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Approaching Photography, Third Edition by Paul Hill

Obregon Obregon

Is from: Southold, US
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Obregon Moderator Donor Ribbon. Awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Donor Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Awarded for his in-depth knowledge and high level of skill in several areas.  Charter Member
Fri 30-Jul-21 11:44 AM
This book lies somewhere between the manuals that tell you how to set aperture and focus and compose photographs using lines and rules of thirds and the books of deep philosophical consideration of the "meaning of photography" like Susan Sontag's "On Photography" and Roland Barthes "Camera Lucida".

The author says the first part of this book is about how people see and think photographically and the second about current trends in photography. That leaves a lot of room for many subjects, and he paints the ideas with a broad brush. For example, he points out the ideas that when we take a photograph, we draw a frame around a portion of the world and call attention to it; that a photograph captures a moment in time; that unlike the physical world, our image is two dimensional; that the shape of a gallery space is important in the way pictures are hung there. These are all important ideas for both photographers and viewers of photographs. If a person interested in photography has never encountered these ideas, this book is useful as a first encounter.

However, after trotting these ideas out, Hill doesn't explore them in any great depth. For example, he mentions that photographs have both denotation and content, but does not grapple with the implication of these ideas. A photograph may be a picture of a car; that's clearly the denotation. However, the connotation may vary for different people. For one it may mean speed, another mobility, and still another childhood. Hill doesn't mention that to be effective, to convey the photographer's intent, photographer and viewer must share the denotation. He doesn't come anywhere near explaining how the photographer can shape the image to insure the denotation is shared.

It may be too much to ask for a single book of broad scope to dig so deeply. I have spent years examining these kinds of questions, and am still trying to fill in those details.

The book is illustrated with photographs by Hill and his associates. Often they left me perplexed as to what these photographs were about and how they illustrated the point. A picture is worth ten thousand words, but only if you can understand the words behind the pictures.

If you have not begun the journey of understanding photographs, this book will provide you with a simplified map of where to explore. On the other hand, those who are already deep into the trip are unlikely to find any new road signs.