I am fairly new at this whole photography thing, and so I've decided that I should attempt to learn a thing or two from people who seem to know what they are doing. Instagram is great, but one look at @insta_repeat tells you that maybe taking inspiration from a ton of people all trying to look like what they see on Instagram isn't the best way to find a voice of your own. To that end, I have been exploring photography books by some of the medium's great artists.
The first photography book that I bought was Stephen Shore's Uncommon Places: The Complete Works. I picked this up after shooting for several months on my brother's recommendation. Reading this book made me realize that it's OK to take pictures of the mundane and ordinary. Not every picture has to be a special effects extravaganza or contain the world's most interesting person(s). I can walk down the street and get a shot of somebody looking in a store window and it's possible (hopefully more likely as I develop as a photographer) that it could have artistic merit. You can find the book at the link above, or by clicking the cover below.
Next I bought The Americans by Robert Frank. This one came to my attention through a professional photographer that I have had the pleasure of hiring before, and has helped answer some of my questions as I began exploring photography again. The use of light in this book is amazing. Unlike the previous book, it is all black and white, with truly great composition. I can't quite put my finger on what it is about each of his photos that is so compelling, but Robert Frank was a master, and this is one that I will keep going back to again and again and learning more and more from it.
I also picked up American Photographs by Walker Evans at about the same time as the above,, after it came up a few times in a photography podcast that I have been following. This one is a little harder for me to see how it will help me improve right away. It is early documentary photography stuff, and that in and of itself is cool as a view into what it means to use a "documentary style". The first half takes a more human-element-focused approach, while the second half focuses more on the structures and environments in which people lived during the Depression. Both have their moments, but I find the first half more compelling overall.
Overall I think exploring photography through books has been and will continue to be beneficial. I feel like seeing these works helps me break through barriers of what I think a photographer "should" do. Instead I am trying to find what I want to do and can do. I am attempting to avoid restricting myself by what conventional wisdom or popular media might suggest is best, and instead focusing on just taking photos that I think look good. Photos of subjects that I find compelling. I read some solid advice on a blog somewhere (might have heard it on a podcast): take pictures that you would want to look at. That's what I am trying to do, and I think exploring these books is helping me to open my eyes to more possibilities of what that might be.
I have my eye on a few additional books, and actually ordered one recently, but it is being shipped from Denmark to the States, so I'm not sure when I should expect to see it. And Then There Was Silence by Jan Grarup is the one that I have ordered. It's a war photography book, so I expect it to be a hard read, but the sample images I have seen so far are breathtaking. I look forward to receiving it. I am also interested in picking up some of the greats: Alex Webb's The Suffering of Light, Fred Herzog's Modern Color, and Elliott Erwitt's Snaps are just a few that I have had my eye on recently. I look forward to expanding my horizons and learning a thing or two through these and, I'm sure, many more to come.
And that's it so far! What are your favorite photography books or photographers? Was there one that really opened your eyes to new ways of seeing the world? I would love to hear your thoughts and get some more ideas on inspiring books to check out!