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The reading list--suggestions for books on, of, or about photography


Well-known member
I will kick this off by listing two classics, two from last century and the other from the century before that:

A Choice of Weapons. The autobiography of Gordon Parks. Parks is an amazing talent in his own right: photographer, director, novelist, poet, and composer. His biography just makes his achievements even more remarkable. It is also a fascinating historical document in its own right.

Dialogue with Photography, Paul Hill and Thomas Cooper. This is a collection of interviews with some of the most influential photographers in the 20th century. It gives a fascinating insight to this period of photographic history and the minds that were behind it.

Naturalistic Photography and the Death of Naturalistic Photography, Peter Henry Emerson. This is one of the most influential text from 19th photography that had a profound influence on 20th photographers such as Strand and Steichen. You can get a reprint of both of these publications from Arno Press (and now out of print). It is both a philosophic treaty on what would become straight photograph as well as an introduction to the photographic process of the era--a fun section on optics and lenses. The Death of Naturalistic Photography is where Emerson refutes his ideas in the first work. Peter Henry Emerson was an influential photographer in his own right and produced some of the most beautiful work of his age.


Well-known member
If you're going to recommend Emerson, then I have to introduce his arch-nemesis H. Peach Robinson. You can find good PDF copies of Pictorial Effects in Photography. Being Hints on Composition and Chiaro-Oscuro for Photographers.

If you have access to the NY Times there's a nice summary of the rivalry between these two gentleman. It's a good read not only for the history of photography, but also because the of the way the author traces the debate down through time. It's still relevant today.

A quotation from that article:

Emerson, who raised cantankerousness to an exquisite pitch, renounced photography in 1891, saying it was not an art after all. In his "Epitaph in Memory of Naturalistic Photography," he wrote that it had "stirred men to think and act for themselves, Produced many prigs and bubble reputations . . . Encouraged many amateurs to babble and make the words 'art,' 'truth,' and 'nature' stink in the nostrils of serious artists."


Well-known member
This is the record of a conversation between photographers Bill Jay and David Hurn. It's a nice combination of a bit of personal philosophy, and some solid practical advice.

Jay, B., Hurn, D., 1997. On Being a Photographer: A Practical Guide. Lenswork Publishing.​
If you like reflective books written by photographers at the back end of their working lives, I highly recommend this one by Freeman Patterson. Until I read this book I had lumped Freeman in with people who make pretty pictures of flowers. It turns out there's a whole lot more going on...

Patterson, F., 1996. ShadowLight: A Photographer's Life. Harper Collins, Toronto.​

While not directed to photographers, specifically, this is still a worthwhile read for photographers who are interested in "artmaking". The point they make about chasing two rabbits simulataneously (hint: you can't) nudged me over into making a major change in the direction of my career.

Bayles, D., Orland, T., 1993. Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking. The Image Continuum, Santa Cruz, CA & Eugene, OR.​

Another book for "creative" people (which doesn't just mean "artists"), is this one. Parts of it are too much "self-help" for my taste, especially the last chapters, but I found the early material very thoughtful and helpful. The distinction between "professional" and "amateur" is the best I've seen because it disconnects professionalism from silly metrics such as the percentage of your annual income that you derive from photography.

Pressfield, S., 2002. The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battle. Black Irish Entertainment LLC, New York.​

I haven't finished this one yet, but am finding it extremely interesting and relevant so far. In my experience, many "serious" photographers either don't understand the importance of photography and social media, or aren't aware of how far the world has shifted away from what they do. This book is a good place to get up to speed. (In case you're wondering, yes, the subtitle is an explicit link to Susan Sontag's On Photography.)

Jurgenson, N., 2019. The Social Photo: On Photography and Social Media. Verso, London and New York.​

Finally, in another post on another thread I referred to David duChemin's book and suggested that I liked this one because it's an attempt by a photographer to elevate the conversation from technical matters (f-stops and dynamic range), but I also was a bit frustrated because his ideas are (as he admits himself) not grounded in what we know about the "language of photography" from fields like painting. It's out of print and hard to find. David writes a lot of similar material that is easier to find. He's also a really nice guy and a good photographer.

duChemin, D., 2012. Photographically Speaking: A Deeper Look at Creating Stronger Images. New Riders, Berkeley, CA.​