There are all too few people in this day and age who can write and critique, intelligently and sensibly, about photographs and the art of photography. It seems to be a dying art in itself. Sure, we have hundreds, thousands, of magazine and Internet articles hardware, techniques, locations, HDR and camera phones, but those are about specifics. Photography 101 stuff. Great for beginners or hobbyist whose camera bag gets opened only a few times a year, but nothing for the thinking photographer, the artist. It didn’t used to be that way. In past years some of the most talented and respected photographers and photographic curators regularly waxed poetically not on gear or gimmicks or academic double-speak, but on art. Depth. Substance.
Some of the now departed notables included Minor White (edited Aperture when it was still good), Beaumont and Nancy Newhall, John Szarkowski, Ansel Adams, Paul Strand, Steichen, Stieglitz and, more recently, the hilariously insightful Bill Jay. I highly recommend you read as much from these folks as possible.
Notable contemporary writers on photographic art, those who are still alive and kicking anyway, include Richard Benson, Brooks Jensen and Robert Adams, a former academic who corrected his misguided career and life path from teaching college composition to making amazing photographs. I have read each and every one of these authors/photographers, but find the most relevance, the most meaning, at least for me, in the writing of the latter. Not only is Adams an exceptional writer (and photographer), but his thinking and reasoning are clear and straightforward. Despite being an academic, he eschews academic speak and writes in a way that is easily understood, but does so meaningfully (he should really be teaching Communicating with the Written Word 101 for college professors). Most importantly, at least for me, is that when I read his books, I feel as if he is writing specifically for me. Reading my thoughts. It’s incredibly inspiring to find an author who can, succinctly and meaningfully, put into words my personal, but poorly considered, thoughts and feelings.
The contemporary writers/photographers I mentioned above, however, are all getting long in the tooth and I don’t see anyone coming along to take their place. Sadly, rational and critical discussion about photography has given way to irrational and emotional blog posts (guilty!) and heated Internet forum arguments about gear and techniques. We seem to be going the wrong direction.
Two inspirational books of Robert Adams which should be on every photographers bookshelf include (among others):
others I highly recommend include:
note: I am not getting any payments, royalties or pats on the back for these links. They exist simply as references to help you find the books I am recommending.