Book Review – “Welcome to Everytown by Julian Baggini”

This book to me has so much meaning. It is written about a home, less than 800 yards from where I live. I believe I know some of the characters from their descriptions and the many pubs the book constantly refers to are all my locals. Therefore I am writing this book from a place of bias before I start.

The book is a winner overall, even though the author originally and incorrectly places people “like me” as an aggressive racist. That was his initial, uneducated, totally biased, overly privileged, blinkered and typically Tory view of the residents of S66. There is no wonder we changed his view point. I drive past the hour he rented every time I go out in my car and it makes me smile.

Baggini is a “southern”philosopher and the purpose of the book was to find somewhere that is typical of England and yes, that is right where I live. We have a mixture of wealthy, poor – young, old, -urban, countryside,  – working, unemployed and retired. We are very typical and average!

The book follows his experiences and how his search, for the typical progresses. His musings at the Travellers (one of many village pubs) makes me grin from ear to ear every time I think of it.It charts all of his experiences in S66. (where he spent considerable time renting on Flash Lane!) The book takes him on journeys to the local Bookies, Doncaster racecourse and to watch the Sheffield Steelers, the ice hockey team.

His view over time mellowed and he began to realise that even if racist language is used in everyday conversations, this does not make the person using this language a racist, perhaps slightly unethical/un-wordlywsie, but not racist.

This book, although not written as a photography book, gives an insight into people’s thoughts and perceptions which can assist with the thought process when making images.

I would recommend every one from every town read this. Great insight into “Everytown” in England.

 

 

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Book review ” John Berger – Ways of Seeing”

In my opinion this is a great book for all photographic students. I bought my copy from Waterstones at Meadowhall, Sheffield. Let me explain why I have added this.

When paying for the book, the salesperson said “When did you start studying photography?” This is the first time a salesperson has, not only read my mind, but also my soul. Did I look like a student photographer? What does a student photographer look like anyway?  They then went on to explain that this is the most popular book they sell to such students and he had therefore decided to enlighten himself by reading it. He told me I would enjoy the book, but he didn’t tell me it was £3 cheaper at Amazon!!!

This was the first of a series of books, I have bought for the OCA degree course. My copy is a Penguin paperback and as with “Understanding a Photograph” (by the same author), I feel the photographs/illustrations in the book are of very poor quality, which therefore detracts from the points being made. This is not a fault of the author, but a fault of the publisher. If I were publishing such a book I would not allow this to go to print, with such substandard imagery. Therefore given this poor quality and as this is the most popular book for students of photography, it must speak volumes of the written content by the author.

The essence of the author’s main point is the photographs are not simply images but images are a language in their own right and can and should be read (properly). This means the author of a photograph should understand how to make an image and one that can be read by different audiences. Conversely,  if a photograph is to be read, it must contain something worth reading, or you will browse over it and return it to the metaphorical shelf.

The book opens with a quote, “Seeing comes before words”, which is interesting when the conclusion of the book is that photographs should be read like a language, but I do get it.

There is much reference to great art works and how the essence of these can still be seen in photographs today, especially in the poses used in commercial photography, which is a very interesting concept and one that I did not know about until reading this book.  There is also a multitude of top art works reproduced in the book, but the quality of the reproductions, as mentioned above is poor. The book finishes with a chapter which is heavily involved with “publicity” and what this is and how photography deals with this.

Ways of Seeing is another book I will read again and will refer to from time to time. The concepts in the book are not difficult to grasp, but were new to my non-academic self.

This book should be the first that any photographic student buys and reads due to the concepts and pointers it gives you. This is a better book in my opinion, when compared to “Understanding a Photograph”.

My advice is shop round for a hardback version and check out the prices before you buy.

Book review “Elliott Erwitt – Personal Best”

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This book takes me back to my child hood as the only thing that you can read are the images (and the forward).

It is simply amazing. His work is new to me, but I am spending much of my time reading this in combination with Sally Mann’s work.

All of the images contain both a studium and  a punctum and need looking at again and again. They are not straight forward images (they might be at first viewing), they have meaning, humour and the ability to create  empathy. It feels as though you are there in the image and the distance between viewer and subject appears to blend into an unusual episode of time travel..

The double spread pages have been criticised by some readers and I can understand this, but in my opinion, this does not distract from the work, as this transcends such pitfalls. I would love to see these in an exhibition.

There is a clue in the title of the book to what the book contains and the images do not let you down. This tome cost less than going to a football match and will give me hours of pleasure over and over again.

I plan to go move photographing dogs and other animals and this work will stand me in good stead.

All students of photography should read this.

John Berger “Understanding a Photograph”

Sadly, and only recently the author has passed away, on 2nd January 2017 and I have therefore come to the Berger party, late. What a shame, but thankfully there is the internet, Waterstones and Amazon, where such tomes can be bought.

The above book is a collection of essays and musings by John Berger and this is the first of 2 books of his that I have recently read. The 2nd being, the ever popular with photography students, “Ways of Seeing”.

A bit of background to let you know where I am coming from with my writings. For over 30 years I had ploughed my way through a career in banking, one which I enjoyed at the time. Now looking back, I feel this career path was such a blinkered one and one that, despite what the banks say, does not add any real value to the people of our amazingly diverse society. The banks are only in it for the money, (share price, dividend and obscene bonuses) they do not care about the customer and they care even less about their staff, irrespective of how they dress this up. I have studied for many a banking related exam, giving me several “professional” qualifications. However I have never had to read books with my dictionary currently by my side and used in virtually every paragraph!!!

I have this book in paper back edition (Penguin books) and this misses the mark significantly with the printed images in the book. They become somewhat pointless and unreadable, so “understanding a photograph” has to be understood from the words, rather than as they were interned as words and prints. If you can, buy the hard backed version I would do so, rather than the paperback.

The essays  in the book cover such incredible people as Susan Sontag, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Kertesz et al. The essays date as far back as the 60s and are still relevant today.

Everything appears to be a politicised struggle at times for Berger and he certainly looks at life and art through different eyes to mine. However my eyes are adjusting to the bright lights of photography/art and are emerging from the dullness of banking. His eyes are enlightened with critical thinking and powerful politicised, emotive thoughts. His writings, in some parts of the book do not compute with my mind, so I read a chapter again (and again) and then, like a film being developed in a dark room, I begin to see the picture, come into focus before my eyes. The developing solution is the way Berger is so descriptive and the use of his experience.

Although I did enjoy reading this book I did not find it as interesting and useful as his “Ways of Seeing”.

Would I recommend it? Yes.

Would I re-read it ? Yes, I will have to, as I am sure I will have missed some amazing and amusing pearls of Berger wisdom.

 

Tutor feedback

Overall Comments

You’ve again fulfilled the brief. I’m a little concerned that on immediate impression the photographs do not overtly showcase your skills. Follow up on my recommendations below.

Feedback on assignment Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Quality of Outcome, Demonstration of Creativity

 Notes from, and in addition to, our Skype tutorial :

Reorder the series so that you showcase the most direct images – you are after all ‘advertising’ these dogs – demote no.1

New order:

  • 6
  • 10 or 9
  • 2
  • 3 once cropped
  • 4
  • 8
  • 1
  • 5
  • end 7

Think about how they work as a series. The compilation that the blog automatically produces is don’t forget what we see first.

Take control, present your best image first, then make the series tell the story you want it to – this is separate from providing the dogs’ home with the images they require. If there are better images illustrating lighting for the assignment substitute them.

Crop image 1, 2 and 3. Make the series all head and shoulders of dogs. It won’t be a narrow typology as you already have plenty going on in but cropping these three allows us to focus on the expressions – which is of course the selling point.

The backgrounds, especially with reference to 3, detract from this series. They could be useful in talking about the dogs in a different way.

Default references for dogs –  Elliott Erwitt, William Wegmann!

Signpost your misgivings about presenting these (to me), versus the positives of the experience of commissioning. You’re doing some great reflection and striking a balance between potentially conflicting factors in making/editing/showing images is always useful.

We discussed how a number of other students used assignment 4 to showcase often dramatic lighting. Make sure you highlight the lighting positives in your submission – balancing the mix of natural and flash, coping with movement, the variables of each scene etc. Also make sure that it is apparent that you garnered a commission here – and that you were also fulfilling the OCA brief.

We discussed how by using animals again you have worked with a further set of variables out of your control – you note that currently this is an area of photography you would like to work in in future.

Learning Logs or Blogs/Critical essays Context

Keep putting your thoughts on books you have read in your blog, and putting reflection into practice. And we do all read Camera Lucida over and over. On Photography still has plenty to merit it – and plenty of people picking fights with it forty years later!

Suggested reading/viewing Context

Keep up with the books! It can’t hurt to read more, seek out Tod Papageorge’s famous quote…

Pointers for the next assignment

Showcase your learning, don’t be afraid to experiment and reference it all!

Roland Barthes “Camera Lucida”

Where to start my simple review….

Well this was the first book that I have read in connection with my degree and to be fair my first impressions where mind-boggling. I spent several hours wading through treacle, maple syrup and ten foot of the thickest fog I had ever seen in my life. My dictionary page was getting used every five minutes and started to think that this was not for me.

I put the book down and then did some research on Barthes and came back to the book with a fresh pair if eyes. The research made me feel that I should give this author the chance to prove his worth as he is so well respected.

HOW my view had changed post research.

I will summarise the main points for me below. This does not attempt to pick the bones out of each Chapter but will give you a flavour of my learning points.

  • Chapter 11 talks about “Studium” and Chapter 9 discusses “Punctum”. The are two words that have been adopted by Barthes and have now found their way into the very should of my image making.
  • Studium ; – The initial part of a photograph that grabs your attention.
  • Punctum ; – The part (unexpected) that will retain your interest and keep you looking at the image.
  • Therefore does every image need both parts? Not necessarily, as some images are made to be glanced at, but for an image to have any considerable viewing time, there must always be some form of Studium or you will glance at it and not recognise what the maker of this image is wanting to portray. For me both parts are needed for the image to generate orange of emotions and thoughts.
  • The Punctum is the clever part for me, even more so, when this is planned. In saying that a Punctum within an image can be accidental and these are some times more interesting.

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Above is an accidental Punctum from an earlier exercise.

  • Punctum is the thinking part of the image. This should start you asking a number of questions such as what, where, when, who, how and why.  Try this for yourselves with any imagery. The best ones for me, will have a definite ps in there. PS (Punctum +Studium)and  with a ps being that bit extra at the bottom of the letter/email that gives you more information and makes you return to it.
  • The second half of the book takes on a more morbid and obsessive turn, but is unbelievably  fascinating. He becomes preoccupied with an image of his mother ,(when she was a young child) following her death. The book considers his feelings for this image and the impact on his life. He discusses, very cleverly how all young photographers become agents of death, which is in interesting concept in itself.  In a way I feel his infatuation with the image of his mother is somewhat unhealthy, as this manifests itself in so many ways. In fact he debates how photography can be either mad or tame, and this thought needs further consideration, as images can be both, but can they be anything in else at the same time. Yes in my opinion…….

I am looking forward to rereading this book soon, to gain further insight as I believe there is more learning in there.

This has given me a thought process that did not exist prior to reading this book. Some will dismiss it as arty rubbish (my initial thoughts) but I am so over joyed I read this book.

This is a book all photography students should read and then read again, and refer to in times of photographic reflection.

 

Susan Sontag “On Photography”

The aim of this book, for me is to discuss multiple issues that people have with photography e.g. is photography an art?

It is subdivided into seven chapters, including an amusing set of quotes from different people, and a number of adverts from companies such as Polaroid and Minolta.

Like the majority of books of this kind, I find myself constantly reaching for my dictionary. Academic language, especially when dealing with Art/Photography, is not the easiest to understand for me.

Below is my summarised synopsis of the book ; –

  • The history of photography is discussed at length with criticism and praise being heaped upon different artists and it discusses the camera as a potential “predatory weapon”.
  • America is then the focus of the next chapter where such notable artists as Diane Arbus and there work are discussed. This chapter is what it says it is “America, Seen through photographs, darkly”. Freaks are discussed, which at first sits uncomfortably with me, but then when continuing to read th chapter, there is less offence from the language, but be prepared to be taken aback at points. It challenges your thought process and emotions, so it does what it should do and it makes you think and feel photography, rather than just living life as a snapshotter.
  • The book then moves on and talks about how photography is a mimic of real life. Surrealism is also a main topic in the next chapter. August Sander’s work is also discussed and again becomes thought-provoking.
  • Next, the book discusses the beautification of photography and invokes some powerful emotions again, in this chapter, where Weston’s photography is given a number of pages and it talks about the beauty of his cabbage leaf/ folder cloth image, which invokes a range of emotions.
  • There is an interesting argument and discussion, regarding the merits of colour photography, when compared to the more truthful black and white images. It also discusses photography as being the “mortal enemy” to paintings.
  • The final full chapter concentrates on, is photography real and what impact censorship, for example in China, has on the art? Does this then mean photography in China  tells the truth, due to the censorship of the art and there is a good discussion around this? Photography is also talked about from a realism point of view.
  • The ultimate chapter is simply a collection of quotes, some of which I really enjoy, for example “Photography is a tool for dealing with things that everybody knows about, but isn’t attending to” (- Emmet Gowin), and some that I could be happy never seeing again, such as “it is no accident that the photographer becomes a photographer…” (- Dorothea Lange).

Overall the book is very thought-provoking and has made me think and re-evaluate how I think about making images and what other photographers have gone through, from its inception backing the 1800’s and how this has changed.

For me I will need to read this again, to get the best out of the book. due to the language used within it. It will be interesting to see if my view will change once I have re-read this, in a few months time. Such books make me reflect on my practice and that can only be a positive point for me.

I would recommend this to other students and would be interested in their view-point.