THE NATURE OF PHOTOGRAPHS by Stephen Shore
The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998, First edition, 104 pp., 8 1/4" X 9 1/4", Softcover
How does a photograph "work"? In this book, internationally acclaimed photographer Stephen Shore brings together more than fifty images (by such photographers as Walker Evans, Eugène Atget, Robert Adams, Diane Arbus, Frank Gohlke, Lee Friedlander, Edward Weston, Robert Frank, William Eggleston, and Jan Groover) to illustrate a process of looking at and understanding photography. He traces the process by which the world in front of the camera is transformed into a photograph -- and how that photograph, in turn, is transformed into a mental image.
A photograph, Shore explains, can be viewed on several levels. First, it is a physical object, a print. On this print is an image, an illusion of a window onto the world. It is at this level that we "read" a picture and discover its content: a souvenir of an exotic land, the face of a lover, a wet rock, a landscape at night. This is the depictive level, in which the world is transformed into a photograph through qualities of flatness, frame, time, and focus. On a final level is the mental apprehension of the image, which joins the focus of lens, eye, attention, and mind.
Using these levels of seeing, Shore reveals how the qualities of a photograph create tension and meaning -- as the collapsing of depth creates new relationships, as lines and shapes in the image play against the frame, as focus creates barriers in the depth of an image, as the duration of exposure variously transforms the fluid world into a static piece of film. As the visual image continues to grow in importance as a medium of global communication, the skills and insights conveyed by this book will become increasingly relevant both to those who take photographs and those who view them.