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Why It Does Not Have To Be In Focus: Modern Photography Explained [Paperback]

Jackie Higgins
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
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Book Description

16 Sep 2013
Why take a self-portrait but obscure your face with a lightbulb (Lee Friedlander, Provincetown, Cape Cod, Massachusetts (1968)? Or deliberately underexpose an image (Vera Lutter, Battersea Power Station, XI: July 13 , 2004)? And why photograph a ceiling (William Eggleston, Red Ceiling , 1973)? In Why It Does Not Have To Be In Focus , Jackie Higgins offers a lively, informed defence of modern photography. Choosing 100 key photographs with particular emphasis on the last twenty years she examines what inspired each photographer in the first place, and traces how the piece was executed. In doing so, she brings to light the layers of meaning and artifice behind these singular works, some of which were initially dismissed out of hand for being blurred, overexposed or badly composed. The often controversial works discussed in this book play with our expectations of a photograph, our ingrained tendency to believe that it is telling us the unadorned truth. Jackie Higginss book proves once and for all that theres much more to the art of photography than just pointing and clicking.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Thames and Hudson Ltd (16 Sep 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0500290954
  • ISBN-13: 978-0500290958
  • Product Dimensions: 20 x 14.8 x 2.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 30,657 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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If you're after a pocket primer in contemporary art photography, Why It Does Not Have to Be In Focus offers an incisive starting point. --The Daily Telegraph

It's a great book - inventive, and persuasively argued. --Amateur Photographer

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Photography as modern art 2 Nov 2013
By Eleanor TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
In "Why it Does Not have to be in Focus", Jackie Higgins takes 100 photographic works (the earliest is from 1932 and most were created in the last 30 years) and explains their significance and artistry, devoting a double page to each. The six chapters group the works into portraits, document, still lifes, narrative, landscapes, and abstract.

The best aspect of this book is the range of artists and techniques on show. Sometimes the subject of the photograph is subverted or experimented with (as in the chapter on portraits and narrative); other times technique comes to the fore, for example Michael Wesely's years-long camera exposures, Gerhard Richter's doctoring of snapshots with lush smears of paint, or the many instance of cameraless photography. These are works that can be returned to again and again and they are a good starting point for further reading.

Overall, though, the book feels rather small and cramped. Half the works fall on the fold, meaning it's difficult to appreciate them as a whole, and numerous text boxes on each page jostle confusingly for attention.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lively but lacking depth 19 Oct 2013
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Being an avid fan of photography I delighted in this book. It contains a very broad range of photographers and the book is easy to digest.

However, the books easy to read format is its major downfall. There is only so much the author can say in a double page spread which includes the photo and other footnotes.

What I find with books like these is they act as an appetite-whetter and I discover new photographers or work I had forgotten about, this acts as a jumping off point and I wander off to look at new work. Handily, the author includes on each page a list of similar photos by the same artist.

Higgins is clearly a writer of some knowledge and her mastery of the vernacular is impressive. She uses what little space she has to offer incisive comment on both image and artist.

As a primer this is very good, however it lacks depth which leaves the reader wanting more.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Seeks to redefine photography 10 Nov 2013
By Four Violets VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Flicking through the book an initial reaction might be: If I had taken that, it would have ended up in the bin. The book's subtitle is "modern photography explained" - and seeks to justify why the photos have deliberately defied the "rules" - everything you have been told about how to take a good photo seems to be overturned. Blurry, over- and under exposed, wonkily composed, some are literally photos of nothing at all.

Many will have heard the names Henri Cartier-Bresson, Nan Goldin, Cindy Sherman and Gillian Wearing. Others are unfamiliar to me, like Francesca Woodman who tragically committed suicide at the age of 22.

There is a double page spread for each photo, discussing how and why it was taken, with information about the photographer. Some are weird, surreal, and some are surely posturing, pretentious? Waiting for someone to point out the Emperor is not wearing any clothes?
P.53 - a photo of a light bulb! The comment is "this image could be interpreted as an amateur, almost accidental, snapshot of a ceiling." Hm. P 65 another photo which suggests a "family holiday snapshot" but it has paint smeared across it.
But there is exciting, challenging stuff, a bouquet of flowers captured in the moment of exploding, there is restaging of Old Masters and surreal fantasy scenes.

Perhaps Alex Prager, whose enigmatic photo Deborah is on page 147, sums it up: "It's not photography... they should come up with another word for what the young generation of photographers are doing." Andreas Gursky, famous for his oversized photos of supermarkets, agrees. "A fixed definition of the term "photography" has become impossible."
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The line between photography and modern art has been fuzzy for years. Just like some works of art seem incomprehensible to most of us, so some photos seem to leave much to be desired when compared with what we expect and demand from the medium.

"Why It Does Not Have To Be In Focus" is an accessible and well-presented book that takes the reader through many challenging, puzzling images, and explains the thinking behind the work, what it is saying, and how it was achieved.

There is a good range of photographs used to explore these ideas, and each one is nicely set out with text that gives background to the photographer, the genre that best summarises their work, and the technical details that played a part in the capturing and presenting of the image.

Only occasionally does it seem that some of the explanations are over-blown, where the purpose of the work remains unclear. Some of the photos (Cartier-Bresson) will be familiar but still worthy of explanation, while a few others actually still retain shock value when assessed in these pages.

This book gives good context to the creative process of making pictures, and looks far more at what the message is than the purely technical skills that went into the making of the final image. A book that says something new about the medium - and one that rewards a close read.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By doublegone TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This isn't really about photography, so much as contemporary art. Contemporary artists as you might be aware, can't help themselves. They record sound installations, manipulate controversy and of course take photographs. The dullest snap can have intense meaning if taken in suitable circumstances by a contemporary artist.

"an apparent lack of technique can still often be mistaken for a lack of artistic sophistication," it says on the jacket of this book. Hmmm, and sometimes there is no mistake.

Jackie Higgins sets out to "explain the artistry behind 100 key works of modern photogpraphy, revealing their hidden layers of emotional expression and the complex processes involved in their composition."

Now I am interested in the complex processes that might lead to a great photo. But you know what, the emotional expression is not hidden in a great photo. It is fully apparent and you shouldn't need a caption to get it.

The commentary is more about teaching any viewer to "read" the images, rather than explaining to photographers how to take that sort of shot. So don't be expecting "how many seconds at f1.8" or much about equipment.

About a fifth of the images here are worth looking at in my opinion. Other than that, the art is usually in the concept and the journey to the image, rather than the image. You'll know yourself how you feel about that. You can probably guess by now what I think.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Useful for Students
Great little book, for finding new artist's and photographers. It is especially useful, if you are studying either art or photography. Love the layout in the book also!
Published 3 months ago by Isobel Owen
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Range
If you're looking for a book (whether amateur or more) that will give you ideas and explanations for photographic choices by professionals then this is certainly the book for you. Read more
Published 6 months ago by lizardhat
3.0 out of 5 stars A lot (too much?) squeezed into a compact format
For book published in 2013 the basic premise seems a bit dated, as set out in the introduction its aim is to show that photography is art. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Lendrick
5.0 out of 5 stars A completely focused and enlightening account of the fuzzy world of...
I was expecting this book to be a rather narrative account, a sort of essay on modern art photography, perhaps even tackling the question of whether it has to be in focus! Read more
Published 7 months ago by emma who reads a lot
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting viewpoint and images - well laid out
I have a growing interest in photography and its potential, having begun from a point of view of simply wanting better quality pictures. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Martyn
4.0 out of 5 stars Great introductory text, shame about the small format
This book is a very good introduction to modern photography and includes 100 photos by key practitioners of the art form, and when read as a whole should leave no doubt in the... Read more
Published 7 months ago by M. O. HAYNES
3.0 out of 5 stars Not what I thought it was.
I bought in haste thinking it was a tutorial on modern photographic techniques that might come in handy as an companion to a recently acquired DSLR. Wrong! Read more
Published 8 months ago by RM/TM
4.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive, thought provoking study of photography
There is a lot of information packed into this book. 100 photographs are presented in six groups: Portraits / Smile, Document / Snap, Still Life / Freeze, Narrative / Action,... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Invicta
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant book
This is a brilliant book that both my wife and I read from the beginning to the end at one go. A must have for all people passionate about photography and more generally about... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Fabio Osta
5.0 out of 5 stars "Brilliant"
A whirlwind tour of fine art photography covering 100 photographers from the last century. I read it from cover to cover in one go because it's fun but will return to it many... Read more
Published 8 months ago by yuske tanaka
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