You will perhaps remember that I wrote the book Why Photographs Work. I recently started reading Brooks new book and before I started, I felt a bit awkward - do I say his book is better, or mine, or what. After all, I chose my way of writing deliberately so it seemed a bit weird to be then commenting on Brooks writing.
Turns out it wasn't a problem at all. I'm not Brooks, and he's not me, and I learned quite a bit from this book, that I am currently half way through.
For a start, Brooks has selected an interesting collection of both black and white and some colour work to discuss, many of the works beautiful to my eye, and perhaps more importantly, when an image doesn't first impress me, I'm intrigued to find out what Brooks saw in the image that I missed. It doesn't make one of us right, but it does broaden ones horizon to look at images that aren't obviously great. I may not get the image on first reading, or perhaps the tenth, but sometimes things will percolate for some time and guess what, you can't ever look at image the same again. And that ain't bad.
Brooks is of course editor of Lenswork, perhaps the most respected magazine of black and white photographs around. Some have faulted Brooks for his middle class white American relatively conservative taste, but over the years Lenswork has definitely pushed and changed my boundaries, widening my tastes in photography. Traditional black and white landscapes are a minority in both the magazine and this book. There are abstracts and documentary photographs, manipulated images, and yes, enough 'traditional' photography to suit most.
If there is one thing in particular Brooks brings to looking at these images, it is not surprisingly his vast knowledge of other photography that he references in about half of the images discussed. Although it's true that he doesn't include all those images (downright impractical without doubling the size of the book) but with the internet, a very small effort will show you the work he compares and contrasts. There is a great deal to be learned, dare I say; by everyone who follows his thoughts about the place of these images in both the history and art of photography. In this way his writing is fundamentally different from mine and even when he doesn't reference other images, his discussion of individual images often comes with a point he wants to make, about something to be learned, and the work is discussed in the context of all the photography that has gone before it.
This makes the book an excellent tool for learning about images, about strengthening our own photography, and about seeing in different ways.
Turns out I can happily give this book a hearty recommendation. Yes, I know, it's so much easier to read about technical stuff, but I'm betting this will do a lot more for your own image making.
And can I remind you - every photographer needs at least a few Lenswork Folios - sets of beautiful prints of great work at a bargain price. What photographer doesn't wish he could go back and purchase Pepper # 30 direct from Edward Weston for $5. Well, some 80 years later, we're talking original work for $12.50 a print - what a bargain.