmid is credited with in his work. I hope that more exposure to the course will allow me to open my mind to such artists but my instinct is to look at their work with dismay as they obtain recognition in the field of photography for doing something so bizarre.
Ian Jeffrey – How to read a photograph
Regardless of how I feel about individuals work I am certainly absorbing more on the subject. A little frustrated by the other author’s compendiums of photographers I have started to read Ian Jeffrey’s book. Initially dismayed by yet another list of names I have become intrigued by the short but revealing notes that accompany the many photographs that he has chosen. Whereas I read Clarke and Cotton’s books from cover to cover, I feel much more inclined to dip into Jeffrey’s compendium again and again as his choice of prints are intriguing, eye catching and keep my interest.
Michael Freeman – The photographer’s eye
This is, I guess, the commercial version of our course study notes. In a nice glossy book with more examples and explanations, I found it is a good way to discover a bit more behind the projects, exercises and assignments that we have been set. However, I feel that it was a little incestuous to include it as part of the recommended reading list.