the book heart: no. 10 (non-fiction photo texts)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

In order to commemorate the 10th installment of The Book Heart, I give you: non-fiction books! What!? I do read them, from time to time. These ones in particular are photography related–go figure. (That's pretty much the only nonfiction subject I consistently read about. That and the Titanic, for obvious reasons.)

All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person's (or thing's) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and greeting it, all photographs testify to time's relentless melt. 

Of course we've got the classic On Photography by Susan Sontag. I mean, just read that again: time's relentless melt. Holy crap. This one's got a lot of good nuggets buried in it. At times you're kind of digging to get them, or maybe that's just me. (You can probably tell from the past 9 posts, I'm kind of a novel person.) It's a good one. And once you get into it, it builds up a good Sontag rhythm. 

A photograph can be viewed on several levels. To being with, it is a physical object, a print. On this print is an image, an illusion of a window on to the world. It is on this level that we usually read a picture and discover its content: a souvenir of an exotic land, the face of a lover, a wet rock, a landscape at night. Embedded in this level is mother that contains signals to our mind's perceptual apparatus. It gives 'spin' to what the image depicts and how it is organized. 

Then there's The Nature of Photographs by Stephan Shore. A book that must be owned as an object, to be flipped through. It's a good one to give to someone who wants to learn about photography. Not in the technical sense, but in the understanding of how a photograph works at its most basic level. It's full of plain straightforward language that reads, to me, tenderly. It's also a good reference for loads of relevant images. 

Sometimes, photographs live in our hearts as unborn ghosts and we survive not because their shadows find a permanence there, but because that thing that is larger than us, larger than the things we can point to, remember, and claim, escorts us from dark into light, we emerge from the flames with no one in our arms, and we never unpack the camera. (Laurel Nakadate) 

The wonderful Photographs Not Taken, is a collection of essays from various photographers, which I'm endlessly fond of. The stories range but the prompt is the same: a moment that went unphotographed. I love this book because it speaks to much about the ties between photography and memory. The things we remember more clearly without images. The moments that are impossible to capture. (Or the opposite.) Plus it's full of funny, haunting, interesting stories. (I wish I could type out the entirety of the one above.) Out of all four of these books, this is the one that everyone (you, anonymous reader!) should read. You don't need to be a photographer, I promise. can serve as a mirror, in this case a hint of the future. What the camera captures, then and now, is an extraordinary moment–rare and never to be repeated. In fact, history hovers over these beaches as a coiled spring, ready to transform a serene stretch of beach into a crucible of battle. (Von Hardesty, from the essay Photography Changes How Wars Are Fought)

The newest in my collection of non-fiction photography books is Photography Changes Everything, edited by Marvin Heiferman. It's a collection of essays by various people in various fields, with each one centering on how photography has affected their respective fields. Some of them are directly related to the reasons I'm drawn to photography–Photography Changes how Memory Functions in Daily Life, by Jeff Sandoz. Some explore photography in ways that I haven't given much thought to–Photography Changes Our Knowledge of Species, by Jeffrey T. Williams; or Photography Changes the Foods We Crave, by Lauren Shakely. 

I've barely scratched the surface of this book, I have yet to read all the essays. The wonderful thing about them is that they're short (around 2 pages each) and direct. This book is so relevant right now, in a time when photography is everywhere and functions in such different ways. It steps back from the question of what makes a photograph good, and instead asks: How does a photograph work? And the answer is so varied. And so so interesting. 

1 comment :

  1. I've had my eye on that susan sontag book for quite some time! I'll definitely give it another look now!


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