June 14th, 2007

picture icon iv

(no subject)

The Nature of Photographs (a primer)
Stephen Shore
Phaidon, 2007

This book about photographs is probably the least verbal of any similar book that I have, yet it's also the most conceptually dense.

The upper left hand corner of each facing page contains a short paragraph or two, rarely more than a few dozen words. The right hand page contains a photograph illustrating that concept. The captions list only photographer, title, and year. I've easily written more words about this book (in my notes) than this book contains.

I kept having to remind myself to slow down when I read it. The writing was so succinct that there was no apparent trickiness of meaning that causes me to read something twice. I had to make myself reread sentences and paragraphs, to get the deeper meaning. And look longer at the photographs, and ask myself: Why this photograph next to these words? Why these two photographs next to each other? Particularly, why Cindy Sherman's Untitled Film Still #21 next to a publicity shot of Joan Fontaine?

After a few pages, an effect came over me of sitting in a lecture hall while somebody quietly spoke a few words behind me, and then lingered over the next few slides, giving me time to absorb an image before moving on. I encouraged this feeling because it had me look at the images longer.

Even going as slowly as I did, The Nature of Photographs took less than an hour to read the first time. I felt infused with its voice, the questions it raised and the thoughts it stimulated. I curled up in bed and wondered what a photograph of me would look like, in that position, that location, under that light. Watching Julie comb her hair later, I thought of Willy Ronis.

I've read this book at least twice since the first time, finding specific discussions (for instance, time: frozen time, extrusive time, and still time) and trying to reabsorb it. Even on rereading I've looked up to think "this is a photograph" when pausing.

I read The Nature of Photographs immediately after Criticizing Photographs, so even though they're two vastly different books, they're related in my mind. Criticizing Photographs will have a deeper effect on how I articulate my reaction to and understanding of photographs, but The Nature of Photographs has deepened my understanding and awareness of my photography.