One of my favorite ways of experiencing photography is to read about it, to intellectualize it as a way of countering all the feeling and intuition that’s required when I’m actually photographing. Here are some books I personally recommend, from my own book collection, that shed light on our favorite medium and art making in general:
Ways of Seeing, by John Berger
Ways of Seeing is a classic. Adapted from a television series broadcast by the BBC in 1972, Berger’s musings are simple, profound and instructive. It’s considered one of the most influential books on art. Berger wrote two other compilations of essays that are also worth your while: About Looking and Understanding a Photograph.
Beauty in Photography, by Robert Adams
Written by New Topographics photographer Robert Adams, this book of essays couldn’t strike the heart more directly. In it, Adams proclaims that the virtue of art is to give life meaning and “keep intact an affection” for it. Later, Adams wrote Why People Photograph, another book I devoured.
Core Curriculum, by Tod Papageorge
The Walker Evans Professor of Photography and Director of Graduate Study at Yale School of Art for many years, Papageorge is exceptionally eloquent in this collection of essays, reviews and lectures. Considered one of the most influential voices in photography today, Papageorge discusses the photographs of Brassaï, Winogrand, Atget, Cartier-Bresson and (speaking of Robert Adams) Adams with plain-spoken acumen.
Diane Arbus, A Chronology, by Elisabeth Sussman and Doon Arbus
If you’re at all interested in getting to know the real Diane (pronounced Dee-Ann) Arbus, minus all the subjective talk and judgement, read this book. The editors chronologically compiled letters she wrote to friends, family and colleagues, as well as in personal notebooks, and other unpublished writings. In between, the editors use italics to fill in the context for the various writings, so it reads quite seamlessly. A poetic autobiography, it’s an all-time favorite.
Autobiography, by Helmut Newton
This volume is written with seeming ease and candor, but by the end of this book, you’ll miss hearing his writing voice in your head. Newton had a long, prolific career, and his life story is as interesting and adventurous as you would imagine. Intense, at times surprising, and totally entertaining, it made me like this fashion icon’s groundbreaking work even more.