Every photographer, from weekend enthusiast to professional, can learn by studying the “greats.” In Why Photographs Work, author/photographer George Barr analyzes 52 striking images by some of the world’s top photographers. Accompanying Barr’s analysis of each image is an explanation by the photographer describing the circumstances of making the image, including not only the how, but also the why. Also included is each photographer’s biography, a reference to his or her websites and publications, and brief technical descriptions of the equipment used in making each image.
With guidance from Barr, we learn to decipher that certain intangible “something” that makes an image go beyond the ordinary. As we gain an understanding of and appreciation for the elements that make an image truly great, we are bound to improve our own images as well.
Included are images by:
Charles Cramer, Bruce Barnbaum, Harald Mante, Dan Burkholder, Nick Brandt, Hans Strand, Roman Loranc, Huntington Witherill, Susan Burnstine, Ryuijie, Beth Moon, Phil Borges, Shaun O’Boyle, David Ward, Michael Levin, Michael Reichmann, Michael Kenna, Cole Thompson, George Jerkovich, Bengt Ekelberg, Sandra Davis, Brian Kosoff, Joe Lipka, Gordon Lewis, Lawrence Chrismas, Craig Richards, and many more.
10 x 10in
Gloria August 31, 2018
It’s a good sign that the first photographer Barr discusses is Bruce Barnbaum, one of my favorite authors of photography books. Barnbaum’s image is the photo taken in Antelope Canyon and the play of light and dark is just marvelous. For each photographer that Barr covers, he talks about the photographe’s perspective when s/he took the photograph and what her or his philosophy is, the photographer’s biography (in most cases a brief autobiography) and the technical aspects of the photograph. Beginning of each section is the author’s analysis of why the picture works.
I get a lot from comparing the autho’s analysis of the photo against the photographe’s analysis. Interesting to see what the photographer intended and what the author saw in the photo. Also, I love when the technical information is given so I can absorb that as well.
I find it especially interesting to read why the various photographers chose photography as a career. So many of them started out in unrelated professions: for example, mathematicians, orthodontist, etc.
So many of the photos are worth the price of admission themselves. I especially like one of an elephant drinking-not that I haven’t seen hundreds of pictures of elephants, but this one is striking in its composition and tones. So aside from reading fascinating text, you get to look at outstanding photography.
Toward the end of the book is an astounding photograph of the doorways of an abandoned mental asylum. The author points out that the composition alone is responsible for much of the photograph’s beauty. He also noted that fact out to the photographer, which helped the photographer turn the corner to a more successful career :-). His point with this photograph is that most photographers have a few that stand out and that generally everyone agrees on those photos. In other words, it’s not just personal taste, but some photographs are just inherently more beautiful than others.
One of the last images in the book is a portrait of an older woman that is cropped in an unusual but compelling way. Again, it is such a joy to read what the photographer intended when he made such a photograph. In this case, with the face with narrowly cropped so that basically only the eyes, nose, and mouth showed, the photographer was attempting to highlight the ever-present warm expression in the subjects eyes. Even more impressive, the photographer met Ansel Adams at a workshop in the 1970s!
This is a book I will keep in my library to refer to in the future. There is much to learn from it.
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