Thursday, May 03, 2007

Elementary....But Maybe Not

About a month ago I received a copy of Stephen Shore's book, The Nature of Photographs. It is 133 pages. Text is limited and usually in the upper left hand corner of the page on the left. There are a variety of images, a few well known but most unknown and some by relatively unknown photographers.

It didn't take long to read through the book. Mmmmmm....I thought. This is a pretty simple book. No long words, no complicated sentences. No scholarly commentary or critiques. I more or less knew what he had written about even if I hadn't gathered all those thoughts together in one place. So in a sense, I dismissed the book and put it on my bookshelf. But I've gone back to get the book any number of times since then to help me put into words what I'm trying to say about an image.

On the inside book cover, ....this book serves as an indispensable tool for students, teachers and everyone who wants to take better pictures or learn to look at them in a more informed way. And Shore writes in the book, All photographic prints have qualities in common. These qualities determine how the world in front of the camera is transformed into a photograph; they also form the visual grammar that elucidates the photograph's meaning.

Yesterday I used a quote from the book in the post about the picture of my Father. But that same quote I had also thought of using in conjunction with the video interview with Sally Mann in another entry. For some reason I'm not able to go back and see that video again so I'm paraphrasing what she said. But Shore wrote that a photograph had a life of it's own in the world. Sally was asked about comments and critiques of her work Immediate Family that were critical and saw the images in a dark way. Sally answered that it was not what she thought or what was happening when the images were made but she had no control over what people thought or wrote about them after she put the images out in the world. The images took on a life of their own. She could no longer explain them, justify them, they had to stand on their own. I loved the metaphor she used of having no control over little boats that were set out on the sea.

So while my initial reaction was that the book was simple or elementary, I think I will be pulling it out of the book shelf often to help me organize and analyze my own work and to write about images.

Update: Just tried the video link again this morning and it was working.

1 comment:

pitchertaker said...

I know I've quoted the book at least twice in class already. Guess that makes me one of those "teachers" trying to get "students" to look at pictures in a more informed way. Like you, I was surprised to find so little text, however, with a thought planted, the pictures are allowed to speak.