The Book of the Week this week is Why Photographs Work: 52 Great Images, Who Made Them, What Makes Them Special, and Why, by George Barr, published by Rocky Nook, an imprint of O'Reilly Media.
(Here's the U.K. link.)
The book consists of 52 single images by different photographers, with discussions of each. The format George chose for the text is both companionable and informative: first there's an analysis by George, then a commentary from the photographer. A short biography of the photographer accompanied by a small portrait follows, and lastly there's a brief technical note, sometimes giving just the camera and lens used but in some cases considerably more—François Gillet, for instance, writes five paragraphs of technical information.
The cover design is perhaps a tad esoteric—it shows the main title as it might show up in the viewfinder of a medium-format SLR, laterally reversed but upright. The majority of the pictures in the book are large format.
The selections have authorial consistency but also a good variety. Women photographers are decently represented (eight of the 52), and, although most of the photographers are American and British, there are other nationalities present. Best is the mix between "famous names" like John Sexton and Pete Turner and lesser-known artists, and between photographers who made a name for themselves prior to the digital era, such as Bruce Barnbaum or Michael Kenna, and those who've come to prominence mainly via the web, such as Bengt Ekelberg, whom George first encountered on Photo.net. Teachers, instructional book authors, and workshop leaders such as Harald Mante and Freeman Patterson are well represented, as are contemporary British landscapists like David Ward and Charlie Waite (neither of whom are represented by landscape pictures, however). I found it both pleasant to encounter the photographers I already know, and just as good to encounter those I'd never heard of before.
Each photograph is dated. There's one picture each from the 1950s and 1960s, and there are several each from the 1980s and '90s, but the vast majority are contemporary work from the decade 2000–2010. The genres of photographs vary as well, but you won't have any trouble discerning consistency in the author's taste. Barr, by the way, is a family medical doctor from Calgary, Alberta, Canada who has had a lifelong passion for photography.
The quality of the 10x10", 228-page book is typical for an oversized illustrated paperback (there's no hardcover version), and the reproduction quality is above average.
All in all an enjoyable book that nicely straddles the sizeable gap between what and how to, something few photo book authors bother to try, or pull off so well when they do attempt it.
Last week's book of the week:
Recent Western Landscapes by Lee Friedlander
How many readers ordered* it through our links: 91
*None have been delivered yet, and, given that the book is limited to 500 copies, it's possible that Amazon will be unable to fill some or all of the orders.
**Price is taken into account when characterizing popularity.
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Nikhil Ramkarran: "I bought this as soon as it was released and I am very pleased with it. I strongly believe that one of the key ways to become a better photographer is simply to see the photos good photographers produce.
"It is shocking sometimes to see the discussions (more like cluelessness) which result on flickr when someone posts a well-known photograph, but without attributing it, in an attempt to stimulate discussion.
"One thing I didn't like about the book (physically) is how floppy it seems to be. It is a fairly large book and the paper and cover are fairly thin, so it is difficult to keep it flat if you are holding it up. Minor quibble though."
Featured Comment by Jack Spratt: "sknaht, ev'I deredro ti."