These books are old faves, but it's been a while since any of them have been mentioned in these precincts. Note this post's title: Photographing, not photography. The two intersect and overlap, but these are books that lean toward illuminating the creative act.
Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by Ted Orland and David Bayles
A book about engaging with your own psychology when making art, especially addressing the question: What stops you? The authors over-specify a bit, meaning you have to "take what you need and leave what you don't." But it's great for helping to make an important leap: creativity is fundamentally about creating, and we're all burdened with feelings about how we personally relate to that.
A book I've long called "the basic primer." (The word is pronounced "primmer," by the way, not "prime-er" as you'd expect.) At root I like it for one overriding reason: it gives a guided tour of how one intelligent and informed viewer engages with some specific pictures. That sense is an illusion, of course, because this is a highly created literary work, but that sense that the best photographs reward concentrated looking and thinking, creating a conversation in the mind, has never left me. It's this book's best gift, among many.
ABC of Reading by Ezra Pound
What?! Hold on a minute, this is a book about poetry. I know, but there is commonality between the task of expressive creativity across the various arts, and you need to expand your thinking to accommodate that. (There are also differences between them that they don't share, but that fact is easy to grasp.) In fact, some of the best insights I've been given into photography have come from reading about music. Even if you can't find much here to apply to the creative life, it's still a good, entertaining, easy-to-read little book that rewards our time and attention.
On Being a Photographer, by Bill Jay and David Hurn
The one book of words that, really, every photographer should read. The lovely Bill Jay, who I still choose to believe is alive and living a blissfully untroubled retirement under an assumed name in Central America, and his mentor-become-friend, Magnum photojournalist David Hurn, grapple with the essential difficulties of subject matter. (And if you haven't yet, friend, you're not a photographer yet.) A good book to react against, too, even, as you forge your own practice of our craft as art. You can reject as well as accept ideas, but you'd better do it mindfully.
Hmm, what's the fifth book? I know I had five in mind when I started this post. Oh well, I'll add it when I remember it.
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I've confined myself above to books you can actually buy. Among many standouts you can't buy any more are Edward Weston's Daybooks, his seminal (and lingeringly influential) limning of an artistic life behind the camera; Gisele Freund's forthright but wonderful Photography and Society, which will never be reprinted and which I will never not love and treasure, although I have not read it for many years; and on and on goes that list....
More recent books on my bedstand include Gerry Badger's The Pleasures of Good Photographs (dismayingly, out of print after only three years—and published by a foundation, no less! Shameful...), Errol Morris's Believing Is Seeing, Geoff Dyer's The Ongoing Moment, Tod Papageorge's Core Curriculum ...and James Elkins' What Photography Is, in which Elkins writes "against" Barthes' Camera Lucida. (I suspect this is the book in which the underrated Elkins comes out with it and says what he really thinks about photography.)
I haven't finished any of them (imagine that, projects that I haven't finished—what is the world coming to), but I suspect I will enjoy some of them, especially the last.
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Michael T.: "I will second #1, #2, and #4 as I too have owned these three for many, many years and revisit them as needed. I also recommend Why People Photograph by Robert Adams, and Advice for Photographers: The Next Step by Al Weber."
andy ilachinski: "One of my favorite little books of wisdom is The Education of a Photographer by Heller and Traub. It is an absolute steal for $6 or so for the Kindle version."
Paul: "I was happy to find some of my favorites listed. I would only add The Courage to Create by Rollo May. The basic idea is that when we create, we anger the gods; we are intruding on their turf. So it takes courage to confront the gods—not willingly, but necessarily."
Kenneth Tanaka: "As I'd expect, you've covered nearly all the books of this genre that I'd recommend from my own library, Mike. (I've never seen the Ezra Pound work...left field!) All good stuff.
"Here's one more, a collection of short essays and interviews, that I've enjoyed reading off-and-on for the past two summers. The Education of a Photographer is available in both print and Kindle. (I didn't realize that Aperture was not printing more of Gerry Badger's Joy of... book!)"
Ed Hawco: "A couple of years ago you mentioned Why Photographs Work. Is that the missing fifth book?"