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June 14th, 2007

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12:13 pm
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.

(2 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:June 14th, 2007 11:18 pm (UTC)
That sounds so fascinating, I wanted to read both of those books. But though my library catalog lists both, I went there today and they're both missing. Bleh.
[User Picture]
Date:June 15th, 2007 01:07 am (UTC)
Although I come down in favor of The Nature of Photographs, I think they both have a lot to offer.

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