Over time, I’ve bought, or browsed, dozens of books about photography. Most of these books are either too basic, too technical, or remarkably unfocused on the impact of picture making. Several books by Michael Freeman set a high standard for smart books with a strong aesthetic and storytelling sense, and yet, they are written at a level that provides solid, practical advice for even the most casual photographer. I’ve become a big fan of these books, and I would recommend one, two or all three volumes as holiday gifts for anyone with even a passing interest in digital photography, and, I would strengthen that recommendation if the gifts are intended for someone who is serious about photography.
Of the three, I think I like The Photographer’s Mind best. The opening chapter is not about lenses or exposure. Instead, the book opens with a chapter entitled, “Intent.”
If you want people to pay attention to your photography and enjoy it, you have to give them a reason to look at it for longer than a glance… [and this is] more about why than how.
And so begins a well-illustrated consideration of beauty, cliche, irony, the mundane, revelation, and other core concepts that go far beyond the snapshot. The second chapter, “Style,” explores harmonics and balance, relationships between visual style and musical style, opposition, minimalism, engineered disorder… you get the idea. This is a smart, thinking person’s approach to photography, aspirational but practical, nicely written but the focus is on the (many) sample images. And the pictures really are terrific–Freeman’s intelligent, emotional approach to teaching is well-represented by his work.
All three books are personal favorites, but the second book I would buy is (rhymingly) The Photographer’s Eye, a book about design. Freeman considers the relative merits and artistic potential of various frame formats, horizons, frames within frames, and other tools/tricks of the trade. My favorite chapter is the second one, in which musical and aesthetic concepts offered in opposing pairs: soft/hard, thick/thin, diagonal/circular, much/little, sweet/sour, and more. Consider figure and ground, rhythm, single vs. multiple points, dynamic tension. I know that these ideas are dancing in my head when I’m out shooting for the day, but they’ve always been disorganized, and never quite coherent. With Freeman as a teacher, my perspective changes. I study his images, read his words, and understand the tool in my hands differently. And I want to spend hours and hours practicing.
I think of the third volume, The Photographer’s Vision, as the most advanced of the three. This is the one that considers purpose and greatness, the volume that places Lee Friedlander, Robert Capa and Brassaï in contexts where their work, or, at least, their unique creative approaches, are presented so that a contemporary amateur can both appreciate and perhaps emulate the work of legendary professionals.
Gosh, these books are good.
Buy these books for a family member or a friend. They’ll be counted among this year’s favorites, I promise.