Book Reviews and Comments

Street Photography for the Purist

By Chris Weeks

Chris Weeks writes and interesting commentary on street photography but in a language that leaves much to be desired.  He spends rather too much time on his preference for a particular camera that does not add much to the book.  His photographs provide an interesting commentary on the places he has visited.  He remains adamant that for this genre the only medium is B&W.  There is certainly merit in this as his photographs do exhibit a good atmosphere.  However, this is probably a short-sited view as there will be times when colour enhances the picture.

He says, ‘I want to experience a world different than my own.  Perhaps someone else’s emotions at the time they were feeling them’.  This is an interesting perspective as one can hardy experience another’s emotions – maybe one can reflect them in a photograph.

Going Candid and Collecting Souls

By Thomas Leuthard

These two books also available as pdf’s off the internet are in my opinion written far better than Street Photography for the Purist.  Leuthard makes a number of somewhat standard comments.

‘Most important is that a photo tells a story’

‘It’s all about your eye … You have to see things before you can capture them’.

However, he also provides some practical advice on how a person can start in this genre without having to be intimidated by having to take photographs of people that they may object to.  He discusses light and how to position yourself in order to give yourself the best opportunity to capture a good photograph.

In his second book he progresses his ideas of Street Photography.  Interestingly he advocates writing down ideas as soon as you have them so as not to lose them.  Looking around for suitable photographs is an active process not a passive one.  This links with the idea of ‘making’ a picture.

In many of his photographs he manages to capture the person looking towards the camera.  This results in a degree of intensity in the photographs.  In many one is left wondering ‘who is this, where are they, and what are they thinking?  Overall I enjoyed looking at his pictures and reading his books.

What does this mean to me and what do I take away from it?  There are two main things.  I enjoy looking at photographs of people – they are always interesting.  However, this type of candid photography is what I find very difficult and if I want to do more will have to overcome the ‘fear; and concern about what the person may say or more worryingly, do.  In cities that have thousands of tourists this is maybe not such a big concern but in the smaller cities and towns in South Africa it is a tangible worry.

The Photograph

By Graham Clarke

Having read the book from cover to cover and made some 20 pages of my own notes I reflect back on this book and wonder what I have learnt.

Firstly, it has introduced me to the idea of ‘reading a photograph’ rather than simply looking at the image.  However, learning how to do this is like going back to Class 1 and starting to learn to read all over again.  There is no doubt that I am only in the first stages of this and have a long way to go.

Secondly, I have read about many notable photographers since the advent of the photograph and seen how they have composed their images.  This has given me an insight into the development of the photograph from a technical perspective and also into the development of the image itself.  Technical developments have influenced the nature of the image too.

Thirdly, the influence of painting on photography and how the photograph as slowly deviated from this influence but still bears traces of it.

The book covers a number of different genres and their development over time.  The changes in landscape photography were particularly notable to me, maybe because they are more easily understood (by me at least).  The body, portraits and fine art photographs were also informative.

I am left with two questions:

  1. How have photographs developed since 1997 when the book was written, and
  2. Are we sure that the interpretation that we give to a photograph is what the photographer intended?  Sometimes it strikes me that too much is read into a photograph.

Of course in relation to the second question possibly it doesn’t matter.  If what one person reads into a photograph is different to another this would lead to debate, which should be beneficial.  The first question is more problematical in that there has been so much development in the past 14 years in camera technology and in digital processing.  Also, the exponential increase in the number of photographs taken.