Photography: A Critical Introduction

The first sentence in the introduction to this book sets out its purpose as “…to introduce and offer an overview of conceptual issues relating to photography and to ways of thinking about photographs.”

In fact what it does is to discuss the history of photography and its place within society in relation to certain defined subject areas. As such it contains chapters entitled “Thinking About Photography”, “Surveyors and Surveyed”, “Sweet it is to Scan…”, “Construction of Illusion”, “On and Beyond the White Walls” and “Photography in the Age of Electronic Imaging”.

“Thinking about Photography” is mainly about the history of photography and discusses various approaches to chronicling the history.

“Surveyors and Surveyed” chronicles issues principally around the development of documentary photography, both from the aspect of photographer and subject.

“Sweet it is to Scan…” talks about personal photography and the taking of pictures for family record.

“Construction of Illusion” is sub-titled “photography and commodity culture”. As such the development of advertising and its use of photography is the subject matter.

In “On and Beyond the White Walls” the rise of photography as an art form is presented, both within the gallery and outside it.

The final chapter, “Photography in the Age of Electronic Imaging” contextualises the latest chapter in the development of photography, not just restricted to the digitalisation of the camera but cameraless methods as well.

This is an ambitious spread, one which the book attempts with aplomb. It is too broad to review in full here but a few general comments can be made.

There are flaws. The opening chapter is riddled with apparent and irrelevant feminism. There are ample references which implies impartiality but they are well chosen to support the arguments being presented rather than a balanced view. Its focus on history tends to detract from its stated intention “…to introduce … ways of thinking about photographs.”

As a history book on the development of photography within the areas discussed it is excellent (notwithstanding the occasional bias) and the references provide direction for further study but the thrice repeated inaccuracy over the date of the contribution of Fox Talbot and Daguerre (1939 versus 1839) gets tiresome.

The somewhat academic argument over who actually invented photography is evidence that the book is suitable for students of photography, rather than student photographers. I’m not sure at the moment how this will influence my photography but I will return to it later in my studies.

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