Paul Hill: Approaching Photography – Book

A couple of the books that I have previously written about have been explicitly on the subject of photography as, most particularly, contemporary art.  In some ways this book approaches the same subject but from a completely different angle.  Rather than just talking about the use of photography as a form of art this book addresses issues such as how photography can be used as art.  It is not exactly a “how to” guide but nevertheless I take from it a lot of sound practical advice on how to approach the medium as an art form.

I call to mind a very funny sequence in the Woody Allen film “Annie Hall” where the Allen and Diane Keaton characters are talking about her photographs and Woody, who is clearly all at sea judging from the subtitles that show their inner thoughts as they talk, comments that:  “Photography’s interesting because, you know, it’s a new form, and a set of aesthetic criteria have not emerged yet.”  It strikes me though that this book is a practical discussion of just those aesthetic criteria.

Unlike any of the others books on photography as art it is interesting that this book does address issues of technique.  It was written at a time before the advent of digital cameras and, though it has been in a number of ways brought up to date, it still talks a lot about the use of film and the techniques, in camera and post production, that are important practical tools to achieve a good photograph.  As cameras become more sophisticated and can do so much for the photographer without his or her conscious input this is a useful reminder that there are still practical, technical, and camera handling skills that we still need to be aware of and master.  We lose those skills at our peril.  I think of the rise of navigation systems such as GPS which are now ubiquitous and how, as they have become more common the old skills of being able to read a map are being lost.  A GPS system will not help you if the signal goes down, nor are they ‘intelligent’ enough to, for example, identify and navigate through an unusual or unorthodox route to get round a temporary problem or obstacle.  A map though can do just that if you can read it.

What reading this book has done therefore is make me all the more determined to go back and revisit film based photography again and go back to basics.

Hill, P, (2004).  Approaching Photography (2nd ed).  London:Photographer’s Institute Press.

Allen, W, (1977).  Annie Hall.


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