View Full Version : Book Club #1
OK, it does not look as though we have any more votes coming in. So the first book chosen for the RFF book club is "On Being A Photographer" by David Hurn and Bill Jay.
We will give ourselves two weeks to get and read the book. So discussions will begin on Wednesday, July 4th. Happy reading.
There appears to be a copy of the book for sale HERE (http://www.bookfinder.com/search/?ac=sl&st=sl&qi=6tPYdFmzvyRr8zclGjd3G7dhcYc_7965245166_1:48:105 ). Apparently Amazon is back ordered. If people need more than two weeks to get a hold of the book, we can always push back our start date by a week or so. I will be without internet access for about a week and a half. Let's see where things stand when I get back.
it's also for sale at the lenswork site for $13.00 plus $5 shipping...
How are people doing at getting their hands on a copy of "On Being A Photographer"? My copy still has not arrived in the mail. If a lot of you are in a similar situation, I am thinking that we may want to push back the start of our discussion by a week. What do you think?
Ordered from Lensworks, promptly delivered, suckered me into a subscription to their mag also. About half way through the book; it's a pretty quick read.
Got mine. As LJS said, it's a pretty quick read. However, I certainly understand postponing the discussion until enough folks have had a chance to get and read the book (else what's to discuss, right?).
Great book. I'm on my third read. Had it for over a year now. A great one to pick up, open anywhere and just start reading. An inspiration and helps to keep things in perspective along with a lot of reminders of what it's really all about (if you want to be good that is).
OK then, if nobody has any objections, let's push our start date back one week to Wednesday, July 11th. Hopefully, everyone who wants to participate in the book club will have the book by then.
My copy just showed up in the mail. So, including myself, we now have four peopled confirmed as ready to go.
Anyone else have the book or still waiting for it to arrive?
I have the book but just saw that discussion was to start today... I had better get reading!
Not to worry Gregg, we have pushed the start date back by one week so as to ensure that all those who want to participate have the time to get and read the book.
Hi, Just got the book and will start reading this weekend.
We will begin the book discussion tomorrow as planned. I will be out all day and won't be able to post until the evening. But others should go ahead and post if they feel so inclined. I look forward to reading all of your thoughts on "On Being a Photographer." Until tomorrow.
OK, let's get this discussion underway.
I enjoyed this book. This was my first time reading it. In fact, I was not aware of its existence until it was chosen here. Certainly, some of the book's sections (especially those on digital imaging) are a bit dated. However, on the whole, I found this book to be a very thought-provoking read. My initial reaction to many of the ideas was that they were somewhat obvious. But upon reflection on my own photography, I found that I do not always put these seeming "obvious ideas" into practice. So reading this book did cause me to engage in a great deal of critical reflection upon my own photography. And in that regard, I think it was very successful.
I have quite a few reactions to the book. I will save most of them until others have had a chance to make initial comments. For now, let me highlight two ideas that jumped out at me. Firstly, I was struck by the statement that "personal vision comes only from not aiming at it." It seems to me that all serious photographers strive to develop some sort of personal vision. I certainly do. And yet, Hurn's counterintuitive statement about developing a personal vision really resonates with me.
Secondly, I am very interested in the suggestion that those photographers who tend to photograph people also tend to be shy individuals. I certainly fit this pattern. I wonder how many of you do as well.
Ok, those are my initial reactions to this book. What did the rest of you think of it?
I found the book thought provoking. I have aways ejoyed shooting anything of interest to me, however after reading this book I found myself thinking about the photos I have taken that I really enjoyed capturing, whether they were prize winners or not. The idea of really finding your niche so to speak and expolring it. This might seem a common thought however when I peruze peoples photos on different sites I realize this idea of focusing on a type of photography can really enhance ones skills. Composition is a good example, if you pay carefull attention to elderly men, say, and photograph them often one must learn more about the subject and eventually produce a more meaningful shot.
I am also a shy person, and I do like to photograph people. It's almost as if you know how much you don't like your picture taken, yet want to inflict it on others! Sort of like: "Ewww, this smells horrible........here smell it"!
Great book and fascinating man, thanks. I am looking forward to the next book!
I was particularly struck by the notion that a photographer should practice his craft as any other performing artist must. The idea of having to shoot, without necessarily having a goal in mind, on a nearly daily basis had certainly never crossed my mind. Now I do take probably more than my share of random "pics" which just look like they might be good but are not thought out beforehand, but I don't think this is at all what was intended to be practicing. I look forward to trying the practicing idea out, but very importantly, thinking about and planning what I am trying to accomplish that day. I think the discipline will be an important part of the endeavor. Now, if I can only follow through, perhaps I too my someday become a decent photographer, as opposed to my current state which more closely approximates a hack.
Best to all, hope you are enjoying the book and the discussion as much as I am.
I use this book as a text for my college level Documentary Photography class. One of the things I really like about the book is the way Hurn draws a distinction between the professional shooter and the hobby shooter. Afterall, with virtually everbody owning a camera, what is it that separates a professional from the rest of the herd? The ability to take interesting pictures consistently. He is also right about trying to force a style upon yourself. Style can only be genuine (and it shows in your pictures) if it springs from someplace that is personal. To be calculating about style is what leads to cliche and junk. I also chuckle every time I read Hurn's swipe at Sebastio Salgado and his camera bags.
One of the things I really like about the book is the way Hurn draws a distinction between the professional shooter and the hobby shooter. Afterall, with virtually everbody owning a camera, what is it that separates a professional from the rest of the herd? The ability to take interesting pictures consistently.
This question has become particularly pertinent with the wide availability of high mp consumer dslrs. More and more these days, clients seem to be buying a dslr as opposed to hiring a pro. There seems to be a feeling that with an 8 or 10 megapixel camera, "someone in the office will certainly be able to take the needed photographs." And, in the end, buying a dslr will be cheaper than hiring a pro.
Personally, I doubt that this trend will last precisely because of the reasons given by Hurn.
Okay, I'm going to throw a different opinion in here. While I too found the book interesting and thought-provoking, and well worth the read, I personally thought some of Hurn's prescriptions were a bit didactic. Maybe it's more accurate to say that they only apply to a certain type of photographer. Specifically, his assertion that photographers should concentrate on a subject, learn everything about it, and keep shooting it. I think that applies to documentary photographers, people who want to do a project about a certain topic, but maybe not to every photographer. Yet he seemed, to me, to present this as the only way to be a photographer.
Am I the only one who thinks that's too limiting? Perhaps my reaction is a bit defensive. But I am not sure I agree in general with Hurn's contention that photography is about transmitting the photographer's truth about a particular subject. Sometimes photography can be enough if it makes or captures something beautiful or visually arresting. At least to me.
Of course, I'm not a professional, and it's not a job or an assignment for me, and that's what I like about it. I probably would feel differently if I wanted to earn my living as a photographer. I would say, of course, find a subject, learn about it and shoot that constantly. But as it is, I felt that, in this area, he didn't really draw a distinction between professional documentary photographers and all photographers. And there's a part of me saying, but not even every professional takes pictures that way.
P.S. -- Hurn's specific point of view didn't wreck the book or anything for me. I am going to try to incorporate some of his ideas, like daaris said. I thought the last chapter was particularly helpful. For me, the absolute best part was them saying, steal from other photographers, learn from the best. That felt very freeing, as opposed to prescriptive or limiting.
I don't think that Hurn really argues that photography transmits the "photographer's truth about a particular subject." On p. 28, He argues that "photography is only a tool, a vehicle for expressing or transmitting a passion in something else." I take his assertions about the need to learn about your subject simply to mean that you can't really have a passion for something about which you know very little.
Certainly, photographers can get lucky and take a powerful or beautiful photograph. But Hurn is making an argument about how to take such photographs consistently. And, it seems to me, that many of the great photographs that might appear as "lucky grabs" were actually the product of a deliberate process along the lines of that described by Hurn.
Take, for example, Eisenstaedt's famous photograph of the sailor kissing the nurse. I read an interview with Eisenstaedt in which he said that he noticed this sailor walking through the crowd kissing every woman he passed. Eisenstaedt noticed the nurse in the sailor's path and chose a position that would allow him to photograph the kiss that he knew was coming.
The photograph captures a feeling that many people were able to relate to. But Eisenstaedt didn't just get lucky. He knew to be in Times Square and had very good reason to believe that the sailor would kiss that particular nurse long before they met in the crowd.
All that said, I can see how Hurn's argument is geared primarily at reportage photographers. And I agree with you that photography can be simply about capturing something beatiful or visually arresting. Personally, I am drawn to the reportage style of photography. So, Hurn's argument really resonated with me. Reflecting upon my own experience, I would say that the vast majority of the good photographs I have taken in my life have been of subjects about which I knew a great deal and for which I did have a passion of some kind.
Excellent, thanks for responding. Yes, I agree with you (and Hurn) that what appears to be lucky is certainly more than that -- your example of the sailor photo, or his own example of a photo of his with people on the beach. That it takes pre-visualization and moving into the right position, and all.
But I think he also argues that knowledge of the subject is key -- not technical knowlege of how to make a picture or how to position yourself to get a good photo, but knowledge of, or passion for, the subject itself. (I didn't read it as carefully as you, clearly, and I hope you forgive me if I am putting things in my own words.)
I also think that the very picture you bring up is a counter-example to that knowledge-of-the-subject argument. It's a successful picture because it conveys the observed emotion and presents the moment attractively -- much like HCB's man jumping over the puddle. It beautifully conveys its subject, and through hard work and pre-planning and deliberate judgments by the photographer, as you say, it is visually lovely. But I don't think it has much to do with knowing your subject, or in your more correct words having a passion for your subject. What is its subject? People? People kissing, people celebrating the end of the war? That's not a subject I could decide to do an essay about and learn about as Hurn suggests. It's more a news photo, and a masterful one, and to me it doesn't fit in with his prescription that great photographers immerse themselves in a subject, etc.
My HCB example is another counter-example, at least to me. Yes, HCB did do photo essays on assignment (like the Russia series that so inspired Hurn), but I think his reputation for greatness turns more on something else. On his ability to produce single photos of simplicity, clarity and "geometry," as he would put it. That doesn't mean I think he just got lucky. It just means, to me, that there is more than one way to be a photographer, and I think Hurn, while arguing persuasively for his method of being a documentary photographer, frustrated me because he came across as sort of didactic. To me.
I might be totally wrong, and that's why it's fun to discuss it with others who read the book. In fact, judging by the comments, everyone else loved it and totally agreed with everything it said. :) So I'm not even sure I should listen to my opinion myself. :) I do know that reading what other people thought helps me to better understand the book and what it's trying to say.
What I will take from that part of the book, personally, was that I should be more organized about what I shoot. While not agreeing with him totally, I think that was very valid and helpful. I'm not going to self-assign myself a project or subject, and am certainly not going to do a lot of research, but I think if I narrow down what I am interested in photographing, that will help me. For I have only small, unpredictable bits of free time, and it would be better to already know what I want to photograph rather than, as he said, wandering around with a camera with no idea in mind.
Ins, one of the things I like about the book is that Hurn only speaks to what he knows. His photographs are very much in the vein of documentary and reportage, so that is what he knows, what he realtes to, and what he talks about. That is why I use the book in my Documentary Photography class. I agree that a fine photograph can siimply be "an arresting image," a la Pete Turner, but that is not where Hurn excels. I would be very disappointed if he simply pontificated about work that had no relationship to his own experience.
I think part of the book's power (and I do think it is a very powerful book that has to be read two or three times to really appreciate) is its honesty and intelligence.
But I think he also argues that knowledge of the subject is key -- not technical knowlege of how to make a picture or how to position yourself to get a good photo, but knowledge of, or passion for, the subject itself.
I agree that this is his emphasis. But I understand him to be arguing that your knowledge of the subject is what informs your decisions about how to make your picture of it.
Hurn isn't entirely clear about just how much study of one's subject he is advocating. And I think we have to be careful not to overstate it. I don't read him as arguing that one needs a a PhD in a certain subject in order to photograph it. I simply take him to be arguing that if you want to photograph people, you need to be a student of human interaction and human emotion. You need to observe and study.
Although HCB certainly emphasised the importance of geometry in his photography, I still think that his photographs are about the human interactions and human emotions that he captured. The geometry arises from HCB's choices about how to arrange his subject matter in the frame. But I don't consider his photographs to be entirely about geometry. In fact, to my mind, HCB's talk of a decisive moment does seem congruent with Hurn's method. How would you know the decisive moment unless you knew your subject well?
But I do take your point that there are different ways of being a photographer. And I agree with both you and John that Hurn is emphasising his own apprach. I don't think that this is the only way to be a photographer. But I do think that Hurn's method applies quite broadly.
Well, I guess I'm just being too literal. I appreciate your points. I interpreted Hurn's advice as more specific: pick a subject that interests you (for example, Wales), refine it (Wales changing from a manufacturing to a knowledge-based economy), learn about it and take photos to illustrate it. I think that is a good thing to do, and essential for documentary photographers who want to do a major project or essay. I just think there are other ways to be a photographer that he didn't acknowledge. But he wrote what he knows.
For me, I think my objections wouldn't have arisen if they had titled the book "On being a documentary photographer."
Anyway, it was an interesting book to read, I thought. Anything else to discuss besides my petty points? You said you had some other thoughts.
I don't think your points are petty at all!!!
What do you make of the suggestion that really good photographers are the ones who are never sure they "got the shot." I was really struck by this suggestion. In fact, I always assumed the opposite, that the really good photographers were the ones who could walk into a situation and know that they got the shot.
That's a comforting point for me. It's nice that everyone has doubts after they click the shutter, isn't it? As I remember, he was referring to the need to work the image, to keep trying to perfect it by trying different angles and such. But the doubt about the final image is one of the fun things about traditional photography for me -- the surprise factor when you develop your film and look at the contacts. (It's probably not that different with digital really, but I wouldn't know.)
He really emphasizes the work in photography, doesn't he? Work to get the right angle and framing, work on the contact sheet and the print, and then really live with the images to see if they are good enough.
That's interesting. When I worked as a writer, I saw it as work, not fun. I wouldn't have felt I had anything in common with people who wrote as a hobby or a creative outlet, come to think of it. I never read my work after it was published, either. I had moved on to the next piece. And I would have been too critical, and probably would have seen only the ways it could have been better.
Any interest still out there in continuing this book club? I enjoyed the first go round and would like to see it continued.
I'm interested. And sorry I wasn't able to contribute to the discussion on the first book but it got delayed into a period of time that I was traveling.
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