In retirement, my avocation is landscape photography, particularly of the unmatched North Coast of California. As I’ve sought to transform myself from a high tech R&D leader to a photographer, I have accumulated about 200 volumes of monographs, collected works, histories, biographies and instructional works. Pascal’s call in DearSusan #995 for an index to influential work provided motivation to sift through my archive and select those works that have been most influential on my understanding of photography.
As I sought to move beyond the well exposed, in-focus snapshot, I found the writing of George Barr to be helpful. When he wrote, he was a practicing medical doctor in Calgary, AB, and an accomplished amateur photographer. Barr published three books with Rocky Nook circa 2010. The two I found most helpful are:
The British landscape photographer David Ward opened my eyes to a more thoughtful and expressive approach to photography in the landscape. His writing introduced me to the notion of the “intimate landscape.”
David Ward, Landscape Beyond, Argentum, 2008
I have never forgotten my reaction on first seeing original Ansel Adams prints at the Friends of Photography gallery in San Francisco in the early 1990s. I had never seen such brilliant prints and never prints with both the deepest blacks and whitest whites. The world of photography books overflows with Ansel’s work. If one were to select two volumes to study and own, I would recommend:
I am far too much an introvert to photograph people, at least not strangers. Dorothea is best known for the work she did for the Farm Security Administration (and its successors) during the Depression and War years. Another FSA photographer, Walker Evans, received more contemporaneous recognition for his FSA-work than did Dorothea. In my opinion, Evans’ images show us what the United States looked like during the Great Depression. Lange showed us what the Depression felt like. It is an enormous skill to impart the level of feeling that Lange’s work conveys. Oh, that I could aspire to even a fraction of her skill. I’ve learned a lot from:
I admire Weston’s life-long devotion to the art of photography. Weston was a pioneer. A half-generation, or more, older than the other “Group f.64” photographers, Weston had a leading role in developing straight photography. Edward worked with the most basic of tools: a single 8×10 view camera with a three-way convertible lens. (His portrait work was done with a hand-held Graflex 4×5 camera.) In the dark room, he used an ordinary incandescent light bulb to expose his contact prints. Yet, so many of his images are imprinted on the history of photography. I am unaware of any monographs published in his lifetime. A good survey monograph of his work is:
Beaumont Newhall, Supreme Instants: The Photography of Edward Weston, NY Graphic Society, 1986.
To understand how he devoted his life to his art, consider:
Nancy Newhall, editor, The Day Books of Edward Weston, Volume I: Mexico, Aperture, 1973.
Nancy Newhall, editor, The Day Books of Edward Weston, Volume II: California, Aperture, 1973.
Charis Wilson & Wendy Madar, Through Another Lens: My Years with Edward Weston, North Point Press, 1998. (Wilson was his partner and wife from the mid-1930s through much of World War II.)
While a pioneer, Edward learned much working alongside Tina Modotti. Study the images and watch the dates carefully in:
Sarah Lowe, Tina Modotti & Edward Weston: The Mexico Years, Merrell, 2004.
Edward’s second son followed his father’s footsteps. Brett’s work stands on the shoulders of the pioneering work of Edward and gains from improved gear and materials available in his lifetime. I think Brett’s images are in many ways stronger. His career retrospective monograph is page after page of wonderful images.
Brett Weston, Master Photographer, Photography West Graphics, 1989
The 1970s brought the exhibition New Topographics: Man-Altered Landscape at the George Eastman House in Rochester. The show featured the work of ten then young photographers who were choosing to capture landscape as it is used and abused by man rather than the idyllic views of Ansel Adams. One of those photographers has strongly influenced my thinking about photography: Robert Adams. A university English professor turned photographer, Adams has written extensively about his philosophy of photography. Two monographs I highly recommend are:
Adams’ images demand close attention. Carefully composed, many impart a sense of mystery that is part of his message but may be missed by the casual viewer. Few of his individual images are “greatest hits” images destined for the wall over the sofa. The strength of Adams’ work is the juxtaposition of a series of images that tell a convincing story. Steidl has republished some of Adams’ work that originally appeared in monographs in the 1970s and 1980s. With advances in printing, these newer reproductions are almost certainly better than the original printings.
Christopher has spent a lifetime seeking to capture the beauty of a world filled with light and peace and to convey that sense of wonderful light in large format Cibachrome prints. Some have called Christopher the Ansel Adams of color printing. I know that when I first saw his prints, I reacted with the same awe I felt when I first viewed Ansel Adams’ original prints. With his wife and large format (8” x 10”) cameras, he travels the U.S. for a few weeks a year, chasing the images that will best convey that sense of peace and light. Most of his year is spent in the Portland, OR, area printing. While Cibachrome was discontinued in 2012, Burkett bought a large supply of paper and chemicals which he stores in a commercial freezer, hopefully to last while he is able to continue printing.
Christopher has published two monographs. Both do justice to his Cibachrome prints. If selecting just one, I would pick:
Christopher Burkett, Intimations of Paradise, West Wind Arts, 1999.
Several contemporary British landscape photographers convinced me that the “in-your-face grand vistas of the American West” are not a requirement for fine landscape images. Among those photographers, I most admire the work of Joe Cornish. Almost uniformly, his images convey a sense of peaceful quietness that I hope to convey in my landscapes.
Joe has authored or co-authored several fine books on landscape photography. Many are intended to grow the photographer’s skills in the craft of photography. A more recent monograph is a thirty-year retrospective of Joe’s fine work.
Joe Cornish & Roly Smith, This Land, Frances Lincoln Ltd, 2016
Michael is a master at simplifying a composition and further removing distracting elements through long-duration exposures. No longer accepting commercial commissions, Michael travels the world with his cameras, seeking quiet, elegant, frequently texture-rich landscapes. Some photographers seek to emulate Michael’s work by strapping 10-stop and 14-stop neutral density filters over their lenses. Such derivative attempts frequently miss the point of first simplifying the composition. Kenna seems to continue publishing at least once per year; there a many Kenna monographs available. If you were to select just two, I recommend his two published retrospectives:
Mann is a world-class photographer who has built a career away from the great metropolises that many believe the epicenters of all that is interesting in photography. With degrees in creative writing, Mann is a largely self-taught photographer. Her first work, documenting the life of her three young children at home in rural Virginia, conveyed a strong sense of what it is like to be a child growing into adolescence. She turned to photographing the southern landscapes as only a daughter of the American South could do. Her more recent work explores the legacy of slavery that continues to weigh on the American experience.
I recommend two volumes:
Sally Mann, Hold Still, Little Brown, 2015. This is her autobiography. Read this first and you will have a stronger appreciation for her images.
Sarah Greenough & Sarah Kennel, editors, A Thousand Crossings, Abrams Books, 2018. This monograph was released in conjunction with the recently concluded (near-career retrospective) exhibition of Mann’s work that opened at the National Gallery of Art and travelled to several cities in the U.S. and France.
Who? That’s the point. Kent was a career pilot for one of the charter airlines. His avocation was street and travel photography. Kent traveled the world. His crew rest days in foreign cities provided the opportunity to find and capture wonderful images of the people of the world.
Kent Reno, Ground Time, Custom & Limited Editions, 1999.
It is too easy to simply feed the a*.com monster when searching for books. We should all fear the day the monster has become the sole source for books. For those books still in print, I recommend you try to buy directly from a local independent bookseller, the publisher, or the author if possible. For those books that have gone out of print, I have found www.alibris.com to be a consistently useful aggregator of new and used books available from independent booksellers. For those in the UK, consider www.alibris.co.uk.
The Sea Ranch, California
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