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Photography: A Critical Introduction Paperback – 1 Apr 2004

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Product details

  • Paperback: 424 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge; 3 edition (1 April 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 041530704X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415307048
  • Product Dimensions: 24.5 x 18.9 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 34,614 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"'Lucid, Smart and well illustrated... a must for every serious student of the medium' - Deborah Bright, Professor of Photography and Art History, Rhode Island School of Design; 'An essential purchase. It raises awareness of the main contemporary issues related to photographic practice' - Howard Riley, Swansea Institute of Higher Education"

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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36 of 42 people found the following review helpful By D. Leivers on 24 April 2005
Format: Paperback
I purchased this book as I am hoping to start a degree in photography in September 2005 and wanted to start "reading around" my subject. Although I haven't read this entire book, it is all ready proving its worth as the chapters' reference many other critical and theoretical works on photography that I have now started reading to widen my knowledge. It seems then that this book is ideal for dipping in and out of every now and then in order to push intriguing minds into other areas of the subject of photography. Therefore I'm sure it will prove a valuable addition to my bookshelf for my remaining years as a photography student.
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Ms. S. Parker on 30 Jan 2009
Format: Paperback
this sis an excellent book, to introduce the reader to the contextual side of photography.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 3 reviews
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Intro to photographic theory, postmodernist orientation, wish it were better 26 Feb 2008
By John Armstrong - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
There's a reason why people say this book reads like a textbook: it _is_ a textbook. As stated in the blurb on the back cover, it a college-level introduction to photographic theory. The theory in question is not that of optics or photochemical reactions or analog-to-digital conversions. Rather, it is the Theory with a capital T of academic postmodernism - "pomo" - the same Theory that presents itself in Film Theory and Literary Theory and the all-encompassing Cultural Theory.

You may have encountered postmodernism in school or in your personal reading. If you did, you will have some idea of what you will find in this book. If not, don't worry about it. The New York Times photography critic Andy Grundberg declared the death of postmodernism in 1990, film theoreticians David Bordwell and Noel Carroll followed suit in their book Post-Theory in 1996, and A-list literary critic Fredric Jameson drove the final nail into the coffin in a New York Times article in 2003. Postmodernism, as the dominant academic fashion, is a thing of the past. It was on its last legs when this book was originally written and it is now definitely over. As such it's not something that you should feel you need to invest in, just make enough sense of to follow what the book is saying.

Though only one name, Liz Wells, appears on the cover, the book is actually the work of six authors, each of whom, including Wells, contributed a chapter or two. All the authors appear to be English and all are (or were at the time of writing) affiliated with British regional universities. The book was originally published in 1996. The third edition, reviewed here, was published in 2003.

The book contains seven chapters, an overview chapter and six chapters on individual topics. The chapters present surveys of articles and books (especially British ones) written on the topics, with lots of quotes from academics and relatively few from practicing photographers. There are bibliographical and other notes in the wide margins of the main text but, rather surprisingly for an introductory textbook, no annotated bibliography or "Further Reading" sections either at the ends of the individual chapters or at the end of the book. Several chapters include one or more case studies, which amount to extended sidebars purporting to demonstrate the application of the theory under discussion to specific photographs or photographic genres.

Based on a single quick read I would say that the quality of the chapters is uneven, ranging from pretty good through OK down to questionable. One or two of the case studies were interesting but most seemed to contribute little if anything to the book. Here, for what they are worth, are my impressions of the chapters (my headings; actual titles can be seen in the Amazon "Look inside this book" pages):

Ch. 1 Overview by Derrick Price and Liz Wells - unstructured, rambling, surprisingly poor; I would recommend skipping over it on the first read and going directly to the topical chapters. However the case study on Dorothea Lange's iconic Migrant Mother is the best in the book and should be looked at even if the rest of the chapter is skipped.

Ch. 2 Photojournalism by Derrick Price - one of the best in the book, very clear, well connected to the history of (British) photography, interesting.

Ch. 3 Personal photography by Patricia Holland - pretty good, genuinely thought-provoking at times, for example in its discussion of the tension between the idealized representation of domestic life in family albums and the often less than ideal realities hiding behind (and occasionally peaking through) the pictures.

Ch. 4 Photography of the human body by Michelle Henning - attempts to present a feminist perspective but tends to get stuck in the rhetoric and not reveal much about the actual work being talked about.

Ch. 5 Advertising (esp. fashion) photography by Anandi Ramamurthy - not as compelling as it could be but makes some interesting points, for example relating to stock photos and image banks and the commercial need for photographs created without, or later detached from, any specific context or meaning. The case study on the controversial Benetton ad campaigns of the late 80's is worth reading.

Ch. 6 Photography as art by Liz Wells - pretty good but focuses on historical debates and doesn't consider the forces that have caused recent changes in art photography (new objectivity/deadpan, influence of cinema, aftermath photography, etc.). The case studies on Surrealism and Landscape photography (one of the author's specialties) could have been among the most interesting but are actually very lackluster.

Ch. 7 Photography in the digital age by Martin Lister - the oddest chapter but in some ways the most satisfying. It's the one chapter that was significantly changed for the third edition. The author seems to have left the earlier version more or less as it was but added what amounts to an extended postscript that says that what comes before it is wrong. The change of heart centers around the question of the impact of the advent of digital imaging on the connection between the photograph and reality. In the original version of the chapter he says that digital imaging invalidates the connection and ends photography as we know/knew it. In the postscript he says that things actually didn't change that much, that most digital images retain their connection to reality and that, even if some clearly don't, there have always, since the earliest days, been photographs that present something more or less different from literal reality - a theme that actually runs through the whole book and may be considered its central point.

My main feeling about this book is that I wish it were better. I wish were clearer and better structured, I wish it were more up-to-date and less encumbered by the intellectual cruft of academic postmodernism, and, finally, I wish it were less Anglocentric and paid more attention to photography of North America, Europe, and the rest of the world. Still for all that it is not a bad book, and I give it three stars.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Excellent choice for Visual Artists contemplating photography as a medium of expression 15 Jan 2006
By S. Ray - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
As a Visual Arts student coming to terms with the whole conceptual ideology in contemporary art, I found this book an excellent choice for delving into the theoretical side of contemporary photgraphy. This book is definitely not bedtime reading. Trust me, I tried it and kept myself awake! There is also an excellent reference to archives, journals and other books to peruse. I found the book easy to understand and has helped me immensely in my quest to understand what constitutes Visual Art in current times. An excellent choice for all those contemplating a Visual Arts career using photographic images
5 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Boring, but Useful for a Photographer 26 July 2007
By Conrad J. Obregon - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This review is aimed at photographers and not social scientists or philosophers.

Photographers are often like the allegorical blind men, each of whom examined a different part of an elephant with his hands and then concluded that the elephant was a snake, or a leaf, or a tree. Photographers tend to see the world of photography through their own viewfinders without stepping back and looking at all of photography, even though doing so might provide new insights in handling what they see in their viewfinder.

This book is a textbook that examines photography not from the point of technique, or learning how to read a photograph, but from the point of view of the social sciences and philosophy. It is primarily aimed at British society, but its lessons are applicable anywhere pictures are made. Many photographers will recognize the discussion of the truth of digital photography as opposed to film photography, but I wonder how many have considered how family photographs may actually shape family dynamics.

The book is divided into several chapters that are neither all inclusive nor exclusive. There is a general discussion of photography debates over time (e.g., "Is it Art"?), and then the book focuses on particular areas, including documentary, popular, body, advertising and fine art photography. It finishes with a chapter on electronic imaging.

The authors often describe movements historically, with a general recap of the main points of each issue (is photography by its use or nature demeaning to women?) but seldom go to the point of showing enough pictures and explaining them to prove either side of an argument. Instead they provide references and footnotes in the margins and leave it up to the reader to further explore the question. At the same time, some of the ideas, even though self-evident upon deep consideration, are provocative. For instance, the authors suggest that the fact that "private photography has become family photography is itself an indication of the domestication of everyday life...." What implications does this have for photography in today's multi-married, multi-divorced society? Often the discussions reverse on themselves, repeat ideas and jump backwards and forwards in time. Some readers may find the jargon of semiotics and deconstruction off-putting. The book is boring.

And yet a photographer cannot escape being humbled by realizing that the photography that he deals with is just one little corner of a wider universe, and humility may be good for a photographer. This volume may contain more intellectualizing then some photographers may be willing to tolerate, but even at the risk of being bored, a photographer may benefit from understanding the larger context of his or her work.
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