Five Photography Books That Will Change the Way You See
by Nancy Hill
Thousands and thousands of books promising to make you a better photographer line the shelves of bookstores and fill page after page of Web sites. They are full of information about what cameras to buy, what lenses will give you incredible results, what filters you can’t live without, what flashes and lighting equipment will make you the best photographer the world has ever seen, and what photo papers will give you the perfect print.
Here’s the real secret, though: To take a good photograph, you need to know how to see. I’m not talking about knowing how to “look”; we all do that all the time. We look for our keys, we look at menus, we look at our watch.
Seeing is entirely different. It involves perceiving the world around you, and it takes far more than looking in a particular direction to do that.
Photographers who can see create more than pretty pictures, they create art. Whether they’re shooting a nude or a wedding, a dog or a baby, they truly “see” what it is they are capturing.
And so instead of listing photo books that promise to teach you tricks, techniques, and theory, I’m going to list books by photographers who have mastered the art of seeing. By mulling over their photographs, you, too, will begin to learn what it means to truly see. And for those of you who already know how to see, you will rejoice in finding kindred spirits when you “see” the images in these books.
Imogene Cunningham: Flora by Richard Lorenz
Shooting in black and white, Cunningham reaches deep into the essence of nature to show us the magnificence of flora. Through lines, curves, tones, and capturing mere fragments of flowers and plants, Cunningham reveals the inner soul of her subjects. Her images transport you to a world of sheer beauty. Absolutely mesmerizing.
William Wegman Puppies by William Wegman
You’ve no doubt seen Wegman’s photos of his Weimaraners dressed in various costumes. Cute, surely, but is he really seeing his dogs or using them to create something else? In William Wegman Puppies, the answer is quite clear: he is truly seeing these puppies. Photographing them from birth, he shows us puppies awakening to the world around them. He captures their playfulness, their hesitancy, their boldness, their complex spirit. You’ll never look at puppies the same way again.
Other Realities by Jerry Uelsmann
I confess. Uelsmann is one of my favorite photographers. I had the good fortune to hear him speak once, and he is as unassuming as he is articulate. His photographs are not only brilliant, but they also present an alternative reality that makes as much — or more — sense than the one we live in. Long before PhotoShop made it possible to blend images together, Uelsmann was creating single images in his darkroom by exposing a number of images — sometimes as many as a dozen — onto a single sheet of paper. While I certainly don’t advocate trying to imitate this master photographer, his way of viewing the world can certainly help expand your own vision.
Untitled Film Stills By Cindy Sherman
While self-portraits can be emotionally difficult to accomplish, seeing your true inner self is perhaps the first step in being able to see the world around you. Sherman has created a career of photographing herself to explore the roles of women. The photographs in this book are a collection of some of her earlier work in which she poses as various movie stars. All of her books are worth studying.
Recycled Reality by John Willis and Tom Young
In this book, photographers Willis and Young prove there is beauty in everything, even trash. They have photographed paper awaiting recycling in a paper mill in western Massachusetts. Using artists’ eyes, the have found the poetry, the rhythm, the art in what others have discarded. This book exemplifies what it means to see the extraordinary in everyday things.
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