Category Archives: Reading

Three Songs, No Flash – Loe Beerens

I received this book as a birthday present as I enjoy gig photography. I didn’t learn a great deal from this book as I have six years of experience photographing gigs. However, as in all aspects of my photography i am keen to improve and to make my work look more creative. The author raises some good points regarding capturing interactions between the lead singer and other band members, and also between the lead singer and the audience.

To summarise, this book is useful for someone starting out in concert photography, but doesn’t have a lot to offer someone who’s experienced in the field.


The Street Photographer’s Manual – David Gibson

‘Photography can be taught only in part – specifically, that part which deals with photo-technique. Everything else has to come from the photographer’ (Feininger, 1968).

‘How many other forms of photography essentially have “wonder” at their heart? That’s what makes street photography almost a spiritual process for many because it is so personal and so akin to a king of photographic enlightenment. Street photography helps me understand (Nick Turpin )

This book is great to dip in and out of to get a better idea of how the perspective from where the shot is taken can influence the shot.

One area of advice I particularly liked was the chapter on shooting from behind. Gibson points out how it’s easier to take photographs from behind, and often easier to capture body language this way.

I will bear much of Gibson’s advice in mind should I take more street photographs in the future.






The Complete Photographer, Andreas Feininger, 1968

The Photograph as Contemporary Art – Charlotte Cotton

This book came with the course materials. It contains images from a variety of 20th century photographers with descriptions of their work, and explains their approaches and what makes their work ‘art’.

This book is something to dip into rather than to read from cover to cover. It is really useful when looking for examples of styles and it encourages the reader to research  photographers further and look for more of their work.  There are certainly several photographers I intend to investigate further as a result of skimming the book for images.

On Being a Photographer -David Hurn in conversation with Bill Jay

About the Photographer

David Hurn’s approach appears to be chameleon-like (page 32) – blending in with whatever scene he is present in. Unlike some photographers, he enjoys company whilst shooting, however he doesn’t take his mind off his art and can leave his companion talking to air whilst he takes his shot (page 33).

Some Definitions

David Hurn is a British reportage photographer who has covered many events across the world. Hurn prefers the term ‘reportage photographer’ as “it implies a personal account of an observed event with connotations of subjectivity but honesty. It is eye-witness photography.” (page 40).

Hurn prefers the term ‘essay’ to ‘story’. He states “when i talk about the picture or photographic essay I mean a group of images in which each picture is supporting and strengthening all the others; not that the sequencing of the pictures can be read like a string of words.” (page 41).

Selecting A Subject

Hurn states that what transforms a simple record into pictures of lasting merit is “It comes down to the choice of subject. The photographer must have intense curiosity, not just a passing visual interest, in the theme of the pictures. This curiosity leads to intense examination, reading, talking, research and many, many failed attempts over a long period of time.” (page 44).

Hurn suggests carrying a notebook to write down ideas of things which interest. He then suggests cutting the list down by asking these questions:

  • Is it visual?
  • Is it practical?
  • Is it a subject about which I know enough?
  • Is it interesting to others? (page 46).

He also suggests keeping the topic as specific as possible (page 48).

Hurn makes interesting observations about how the link between love and knowledge of a subject matter makes a good photograph. Hegives the example of Stephen Dalton’s photographs of insects in flight (page 55).

Shooting the Single Picture

“There are two fundamental elements in all picture-taking: where to stand and when to release the shutter” (page 57).

“Photography is a matter of tiny details” (page 59).

“In all cases the pressing of the button is a reasonably continuous process, because you never know if the next fraction of a second is going to reveal an even more significant, poignant, visually stronger image than the previous one” (page 60).

Hurn’s approach is to wait through pregnant pauses, anticipate moments of interest and then shoot continuously, adjusting position to get the shot. Contact sheets show a staccato of images. You can see the intent of the photographer. (page 62).

“A painter can compose the main elements and then add the significant details in precisely the right places. In photography, you cannot do that. You are hoping, almost by instinct, that the small details which make or break the picture are going to be in the right positions.” (page 66)

Creating Contacts

Hurn describes how valuable a contact sheet is. he is speaking in the context of a film camera as opposed to a digital camera, however the purpose of a contact sheet is much the same for their type of camera.

He describes the following four purposes:

  • “dear diary” pictures which act as visual reminders
  • acts as a learning process
  • convenient for marking images for easy future retrieval
  • allows understanding of others’ work/process (page 73).

Hurn states that he likes to put aside the contact sheets for a few weeks to distance himself from the emotion of the picture-taking moment. (page 76) – this is something I should definitely consider doing!

The Picture Essay

“Photography is about communication” (page 84)

“Once you know the number of images which will complete the essay, you must divide your topic or theme into that many picture-headings. List them, and alongside each heading jot down the words: “overall/establishment picture,” “medium distance/relationship picture,” and close-up picture.” (page 85)
















How to Read a Photograph – Ian Jeffrey

This book is a great reference source. It has a short section on many great photographers from William Henry Fox Talbot through to Joel Sternfield.

Presented in chronological order of the photographers’ active years, there’s a brief introduction to each photographer giving context to their work and their style. There are at least two images presented for each photographer with a brief analysis (‘reading’) of each photograph by the author. A final descriptive paragraph gives an insight into the photographer’s approach and main artistic bent.

First published in 2008, I’d have liked the book to have covered some more recent photographers, as the book has very little post 1970’s work. However, as a resource for summarising the history of great photographers and for pointing me in the direction of wanting to find out more about individual photographers, this book is very valuable.



The Photograph by Graham Clarke – What is a photograph?

Having had a break from studying for a few weeks, I’m taking the Christmas break as an opportunity to catch up on some reading and have picked by Graham Clarke’s The Photograph.

Having read the opening chapter, I’m struck but how much the use of photographs and accessibility to both seeing and taking images has changed over time.  In 1900, Alvin Langdon Coburn said “Now every nipper has a Brownie” and “a photograph is as common as a box of matches”. I can’t help but wonder what he’d have made of camera phones and the fact that images are millions of times more common now.

Roland Barthes observation that a photograph was a “transparent envelope” hold true that the meaning of a photograph is dependent on the context in which it is seen. The example from Clarke that a photograph has a shifting distinction between its function as an image and its assumed value is especially true in the modern age. Not just in terms of monetary value, but in terms of popularity on social media – a quick snap on a camera phone of my cat sitting on my laptop keyboard will get loads more ‘likes’ than anything I might take as a composition for this course!

Social media applications, such as Facebook and Instagram, allow everyone to document their lives with images – John Berger said that “the photographic image has been sanctioned as an analogue of the ‘real’” and Delacroix suggested that the photograph was a “veritable catalogue of the world”. However, ‘art photography’ expresses something beyond the surface appearance of things. Clarke states that “the photograph mirrors back not a literal but a super- or spiritual reality”.  Siegfried Kracauer summed things up with his statement that “the power of the medium” lay in its ability “to open up new, hitherto unsuspected dimensions of reality”.

Clarke identifies six aspects related to the multiple existence of a photograph – summarised below:

Size and shape

Portrait or landscape?  Square? Borderless? The choices made alter the significance of the image, and the way it’s seen. Clarke observes that “we can never go outside the frame of the photograph”. ”Invariably it reflects the world it observes according to the principles of one-point perspective, but it does so in terms of the world in miniature.”


Always flat. Has illusion of depth. Clarke notes that Roland Barthes “complained about the frustration involved in the misplaced assumption that the closer we look at a photograph, the more we see”.

Canon and colour

Paradox of photography’s realism being communicated in black and white.  Traditional documentary image – “presence of colour lessens the sense of the photograph’s veracity as an image and witness”.

“Since the 1970s, the use of colour has formed part of a critical, not a representational vocabulary”.


Hubert Damisch states the photograph offers “the trace of an object or a scene from the world”, “it isolates, preserves and presents a moment taken from a continuum”.  No before or after – only a moment in its own making.