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Saturday, 22 July 2017


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I would say my 'mini-collection' is actually my main collection with the other stuff (the influential, 'important', or seminal books) floating around the edges.

Perhaps because my first photo book purchase was 'The English' by Ian Berry I concentrate on books of photographs about Britain, preferably contemporary work by British photographers. However, with the current interest in publishing works previously unavailable in book form I do make exceptions - such as for the zine-like books from Café Royal.

The one rule I have is to buy only books I like, rather than those I think I should have.

Martin Parr has photographed a few pairs of sandals worn with socks. So, when he gave a talk to a camera club the other week I asked him if I could photograph his sandals. He agreed.

" I guess it's time to go re-read On Being a Photographer by Bill Jay and David Hurn. :-) "

That is something that will always to any photographer good. It is, simply, the best book on why we do what we do that exists.

I'll go out in my truck & visit all the usual suspects now, just because of that reference to the single book that taught me more than any other & I'll do it for the reasons spoken of in that book. God willing, I'll have something to share when I get back.

Mike, read Guy Tal's musings. Maybe you don't have a particular subject-what's wrong with that?

Wot no nudes on the list??? I AM surprised! Are readers unwilling to admit to possessing such volumes, or is this a reflection on the state of nude art photography in general? I do have a nice little collection of such books, or books containing nudes, in amongst a larger rather diffuse collection. And indeed, the nude is the principal subject of my own photographic endeavours.

Nice post!

One type of book that has slowly amassed in my collection concerns size- as opposed to subject matter. I do have a thing for... small photo books.

The ones I can at least find at the moment (they have a habit of getting lost in the nooks and crannies where you last perused them):

Surreal Estate by Garret Izumi, Sitting on the Wall & Bird's Eye View by Weng Peijun, Protest The War by Judith Joy Ross, Babies of Illinois by Celia Jordan, Gas Smells but not like skunks by David J. Spear, The Arch by Joel Meyerowitz, Adrift by Magda Biernat, Bad Driving by Louis Porter, The Only Ones by Gus Powell, and Wonderland by Jason Eskenazi.

I dunno Mike, there's something about your description of your malaise that makes me say 'you should see your doctor, maybe a cardiologist.' That's my gut feeling.

As for finding my subject matter, I need to go back through my files. I keep seeing certain patterns show up again and again. Light on pavement, for one. People just stepping out of the frame. Certain gestures. Ugly buildings. I think the truth is in the pictures. If I look at what I took, I think I'll find it.

And speaking of small books, almost forgot LOWLIFE by Scot Sothern- definitely not one you want to leave lying about if you got small kids about...

I like this post a lot.
We have to Know what we like, before we can Do what we like.
There are many ways to get there, but one of the best is to look at lots of good photography. In 'person' is best , good books second. With books having the substantial advantage in 'viewing time'. We can leave and come back, we can wait for another time,--the book is there waiting. Sometimes when you come back you find that the photographs 'got better'. Of course it is our taste that has changed.

Of course as you say , there is no wrong answer when it comes to subjects that we find interesting.
But if we are honest, we do notice that most photographers we come to admire do have certain preferences when it comes to subjects, and that concentration of interest is often part of what makes them interesting.
Another differentiator is approach, do we think more like Ansel or Gary Winogrand?
We can only photograph what we have access to. Are we willing to invest in the cost of access? Does a subject interest us enough to seek it out?
The personal project is one way to get there, another is a long term war of attrition where we always photograph and see what themes emerge.
Do we care enough to get up early or stay out late, or travel to find pictures that move us. Is photography the thing we want to do most when we have free time? Or is it something we occasionally enjoy.
The truth is all of those ways work, we can find great work that came from each of those styles.
More and more I think the real differentiator is the willingness to work hard at it over time, the Idea of Sustained Effort. There is no real shortcut.
I always come back to a quote from Chuck Close "Inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us just show up and work" Although I disagree with his use of Amateur (vs Professional ?) An amateur can be every bit as much an artist as a professional, but I think those who are would get the intent of Chuck's Idea--- If it is important to you, you need to work at it continuously.

Thanks for a surprise Saturday gift.

I noticed a couple of years ago that I'd somehow accumulated a bunch of books on prairie photography -- your know, those sere landscapes without much in them. Maybe a lonely house or barn surrounded by miles of abandoned farm fields. I probably have eight or ten of them, including two aerial books.

I like Jay's book "Negative/Positive" very much. In it he has a step-by-step process for subject selection and pursuit.

1. Reflect on your deep values - things you really care about.
2. Choose one.
3. Ask yourself, can it be expressed photographically? If not, go to step 2.
4. If yes, determine how to express that value in images.
5. Shoot, evaluate, and continue refining.
6. Keep at it, not caring what anyone else says about your work.

Pretty good advice, I think.

- John

I have a very large collection of photo books, but among them are mini-collections of books by Fritz Henle, Elliott Erwitt, and B.A. "Tony" King. I say mini-collections, but in fact I have almost all of their books!

I found my milieu in the mid-90s, with the publication of my very successful coffee-table book "Rock City Barns: A Passing Era". Not long after that, I was challenged by a distinguished art photographer to write an "artist's statement," which I did. This is the statement:

"My domain is the old, the odd, and the ordinary; the beautiful, the abandoned, and the about to vanish away. I am a visual historian of an earlier America and a recorder of the interface between man and nature; a keeper of vanishing ways of life."

I have continued to work in that vein. My most recent book, "Backroads and Byways of Georgia," has just been released by Countryman Press. "Georgia: A Backroads Portrait" is awaiting publication, "Backroads and Byways of Tennessee" is scheduled for publication next year, and several other books, including "Found on Road Dead: An Anthology of Abandoned Automobiles" are in various stages of development.

Thanks for mentioning "On Being a Photographer." Interesting reading. As I was about buy it through Kindle, I read one review that gave it four stars. The reviewer said she gave it four stars instead of five because it didn't have any pictures.

Well, you got me re-reading On Being a Photographer. I often forget what books I have on the Kindle. And your post reminds me of one approach Brooks Jensen takes sometimes to finding a subject. He takes a huge pile of photos, then divides it into two according to some quality. He repeats this several times, each time picking the more interesting pile, until he has a nicely distilled subject. At that point you might have enough for a project, or you might feel inspired to add to it. Never tried it myself, but it sounds sensible.

Michael Perini's quote of Chuck Close "...just show up and work." is the best. Whatever you bring to the subject and the medium eventually comes out. No excuses.

Over the years I've seen that life crowds out art. Life doesn't want you to make art, it wants you to do other stuff, and it's very, very persuasive.

I live with a painter. She's good, and she's accomplished. I go photograph every day. She, on the other hand, must be randomly struck by something before she gets going. She insists that if she just rambles and looks, nothing happens. But in the same breath, she then says that when the exigencies of life don't have such a tight grip, she sees more, paints continuously and developes her technique and sensibilty, wins at bridge and is nicer to the awful neighbor.

I don't see any other photographers going in my direction with my subject, but over the much longer history of painting there's been some of those who have, more or less. Lately I've put my nose in books on late northern Mannerist painting. Oh, yeah. !! Those people could see with imagination. They could feel.

Besides making time to be with my subject, I talk with people about it and read about it too. Comes naturally.

PS My favorite photo books over the years have been on historic(50s and 60s mainly) automobile racing. As I write I'm looking at the cover of Anthony Pritchard's DIRECTORY of CLASSIC PROTOTYPES and GRAND TOURING CARS. I don't shoot that stuff now, but the fondness is still there, and the photography in these books makes me linger. The mind is funny. It's nice to jump off the tracks too.

Reading your list made me think. Do most people whom read this site like railroads, Or do the majority of people whom are willing to comment like railroads?
Hard to know, what is really the case.

Just as with written literature we gather what speaks to us. We understand images and identify with what charms us. What we shoot, our metier, is arrived at by many means. Some of us wander and slowly construct, others arrive at a place and finally identify our vision.
I picked up a camera because I say some part of reality I wanted to capture. There was no topic, just exploration of aspects and impressions. It wasn't long before I had to make photo pay. Good darkroom skills resulted in occupation working for pros. It wasn't long before my life was a blur of potsand pans, processors and people. There was quality and pay days but little soul.
Teaching now, guiding people to skills and vision. In the process I am rediscovering my personal process and vision: strong skills in place, capture is free and unfettered, perhaps unidentifiable, but part of going back to my beginnings. So what I have in photo books, new to me and part of an academic experience, embraces elements, weights, colors, tones. I don't ask any questions yet, I just wade in and books that touch that are stacking on my desk: Light Gesture & Color by Maisel, On Reading bu Kertesz, seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees by Weschler.

I'll get there.

The old saying, "Don't shop on an empty stomach." holds for predators and photographers. The implication is that in the end you'll be less satified.

Study predators and you'll see that they don't wait until they're hungry to start hunting. Predation is a high failure rate business. Through instinct and habit predators first just start moving thru their range. In time various stimuli more and more elicit hunting behaviors, until finally they hunt. They're warmed up and they're focused. The instincts to hunt and to go hunting are somewhat different.

I find that over the long run I work best by getting out every day, rather than waiting for the warm feeling of inspiration to overtake me. Even though since boyhood I've mightily liked to be around my subject, on plenty of days it feels really good to stay in and do other things. But out I go, and sure enough, stuff happens and there's always a take home, whether a picture or an idea. I found that holding myself to infrequent shoot days motivated solely by that certain feeling hardly ever measured up to my expection. That's discouraging.

Once I saw in a store window display an edition of ME WRITE BOOK. Ever since then I've been reminded that I can get too precious about that inspiration thing. I just get out there.

@ Dave lumb- Fooled me! Didn't look closely at first, and would've sworn that was an original Parr photo...

We all take pictures of points, lines, shapes, planes, volumes, spaces, tones and colors. The pictorial elements, aren't they? That's all there is to any picture, and by looking at your own work and that of others you can pick out which you especially like and how you like them handled. I like dynamic planes in deep shadow, for one example. Dynamic planes are those that aren't parallel or perpendicular to the picture plane(surface of the picture). I like working with them. I tend to notice them where ever I go. I like looking at them in my work and in the work of others. They can provide, among other things, the main expressive movement in a picture or they can help or modify the expression of other aspects of a picture. I've happily worked with them across genres.

I didn't start out looking at the world in those pictorial terms, but one day I happened on a subject that was all about strong planes defining a space. I got a picture that excited me and that pointed the way. This got me reading and then seeing more in art and in the world. Just like the photographer Mike described in the post.

Long ago I read something about a well known writer being asked by an aspirant, "What does it take to be a good writer?". The answer was, "Do you like sentences?" I think the same thing goes for the pictorial elements. Robert Frost described the joys of meter in a public lecture. Asked later if he really thought about all that stuff while writing his beautiful poetry, he answered, "I revel in it."

In my own instance, I actually feel planes and etc as much as I think about them. But in any case, I very aware of them. That opens up the world, and because of that fondness for planes and the other elements, I know there are other genres of photography I might like. In fact, I've already picked one out for those days to come when I might not be so active as I am now. It should be fun.

I don't know that not having a specialty is a drawback. I've seen artists both, prominent and obscure, who cheerfully go from one subject to another. I live with one. She moves among 6 different subjects, and sometimes competently switches from oils and wc to other art forms. Some subjects she seems to have dropped for good. There have been new ones, and sculpture is long gone.

I plod along on a single narrow track year after year. She skips and hops where ever. She's no frivilous dilletante either. She's got the work and the wide recognition.

Everyone's has an approach that's different in some way. For me it's all about what makes me feel good.

I collect hand tinted postcards of old radio stations and it has to show at least part of the antenna tower or I will not buy it. Have a number of them framed and mounted in our living room.
Here are some examples of what I buy.

I own way too many photography books, several of which I discovered on TOP. I am most proud of my 5 book mini-collection of work by Sebastiao Salgado, whom I consider my personal inspiration for becoming seriously interested in photography in the first place. "Workers" and "Migrations" are my favorites. I even have a B&W photograph of the great man that he graciously allowed me to take when I attended a lecture he was giving years ago. It's not a bad portrait.

Perhaps what 'catches fire' for you Mike is your writing? The themes you mention -family, portraits, place, even beaches, sound quite autobiographical. Have you tried your hand at serious auto/biographical writing? Liz Stanley's 'The Autobiographical I' -which uses family photos, might be worth dipping into. And photographers such as Jo Spence come to mind, though there's no need to be so revelatory. You're obviously a natural writer, so maybe your photos just need more words?

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