What are you reading? . . . Are you reading?
Reading has always been really important to me. I genuinely enjoy crawling into a book and letting the world go by around me. At one time, when I was traveling extensively, I read over 200 books in one year. I still find that I need to read everyday if I want to keep my balance and perspective in the world.
Looking back over my years involved with photography, there are 3 books that have had a huge impact on me. I’ll start with the photographer that most influenced me, Andreas Feininger. When I first got interested in photography I went to the library and discovered Andreas. The book of his that just turned my head off my shoulders was Photographic Seeing. It was a map to creativity and a true rules of the road. This book gave me the opportunity to break rules that I never knew existed. The first chapter talked about the differences between the way your eye sees and the way the camera sees. Big stuff right there!
The second book is photographer/writer Bill Jay’s Occam’s Razor: An Outside-In View of Contemporary Photography. Occam lived in Surrey, England, in 1270, and there are 2 principles to his rule: (1) the simplest of competing theories is to be preferred to the more complex; and (2) explanations of unknown phenomena should be sought first in terms of known quantities. Here’s my "take away"—Keep it Simple! WOW. Think of the photographs that inspire you, and I think you’ll see simple, elegant beauty. Bill Jay was one of the most clear-thinking, accessible and funniest writers on photography.
If you’re not already overwhelmed by now, have another cup of coffee and dig into this third book: Ways of Seeing, by art critic, novelist and poet John Berger. He just passed this year (January 2, 2017). Berger was born in England in 1926 and was an eloquent writer with a laser beam of insight. This subtle book asks the viewer of photographs to examine how those images make you feel and how you respond as a viewer. Those thoughts are very close to my heart, and I can directly apply them to the way I make pictures. Will the image I create provoke a response that is deep and meaningful for the viewer?
Of course we also have the writings of Ansel Adams; Edward Weston (The Daybooks); John Szarkowski (The Photographer’s Eye and Looking at Photographs) Susan Sontag (On Photography); A.D. Coleman (Light Readings, etc.); Janet Malcolm (Diana & Nikon); Robert Adams (Beauty in Photography and Why People Photograph); Terry Barrett (Criticizing Photographs); and so many others to inspire us through their words, thoughts and ideas on photography that make me want to accomplish something in my own work that is meaningful to others. It’s up to us as image-makers to generate images about thoughts and ideas that are our own, but also reflect the feelings of others. We cannot rely only upon our eyes. We need to use our minds as well. And, reading what’s on other people’s minds can be a great inspiration towards bringing our images to life. Pretty exciting challenge if you ask me!
What books have rocked your image bank? I’m always looking for new ideas. Thanks to David Gremp for the spit shine on this one, and I always welcome your comments. It's an honor to speak to you— email@example.com