Category Archives: Books

About Looking by John Berger

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Among my pile of books yet to read as part of my studies I had ‘About Looking’ by John Berger.  I have only recently been introduced to this author through my Context and Narrative Course, I read his book ‘Ways of Seeing’ and watched the accompanying BBC TV program on You-Tube which I found very interesting. I then went onto read ‘Understanding a Photograph’, in preparation for my fourth assignment.  The recent sad news of John Berger’s death prompted me to read this book, ‘About Looking’.

This book is made up of a selection of essays, Berger wrote from the mid 1960’s up to the late 1970’s.

His first essay examines how man looks and sees himself; how he regards animals and his world around him and compares this to how other animals regards themselves, man and the world through their eyes.

His next essay looks at pictures by August Sander the famous farm hands going to a dance photo and another image of a local musical band posing for their photograph and he discusses how their suits give away their status in society despite their smart attire.

Also included is an essay on the works of Paul Strand.  The rest of the book moves away from photography and looks at works by other artists from the 17th century such as Hals through to Artist’s such as Francis Bacon and Giacometti of the 20th.

An interesting read, Berger had his own style of writing and if you have heard him speak you can almost hear his voice coming through the pages of the book.

He was clearly very passionate about art and I am sure a nice guy to have met.  I am sure all who were fortunate enough to have met him will miss him.

The Burden of Representaion, Essays on Photographies Histories by John Tagg

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I have just finished reading this book that I began in November!

Tagg looks at how photography has been influenced and how it has influenced history in Europe and North America by examining historical records in the UK and Europe and USA.  Taking examples of photographs taken in the 19th century for recording likeness’ of prisoners, photos of slums such as in Leeds that were used to push to challenge the Local Authorities and fight for improved living conditions for the poor.  Images taken in the early part of the 20th century to document the results of economic rescission in the rural community of the USA.  Tagg analyses both images and back the ground events to produce a strong argument for his book and often makes reference to a French philosopher, Michel Foucault, that who I should perhaps find more about and how his ideas may help in my creativity.

An interesting book, a little heavy and have your dictionary to hand but worth studying as his method of research is good and his idea that arguments that are not fully tested with good background research are weak and likely to be biased.  I think Tagg alludes to this when referring to John Berger and Susan Sontag.

 

Crisis of the Real, Andy Grundberg

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Andy Grundberg is an American art critic, based in New York who over a period of the 1980’s and 1990′ has written a number of important essays of artists and their exhibitions which he has written for The New York Times, etc.  His critical analysis of artist such as Walker Evans, Georgia O’Keefe, Joel Sternfield, Nan Goldin, Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince, Robert Mapplethorpe, Lewis Hine, Robert Heinecken, gives a very good insight into a great many of 2oth century artists both modernist and postmodernist with a helpful explanation as to the difference.  I found this book as recommended reading on Amazon and I dare say I expect to find it listed among future recommended or required readings in my OCA journey.  A good book to read.

The Photography Reader, edited by liz Wells

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This book is full of famouse / influential essays for photography and a particular essay of  interest is ‘See Photographically’ be Edward Weston.  In his essay under the section ‘Recording an image’ he describes an image being a piece of art when the artist has pre-visualized his intended work and selected the elements, composed and framed his picture through a planned process.  This I feel simply sums up true art and can be applied to music, painting, sculpture any medium that can be hailed as art.  additional good essays to read or re-read are Barthes expects from ‘Camera Lucida’ and Rhetoric Of The Image, Walter Benjamin’s extracts from ‘The Work Of Art In The Age Of Mechanical Reproduction’.  Also there are some good essays on fetishism which helps to understand the full meaning and use of this term, which would typically be only associated with sexual deviations.

Again this was a book listed as recommended reading of my Art of Photography course which had no bearing to the subject matter covered in the syllabus.  However, this book made sense with connection to the course on ‘Context and Narrative’ as many of the essays had been referred to or covered, yet it is odd that this book is not on the reading list.  I found the book a little dry at times as the essays differ in style; but overall this is a book that I am glad to have read.

The Essential Kafka, published by Wordsworth Classics

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As part of my preparation for my final assignment, I decided to read the works of Franz Kafka in order to try and find some visual ideas for an image that was rich in metaphor.

Much of Kafka’s work was never published in his lifetime and thanks to his friend who saved his work from destruction against Kafka’s dying wishes we are able to read these stories today.

The Trial

Joseph K is a Senior Bank-Clark who one day awakens to find two men in his room to arrest him.  He does not discover for what crime he is accused of; but that his crime is serious and his guilt is assumed.  However, he is freed and informed that his case is under investigation and that he can continue to go about his normal business but he must present himself when required and he must build a defense.   Throughout the book we never discover what the crime he is accused of is, nor who accuses him or why.  He discovers that the Courts are all hidden in attics and all the Court personnel are only identified by a gold button sown to their jackets.

The whole story implies a form of neurosis of the mind.  Is K really a victim of a secret Justice system  or is he having some-kind of nervous-breakdown?  This story is full of metaphors.  I believe Leni to represent K’s idea of Justice, she is flirtatious, she is attracted to all of the Advocates clients; but she wants to help and she wants to be wanted.  The Advocate is K’s idea of a typical lawyer who does his best to string out the work as far as he can for profit.  I suspect that K meets the Judge in the Cathedral, he is the Priest and he gives K advise in the form of a story of a man who waits in vein to be admitted to the law only to discover on his death that the door he had waited at for so long was exclusively his.

I have been reading this novel as a result of my research for this course.  I learned of this novel through a essay written by Walter Benjamin and I am considering a couple of passages from this story to use as an idea to inspire an image for my last assignment.

The ideas are:

From the book The Essential Kafka, published by Wordsworth Classics.

The Trial:

First idea:  A portrait of a man sitting in a chair looking important, distinguished, implying authority, implying a Judge.  He is posed to suggest that at any-moment he is about to leap from his chair.  One hand grips the arm-rest the other holds a paper marker ‘Petition’ .  Behind his a blind-folded, pretty woman stands holding scales in her left hand and a sword in her right.  The idea is that she represents Justice; but her pose must also suggest the Greek female Goddess of hunting.  She should be dressed classically one breast exposed like that from the famous French revolutionary picture of Liberty charging forward.  (Chapter 6, The Uncle – Leni, page 81, lines 23-35 and page 109, Chapter 7, The Advocate – the Manufacturer – the Painter, line 32 to page 110 to line 11).

Second idea:  An open door, above the door is a sign that reads ‘THE LAW’ on the door a smaller sign reads ‘Restricted’.  A Doorman stands guard by the door and a Country Gentleman sits on stool looking dejected.  Behind the Doorman light appears to be streaming out from the doorway.  The Doorman must appear to look like he is on guard but is not appearing to be attempting to bar access.  (Chapter 9, In The Cathedral, page 161 – 162).

The Castle,

The hero of this story is just known as ‘K’ and is a Surveyor who arrives at the village below the castle looking for lodgings before reporting to the castle to begin work.  He discovers that he is not expected and is treated as an undesirable outsider by the villagers.  The Castle then confirms that he has been appointed and advises that he must wait for further instructions.  The castle appears to be inaccessible without permission and he is unable to find anyone who can grant him an audience with anyone in the castle.  This story is a nightmare vision of bureaucracy gone mad with tear upon tear of management that makes anything practically impossible to get done and all the servants that are the management of the castle are aloof from the villagers can only be communicated through unreliable messengers.  I believe that Kafka is describing metaphorically difficulties he had with his father and perhaps difficulties that he may have experienced as a Jew in post Austrian Hungarian Europe.  The story ends in mid-sentence as Kafka never finished the novel.

Metamorphosis – The Transformation of Gregor Samsa

Was this the dark foresight of a German speaking Czech Jew of the 1920’s?   Gregor Samsa awakens one morning to find that he has become an giant beetle, he can no longer be understood by his family and his new physique repulses them and he is forced to live imprisoned in his bedroom with only his younger sister brave enough to show enough compassion to feed him and clean his room.  Kafka uses a dark sense of humor in his writing and provides no happy ending but suggests that as one thing comes to an end there is always the beauty of a brighter tomorrow.

The judgement

We are first told that the hero of this story is a successful business man living and working in partnership with his father and is writing to his friend in St. Peters-burg about his impending marriage.  These facts are all thrown in to doubt when he discusses his letter and engagement with his ailing father.

Letter To My Father

This is a letter that Kafka wrote to his father but never gave to him.  Addressing his feeling towards his father and venting his frustrations and anger to a man he has grown up to fear and resent.  In this letter we learn a little of what has influenced Kafka’s writings and imagination.  There is a very useful visual metaphor in this text.  Page 590, line 26.

The idea

To the left a man stands facing a sheer cliff-face that he is trying to climb; to his right a flight of stairs is being climbed by another.  there is a barrier between the two men; so preventing the man on the left from using the same path to ascend.

The Genius of Photography by Gerry Badger

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‘The Genius of Photography, How Photography Has Changed Our Lives’ by Gerry Badger, published by Quadrille Publishing Ltd.

This book was on my recommended reading list for ‘The Art of Photography’ course but I feel that much of the reading list for that course did not echo the syllabus and I did not choose to read it at the time, preferring more relevant books that could assist me in the exercises, subject matter and assignments.  However, for this current course and for future courses this book has been more relevant and made more sense to me.

This book looks at the history of photography from a critical point-of-view as to it’s impact and development as an artistic practice.  How it has been influenced and influenced the art movements of the 19th, 20th and now the 21st century up to 2007.  Focusing on Photographers and examples of their work that have influenced the photographic art movement in their day from Daguerre to the unknown photographers using mobile-phone cameras for images that both informs and shocks the 21st century public.

Although much of the topics in this book have been covered in other books that I have already read, re-reading them will only re-enforce them to my memory and helps to plant ideas for future image making in to my sub-conscious.

Photography a Critical Introduction, Edited by Liz Wells

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Photography a Critical Introduction, edited by Liz Wells, published by Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

The image on the front cover of this book was very appropriate for my experience when first reading this book: ‘Babel’ from Cockaign, by Gayle Chong Kwan.

The last listed book in my recommended reading list for the ‘Context and Narrative’ course to be read which completes my reading for both essential and recommended for the course. Phew!

I originally purchased and began reading this book for my ‘Art of Photography’ (AOP) course but I didn’t understand the relevance to my course and I also found it to be too heavy reading for me at that time and I only got half way through chapter one before putting it down.  I was keen to read books themed closer to the topics covered in the syllabus and additional technical books on composition, lighting, exposure, etc to bring me up to speed with my basic photography skills.  I felt that this book should have been listed in the essential reading list for my AOP course as none of the syllabus touched on critical theory and therefore wasn’t even appropriate for recommended reading.  However, this book was listed as recommended reading for this current coarse of Context and Narrative and in my opinion this should in fact be listed as essential reading.

This book is definitely worth reading once the critical theory of art in photography needs to be explored and understood.  There was much that linked to my current studying and I could see likely future links to my next courses, particularly chapter 4, ‘The subject as object: photography and the human body’ which discussed various forms of fetishism in art and explained what this word means in the art world.  Not just sex and deviant behavior but also desire and even a form of addiction which can be exploited by advertising, etc.

I still found it a heavy book and it took almost three weeks for me to read, but thanks to all the other reading that I have now done and the clear link it had to my current studying I was able to relate to the subject matter.  I am pleased that I have finally read this book and I realize that I made the right decision  two years ago to put the book down as I would not have understood a word and the messages that are now useful would have been missed.  I probably would not have thought to read it again; so missing a second chance to learn something from this book.