Friday, April 8, 2011

Book Review – Why Photographs Work

52 Great Images: Who made them, what makes them special and WHY.  That’s the subtitle for Why Photographs Work and it really sums up the book. If you’ve ever wanted to increase your appreciation of good photography, this book is an excellent place to start.

The Cleveland Art museum has many wonderful photographs in its collection; but next time I visit, it will be with some new eyes, thanks to the many discussions in this book. 

George Barr, an excellent fine art photographer in his own right, avoids the temptation of so many authors to do a book strictly of his own work. By enlisting the aid of 52 photographers who each submitted one photo, you are exposed to the gamut of shooting styles and subjects. 

This collection gives you black and white as well as color. Some photos are strictly straight shooting with no manipulation, while others are totally unreal and only exist because of the computer. 

A wonderful photo entitled Labyrinth 01 by Joe Lipka is panoramic shot of a mystical interior, really comprised of three separate shots combined in Photoshop. With his masterful combination, the mind frolics with the playful impossibility of what we are seeing. 

In another starkly different, but stunningly done photo, Cole Thompson portrays the history of war in his shot, Auschwitz #14. A tack sharp photo of Auschwitz at night shows the pure black sky, an illuminated guard house and the electric fence that held the prisoners. But within the courtyard, we see faint white ghosted human figures, undoubtedly taken while visitors were listening to a docent during the tour. 

Each photo is accompanied by Barr’s analysis first, explaining what he sees in the photo (always more than I would have) and then each individual photographer speaks. It’s interesting to see whether Barr’s preconceived notions are what really happened or not to the photographer. The reader benefits with new ways to look at photos and some background information on the photographer and his effort as well.

To quote Barr on one of his evaluations…”those images that ask as many questions as they answer tend to stay with you, but only if they can attract your attention in the first place.”

You might also like to read my review of other O’Reilly Books:
The Art of Photography – an approach to personal expression
Serial Photography – using themed images to improve your photographic skills
The Wild Side of Photography – unconventional and creative techniques for the courageous photographer
Wildlife Photography – on safari with your DSLR: equipment, techniques, workflow

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