Mike's Ten Books
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Tue, 21 Apr 98 11:27:30 -0700
Subject: Mike's Ten Books
Forwarded-by: Nev Dull <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Forwarded-by: Jeff Moore <email@example.com>
[N.B. this guy is one of the most thoughtful and literate posters to
this mailing list -- he also happens to be the editor of _PHOTO
Techniques_ magazine. He made the mistake of dropping the following
> There is only a small historical/philosophical/critical tradition
> where photography is concerned, but the best of it is rich. I
> could recommend ten books that could keep anyone occupied for
> ten years.
...and we badgered him until he actually coughed up a list. -jbm]
From: Mike Johnston
Subject: [Leica] Mike's Ten Books
Mike's Ten Books to keep ya thinkin'
(Note: a few of these books you won't be able to buy. Sorry!)
1. Stephen Shore, _The Nature of Photographs_ (just out from Johns Hopkins
2. John Szarkowski, _Looking At Photographs_. The best book ever written
about photographs IMHO and the book to have if you only have one book.
3. David Vestal, _The Craft of Photography_.
4. Eugene Herrigel, _Zen and the Art of Archery_. The book famously cited
by Cartier-Bresson as an explanation of his shooting technique. It makes
for a field of endless fascination if you are willing to mentally conflate
"shooting" a bow-and-arrow and "shooting" photographs as you read, as
Cartier-Bresson intends you to.
5. Roland Barthes, _Camera Lucida_. Don't count on understanding this the
first time through. Barthes rewards re-reading.
6. Karin Becker Orne, _Dorothea Lange and the Documentary Tradition_. A good
book about photography's most important function. (Michael Lesy's _Wisconsin
Death Trip_ might be substituted by the stout of heart.)
7. _The Chinese Scholar's Studio: Artistic Life in the Late Ming Period_
(Thames and Hudson). A museum catalog that explores the values and practice
of the Chinese _literati_.
8. John Szarkowski, _William Eggleston's Guide_. The best book of color
photography yet published, by a considerable margin in my judgement. An
excellent although not perhaps indispensable essay is as enjoyble as the
pictures. This is to the 1960s as Walker Evans's _American Photographs_ is
to the 1930s.
9. David Pye, _The Nature and Art of Workmanship_. Another book, like
Vestal's, about craft.
10. Ray McSavaney, _Explorations_. McSavaney would be my choice as the
greatest large-format photographer now living. He's an even better
photographic craftsman than Ansel Adams was. The texts are wooden and not
very valuable, but the pictures are amazing.
There are only two monographs on the above list, but I thought I'd include
the following anyway.
How to "read" a photographic monograph:
get yourself an egg timer--3 minutes to five minutes will do. Sit in a
comfortable chair next to a good light with a book of pictures. Start at
the beginning. Read what there is to read. When you come to a picture, start
he timer. Keep your eyes on the opened spread for as long as the timer runs.
Turn the page, reset the timer.
Most people think they can "get" photographs by glancing at them. Everything
about our society's superficial use and understanding of photographs and
indeed all visual media encourages this misconception. However, it isn't
Don't restrict yourself to books of photographs you think you "like." In
fact, this often works better, and is more enjoyable, with books of pictures
you think you _don't_ like.
Let you mind wander if you wish as you look at the pictures. You don't have
to think about anything in particular. Just keep looking. As soon as you
get tired or find the exercise tiresome, stop. Mark your place and come back
to the book the next night.
A few months to a year later, re-"read" the same book the same way.
If you'll follow this simple mechanical excercise with a few great
monographs of photographs, I can almost promise you that you're in for an
enlightening and enjoyable experience.
© 1998 Peter Langston