Why Photographs Work – A Review
52 Great Images : Who Made Them,
What Makes Them Special and Why
One of the most influential books about photographs has been Ansel Adams's 1983 Examples : The Making of 40 Photographs. Though now nearly 30 years old the book remains in print, and is likely found in most serious photographs book collections. I know its long been in mine.
One of the reasons for its success and longevity is that it isn't just a book of interesting photographs, but in addition provides an insight into the aesthetic and creative challenges presented in their making.
Among my generation I was not fortunate enough to have studied with the likes of Ansel Adams or Minor White. During the 1960's through 80's I was too busy traveling the world making a living as a photojournalist and working for TV networks and film productions. But we all are able to learn from great teachers, and for this reason a couple of generations of photographs have been fortunate to have books like The Making of 40 Photographs to learn from.
Now there is, in my opinion, a book that will similarly inspire a new generation of photographers. It is George Barr's Why Photographs Work.
The Student and The Teacher
I first met George Barr about eight years ago when he attended a master class that I was teaching in Ontario, Canada. The group was an experienced one, but when it came time for each attendee to show their portfolio it was clear that George was in a class by himself – literally.
Since then George has blossomed as a photographer, teacher and author in his own right. He has published two previous books, Take Your Photography to The Next Level, and From Camera to Computer. Take Your Photography to The Next Level was serialized here on The Luminous Landscape in 2007. Part One. Part Two. Part Three.
With Why Photographs Work George has, in my view, established himself as one of today's leading authors in the photographic genre.
Among the 52 photographers and their work profiled in Why Photographs Work are some of the big names of the current scene; Bruce Barnbaum, Dan Burkholder, Roman Loranc, John Sexton, Charlie Cramer, and Michael Kenna, to name just a few. But there are more than 40 others, some known, others not. Each is a stand-out though, and George is to be congratulated on the perspicacity of his selections.
Each photographer's work is presented by a single image, full page. This is then followed by an analysis of the image by George, an essay by the photographer commenting on their own work, philosophy, style, and equipment. That photographer's section concludes with a biography and a Technical section mentioning the equipment used.
While the presentation follows a formula it is by no means rigid. The style of each photographer is allowed to shine through, not just via their photography, but through their own words and George's analysis also some of what makes them the individuals that they are. Knowing what camera was used for a particular shot has its interest, but so much more is to be learned from knowing something of the photographer's background and passions.
If you buy one photographic book this year I urge you to make George Barr's Why Photographs Work that one. It's a book that will greatly reward your investment – not only monetary, but especially in the time to read and absorb each of the entries. I guarantee that it will make you a better photographer.