I’ve been meeting lots of students over the past few weeks for dissertation and project tutorials. It gives me great pleasure to see the enthusiasm for whatever it is they have decided to research. As well as helping them to search more effectively for those illusive articles, they seem to benefit from having to explain what they are trying to achieve. I’ve chosen The Genius of Photography: how photography has changed our lives, by Gerry Badger, this week because my interest was sparked by one of those student enquiries.
Badger asserts in the introduction, “That we do not look at a photograph so much as ‘read’ it.” We see what is there and interpret it, thus creating a discourse. Photography is often described as the ‘democratic art’ because anyone can take a great photograph. The book is illustrated with iconic images which Badger has selected to illustrate great photographic art. Each chapter sets the evolution of photography within its social context, including the technological developments of the camera. It is impossible to flick through this book without pausing to look at each image and consequently, casting your eye over the accessibly written text.
The first chapter begins with the birth of photography in 1839 and discusses questions such as art or science? and topics such as high art and snapshooters, pictorialism and metaphor. Further chapters document important photographers such as Eugene Atget and Walker Evans and explore photography as political expression, historical document and record of place, both in terms of landscape and society. Other familiar topics are included; identity, the gaze and memory before arriving at an interesting conclusion on, ‘What’s it worth?’ particularly in the age of digital photography.
The reader is left to consider a quote from Laszlo Moholy-Nagy who, in the 1920’s said: “The illiterate of the future will be the man who does not understand photography.”
The University Library has other books by Gerry Badger, which may also be of interest, as well as plenty of other books to help develop your visual literacy skills. As well as browsing the photography books in the library in the 770s, you may wish to visit Artstor, our fabulous image database. If you visit the advanced search page you can select Photographs from the classification section and add some keywords or names such as Atget, or landscape or portrait. You may also like Flickr Commons, sharing photographs within public collections, and if you want to look for historical photographs of Hampshire, visit the Hantsphere website. Enjoy!