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Why Photography Matters Hardcover – 20 Sep 2013

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 112 pages
  • Publisher: MIT Press (20 Sept. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262019280
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262019286
  • Product Dimensions: 13.7 x 0.8 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 630,438 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Jerry L. Thompson is a working photographer who also writes about photography. He worked as Walker Evans's principal assistant from 1973 to Evans's death in 1975. He is the author of The Last Years of Walker Evans and Truth and Photography.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Complex aesthetic issues are dealt with in clear, thoughtful prose. The sections dealing with theory and philosophy are well worth reading. Thompson offers a really clear account of the move to more subjective and arty modes of photography. Towards the end of the book Thompson moves on to a kind of advocacy of a style of photography embodied by his erstwhile mentor, Walker Evans. However sympathetic one is to his perspective, this section is less than compelling.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 5 reviews
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Very confusing... 30 Dec. 2013
By fred stevens - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I wanted to like this book, as I thoroughly enjoyed Susan Sontag's photography book, and I thought it would be interesting to read something critical of her book, a different take, but... I have no idea what this book was about, and after reading it, I couldn't tell you one main point. I almost hate to criticize this book, because perhaps it is really deep and thoughtful and just way over my head, and I had a really hard time following any of it or staying interested, so maybe I wasn't the most careful reader. I do think, however, that when an author resorts to putting so many words in italics, as if that gives these words extra weight, more meaning, then maybe, just maybe, that author's thoughts aren't fully developed and they are not being presented clearly.
7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Nothing more than a half-baked, maybe even hypocritical, defense of Evans 24 Dec. 2013
By Brian S. Carroll - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book should really be titled "Why Walker Evans Matters" as Thompson spends such a significant portion defending his former employer (even the dust jacket reminds us Thompson worked as Evans's principal assistant for a short spell). Thompson decries the aphoristic, footnote-less, modernist style of all earlier writings on photography, saving his most pointed criticisms for Susan Sontag. Thompson mentions how Sontag's own critical hang-ups with Evans appeared while the late photographer was still living, yet Thompson, in a cruel irony, hasn't reserved this same methodology for Sontag's words. In the latter sections of the work, Thompson trudges forth as Evans' mandated apologist, completely avoiding addressing Sontag's most intriguing complaints of Evans (and others) that she pushes in both On Photography and Regarding the Pain of Others, that is, the major issues of the uncaptioned portrait, images that deny subject identity (such as in Evans's Subway Portraits). Indeed, one could argue Thompson's book is intended to merely advance the conversation, extend the dialogue even further and that such reactionary commentary would detract from the overall goal. The problem with this defense, however, is that Thompson already attacks Sontag for her brand of sweeping rhetoric, a picking-and-choosing of her acerbic discourse, and in the end has engaged in such sour behaviors himself. Certainly questioning Sontag's long-canonization is needed and fruitful, Thompson just chooses to do so in a very unsatisfactory and embarrassingly incomplete manner. In other parts of the scant work, Thompson offers a few readings of Atget, Winograd, and Marcia Due which are all extremely pedestrian (the foregrounding trees here mean this, this distant subject's clothing may say that) and focus so painfully on simple, formalistic elements. In exerting a half-baked notion on "truth" on these texts, Thompson extends his great disservice. Thompson purports his work of that of a philosopher yet he avoids employing any ample, amplified "rigorous thinking," as Heidegger would say (a thinker that Thompson relegates to a single footnote of a minor Heidegger work, completely avoiding his more significant essays on art, or Being). Again, seemingly in a defense against Evans, Thompson's hypocritically sweeping gesture casts off discussions of the ethics of exploitation in photography (perhaps the only reference to Sontag, and other's, valid critiques), as if such conversations are stale and outmoded. However, if he's seeking a sort of ontological truth, it would have behooved Thompson to engender more thinking here, not just with the thoughts of Heidegger, but those too of Levinas and Irigaray, powerful thinkers that advance important thoughts on ethical relationships to the Other and how engaging in such vigor leads to an authenticity of being. The closest Thompson gets here is in his (too brief) look at a single Winograd image, offering some undercooked ideas regarding dialectics between subject and operator, but Thompson fails here, as in many places throughout the book, to follow these thinking-threads deeper along their paths to disclosure. It would be unfair to call Thompson's book mean-spirited, of course, but the brevity-as-profundity technique is just a masked laziness, and this makes it practically just as offensive.
Short but deep and clear 5 Jun. 2014
By L. Spencer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This short (96pp.) book is beautifully written, clear and thoughtful. The writing is much like the photography it supports. Susan Sontag wrote in 1973 that no one could any more imagine photography which was literate, authoritative and transcendent. Changes in fashion - even intellectual fashion - does not, of course invalidate that older, more deeply-rooted approach to photography. Susan Sontag was surveying journalistically a huge shift in cultural values. Thompson is eloquent in explaining a serious, thoughtful approach which will outlast shifts in fashion.

Anyone who has enjoyed reading the writings of Robert Adams on photography is likely to enjoy this book.

Small caveat: I think the section arguing directly with Sontag is not as strong as the rest. Thompson doesn't quite get hold of the nature of the influence of "On Photography". But I heartily recommend this little book to anyone who enjoys thinking about photography.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Good For My Requirements 4 Feb. 2014
By Stu Harvey - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I stumbled on this book last week, a quick read, out of which I gained a couple of good insights for my purposes (photo-augmenting text...doing novels in magazine style mix of graphics, photos and text). I had been asked "Why bother with the pix? Peope just want the text of your novels"...so seeing his title naturally drew me to brouse then buy this book...Then I wrote a poem about it...part of which is as follows:

For me, his tips help out new form of art –
Augmented text – which I’m about to start;
Like Evans work – mix contradictions in;
“ Subvert” the “settled meaning” – thought begin.

Suggests we need to open discourse up,
Not shut it down as if our thought’s enough;
A photograph supremely does this task,
Once statement’s made, a question it can ask.

Of course there are more insights but for me this was the heart of it for my requirements...which he develops in the text...
Stu Harvey
3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Just ok 7 Nov. 2013
By Donald G. Stanton - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author does not make his point clearly.
At points he seems to go off in different directions and does not make it all the way back.
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