Saturday, October 21, 2006

Five books that bring photography into focus

Richard Woodward, an arts critic, journalist and filmmaker, came up with a "five best" list of books "that bring photography into focus."

Two of his picks:

Looking at Photographs by John Szarkowski

Our best writer on photography and one of the nation's finest critics on any subject, John Szarkowski directed the photography department at the Museum of Modern Art in New York for 29 years. Read any of his dozens of essays elucidating the work of other photographers (he is a good one himself) and you will be rewarded. Free of academic jargon and avant-garde attitude, his artistic judgments reflect the character of the man, a stubborn American who prefers to figure things out on his own. His book "The Photographer's Eye" (1966) is better known, but this series of extended notations on 100 photographs from MoMA's collection is a distillation of his gifts for witty concision, plenitude of spirit and tact.

River of Shadows by Rebecca Solnit

The conquest of the American West in the 19th century and the growth of northern California as a 20th-century hub of technological creativity can both be traced back, says Rebecca Solnit, to the invention in the 1870s of a super-fast camera shutter and film by the English photographer Eadweard Muybridge. Her tour de force of imaginative scholarship connects railroads, telegraphy, American foreign policy, the multinational corporation and sublime Western landscapes with Muybridge's invention. "Time was at his command as it had never been at anyone's before," she writes. "A new world had opened up for science, for art, for entertainment, for consciousness, and an old world had retreated farther." Muybridge fired the starting gun that announced modernity.

Click here to read about the other three titles.

Click here to read about Dominic Smith's debut novel, The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre, which reinvents the life of one of photography's founding fathers.

--Marshal Zeringue