Look at Good Work and Read About Good Work
As some of you may know I am a photography and design teacher by day. I had a professor in college that said, “If you are not looking at good work, you are not making good work.” Photography books are a plenty, but there are a few that have truly impacted me and are worth your time.
To this day, I try to embody this mentality within my own practice and that of my students. We start every class with our Artist of the Day looking at photographers from the very start of the invention that captured light.
I often come across individuals who are so consumed with being their “own” person and not looking at other artist’s work. Or God Forbid the Instagram game of follow and unfollow without considering the album of work. (Someone explain to me why people play the follow unfollow game! Ugh!)
I digress, the point being as an artist, creator or photographer I strongly believe you should be looking to improve your practice. The best way to do this is to look at others work and hear what they have to say about it.
5 Must Reads
As a photographer, there have been a few books that have changed the most powerful tool I possess; my perspective.
The following books do have affiliate links beneath. This means that if you purchase the book a small kick back gets sent my way.
Photographs Not Taken by Will Steacy
This book is thin and approachable, yet seems like the opposite of what a photographer might be interested as it will greet you with a blank cover. The is full of one page stories, no more than 3 paragraphs, that tell a tale we are familiar with: the “missed” shot.
Photographs Not Taken asks famous and not so famous photographers to visually describe the photograph that will only forever hang in their memories. It was a lesson on the language used to re-create a visual story and the ethics that you confront when choosing or in this case not choosing to take a photograph.
Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon
A short and easy read that parody’s the many discoveries of an artist. This book covers the 10 major things that no one is willing to tell you as a creative and can apply to many fields. Written in a chicken scratch font and square layout filled with doodles it is both enjoyable and rich in content.
Ideas such as originality, what make YOU an artist, the process of creating and even genealogy are looked at from an autobiographical standpoint and a fair amount of humor.
Beauty in Photography by Robert Adams
A book that is deceivingly small, yet due to the conceptual nature of its conversations asks you to spend extra time reading and re reading. Beauty in Photography is one of Robert Adams many books that examines the myths and dare I say biases held in photography.
This particular read is a series of essays that discuss the traditions of photography. Since it is a criticism, I found myself questioning my belief in what beauty is and can be in a the photograph and at the same time questioning his own thoughts on what is means to be a photographer. We certainly did not agree at all times.
Image Makers, Image Takers by Anne Celine- Jaeger
A book that is formatted like a college textbook except for one thing, it is stuffed with images from photographers around the world. This book compiles as series of interviews with artists asking the questions we all want to know the answers too.
In addition to this, it directly confronts success in photography as an industry rather than an art form. As someone who tends to veer away from this sort of conversation towards the arts, I appreciated the poignant questions about the root and reasons for the photographers work they create.
Between Places by Uta Barth
A book designed by the artist herself and carefully curated to break the form of a photo in the middle of page…in fact her entire body of work is meant to break form with traditional rules in photography. Her abstract and blurred images hold a special place in my heart as this is still an area of my work I develop.
While primarily a photo book, this contains two essays that discuss out perception and discovery of it. A prolific artist that broke the boundaries and was not afraid to explore blurred images inspires me to this day.
Grow and Appreciate It
At the start of this post, I mentioned how essential it is to look at others work. Photography books are the perfect tool for this. However, I think it is worth mentioning that looking, considering and growing are different that comparing. Comparing can be a negative cycle and should not be what art is about.
I have found that it is very easy to get pulled into this cycle depending on my current state of mind and I just encourage you to be open to new ideas and adopt the mantra “Their success is my success.”
What are your all time favorite must reads as an artist, creator or photographer? Let me know in the comments below.