The Art of Photography
By Svetlana Grobman, Reference Librarian
“Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.” —Dorothea Lange
What other season is more inspirational for photography than spring? The wind is warm, the smells are fresh, and the sun highlights the vivid colors of daffodils, crocuses, magnolias and redbuds. Of course, fine art photographers may not need seasonal changes for inspiration. Their creativity is triggered by their own vision, and their work is not found in your average family album, but in art galleries and museums, as well as published in books.
Roberto Koch has compiled 250 images from famous photographers, past and present, in “Photo: Box” (Abrams, 2009). The stunningly beautiful photographs are arranged in 12 categories: reportage, war, portraits, women, fashion, nudes, art, travel, still life, cities, sports and nature. All images are accompanied by thoughtful commentaries and brief biographies of the photographers. Included are Edward Steichen, Brassaï, Henry Cartier-Bresson, Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Nobuyoshi Araki, Robert Capa, Bruce Davidson, Annie Leibovitz and others. Those wanting to learn from the world’s greatest masters cannot do any better.
Preserving history is an important function of photography. In “The Great War: A Photographic Narrative” (Knopf, 2013), editors Holborn and Roberts present a collection of photographs from World War I, the centenary of which we commemorate this summer. The photos are organized by year, and a brief introduction to every chapter adds military and political context. Among the images are a photo of Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s blood-splattered uniform, pictures of soldiers in trenches, distressed civilians and enthusiastic celebrations of the armistice in 1918.
Portrait photography has been known since the invention of the camera. Over time, the styles of portrait photography have evolved from traditional to artistic and from formal to “selfie” (a self-portrait taken with a hand-held device). Despite the fact that the term “selfie” has entered our vocabulary only recently, taking pictures of oneself has been around for a long time. “Vivian Maier: Self-Portraits” (Power House Books, 2013) is a collection of black-and-white photographs of a woman who spent half her life working as a nanny in Chicago. Painfully private, Maier never showed her photographs to anyone, and she died alone and impoverished in 2009. Her work remained unknown until her photographs and rolls of undeveloped film were discovered by John Maloof, a Chicago collector and amateur historian. After some of them appeared online, she became an overnight success (posthumously), and several books have been published about her. During her lifetime, Maier took more than 100,000 photographs, most of which captured ordinary everyday scenes: children playing on a beach, a young man lying on a park bench, people waiting for a train, etc. Readers who’d like to find out more about this extraordinary photographer should also check out “Vivian Maier: American Street Photographer” (Power House, 2011).
A very original example of today’s street photography is Brandon Stanton’s “Humans of New York” (St. Martin’s Press, 2013). Stanton, a former bond trader, began this work in 2010. He started a blog featuring his candid portraits of people on the streets of New York – captioned with commentaries or snippets of conversation. By 2013, Stanton’s Facebook page had some 2.5 million followers, and, when his book came out, he was already well known. Stanton’s photos depict a wide variety of people: old and young, street performers and homeless people, lovers and businessmen. Their images, true and honest, will make the reader laugh, cry, smile, or think -- a great reflection of the human condition in itself.
Black-and-white photography is still much respected, especially among professional photographers. Some believe, though, that color allows photographers to infuse more meaning and energy into their work. Georgia O’Keeffe put it this way: “I found I could say things with color … that I couldn’t say any other way.” “Life in Color” (National Geographic, 2012) is a collection of 245 photographs from around the world arranged by color. Every chapter begins with an essay on the meaning of its color. And the perspective or the photos ranges from close-up to aerial while the subjects vary from seascapes to cityscapes and from animals to children. A sensory feast, this book is to savor.
If reading about photography makes you want to grab your camera and take some shots yourself, Scott Kelby has lots of tips for you. His “The Digital Photography Book” (Peachpit Press, 2013, 2nd ed.) is full of practical, down-to-earth advice on how to take pictures of flowers, weddings, sporting events, etc. Some tips are accompanied by jokes, which, if you don't find them amusing (some readers do not), are easy to skip. Overall, Kelby’s book is a treasure-trove for a newbie photographer who prefers to stay away from theory.