Our shelves are probably filled with how-to books on photography or anthologies of famous photographers’ images. Less often we encounter books where photography is a literary device, or sit down with a collection of essays devoted to an intensive study of photography, its meaning and value.
Michael Koren is the organizer of the Photographers of the Washington/Baltimore Metro Area Meetup. He has combined shooting opportunities for its members with a monthly book discussion. The Meetup is an MPA member club. Within the last two months we have read two compelling books, which I will discuss. Finally, I have reviewed a podcast whose host conducts insightful and engaging conversations with a diverse selection of photographers.
The Painter of Battles by Arturo Perez-Reverte tells the fictional story of a former world-renowned war photographer who had captured the image of a group of Croatian troops. The photo became widely known and earned the photographer a lot of money. One of the soldiers in the photo tracked down the photographer in order to confront him with the story of the consequences that photo had on his life and family with the intention of killing the photographer.
At the beginning of the story the photographer is retired and living in a lighthouse on the Spanish coast. He is embellishing an interior wall with a large mural depicting scenes of war. The mural, the result of years researching galleries, museums and libraries, is a combination of countless images taken from paintings of well-known artists, plus photography.
Profound discussions between the photographer, turned painter of battles, and the former soldier shape the narrative. The author weaves into the story the progress and meaning of the mural with conversations about war, evil, loss and love.
I was most interested in the questions regarding the role of photography as a witness to events. For example, do the rules of decency govern photography? Is the camera a passive accomplice? Is photography indifferent to the pain of others? What I learned is what aspects of photography affect the human condition or provide insight into the role and effect of a single image.
The Painter of Battles by Arturo Perez-Reverte can be purchased on Amazon at the following:
Pandora’s Camera by Joan Fontcuberta is a book of essays examining photography from its most fundamental as a mechanical and chemical process to record light on a surface, to its many universal uses in medicine, science, history and as objects of art. He discusses photography as a digital process, and asks whether digital photography is still photography. The essays do not provide a conclusive answer. Several essays explore and analyze the developing concepts of contemporary photography. Fontcuberta also strays into areas where photography has, for a variety of reasons and purposes, been used (or misued) to mislead or manipulate public opinion or promote political propaganda. We live in an era of “fake news” where everyone can gleefully alter their images, rendering every photo as a probable fiction.
The chapter which captured my interest discussed digital photography’s role in creating false and misleading images through post-processing in order to convey information to us, either to promote consumer products or through altering a composition to make a political statement. I was intrigued by the question whether digital retouching involves ethical limits. Who is to blame, the photographer or the news agency, who subsequently publishes an amended image in order to sell a story or manipulate the reader?
Pandora’s Camera by Joan Fontcuberta can be purchased on Amazon at:
Podcasts are ubiquitous, and photography is a popular subject for many of them. The Candid Frame, now in its twelfth season, is hosted by Ibarionex Perillo, who interviews the world’s best photographers. Ibarionex is the author of Chasing the Light, Improving Photos With Available Light. He also writes articles reviewing lenses, tripods and other photographic tools. Some notables who have appeared on his show include Joel Meyerowitz (who is the co-editor of Bystander, a book of street photography); Marc Silber, award-winning professional video producer and photography educator; and Chris Buck, whose clients include Google, The New York Times and GQ, and is a recipient of the Arnold Newman Portrait Prize. The conversations are incredibly interesting and informative, he allows his guests to talk freely and at length, and the program exposes the listener to a number of really talented photographers. I listen to this podcast at least once a week, or retrieve older conversations in the podcasts’ archives. I have been introduced to a number of photographers, whose work I would otherwise not be familiar with.
The Candid Frame can be accessed on YouTube at: