Books Before Gear #1 – The Nature Of Photographs – Stephen Shore

Welcome to the first in a new series of posts called Books Before Gear (BBG).

We’ve talked recently about trading pixels for paper and absorbing more photography via physical print(s) rather than online.

And how I’ve entered a paper age for viewing photographs – my own and the classics of decades past.

Plus as I’m sure you know in the last year or so I’ve been on a gradual purge of my own photography gear from 50+ cameras, to a small, manageable and enjoyable set up, that’s all I need to make pleasing photographs.

So a series of articles where I generally encourage investing in a few photography books I’ve enjoyed so far in this paper age, rather than more camera gear, seemed the logical step.

I’m no art critic, and my thoughts about each book are entirely subjective, but hopefully they’ll give you an idea of whether you might enjoy the book too.

At the end is a link where you can buy on Amazon or The Book Depository if you’d like to. There’s no affiliation on my part, I’ve just used and liked both of these sites for years.

First up –

Books Before Gear #1

The Nature Of Photographs – Stephen Shore

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I came to this book via browsing William Eggleston photographs online, looking up a couple of his books on Amazon, and seeing this book recommended, as Amazon does so well.

For me a major highlight is that it’s two books in one. 

First, a collection of mostly inspiring and interesting (to me) photographs, reproduced on lovely quality paper. You could easily take any page right out from the book, frame it, and hang it on your wall.

This alone encourages you to take your time and pore over each photograph, letting its spell weave its way into you.

No Instagram superficial speed scanning behaviours here.

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The photographs are from a range of sources, quite a few of the photographers I’d heard of, most I hadn’t.

I like the fact that it’s very democratic, featuring photographs from artists established and current, and some even anonymous. Proof that many (maybe any?) photographs have something to teach us, and something to offer.

You could ignore every word of the book and still enjoy it a great deal on the images alone.

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But in those words lies the second purpose of the book.

Stephen Shore talks us through some very simply explained – but potentially deeply resonating – concepts in photography, and uses the example images to demonstrate some of these “lessons”.

Small snippets like “the photograph’s structure implies a world continuing beyond its edges” and “a photographer standing before houses and streets and people and trees and artifacts of a culture imposes an order on the scene – simplifies the jumble by giving it structure” really got me thinking more about how I choose to frame a scene, to use just one aspect of photography the author considers.

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The book is divided into five main sections, put simply, an introduction to the nature of photographs, three different levels at which they operate, then our mental relationship (as photographer and viewer) with photographs.

It’s not hugely long (130 pages) but will reward not only repeated viewing of the photographs, but repeated reading and absorbing of the ideas and lessons suggested.

I found I didn’t want to read/view more than maybe four or five pages at a time, to allow both the pictures, and the text and resultant thoughts they each provoked time to simmer and evolve. (Again what a huge contrast to scanning through many pictures a second sometimes online!)

I don’t have many photography books (yet), but this one is definitely a purchase I’m very happy with, and as explained it does feel extra value by containing both thought stimulating lessons and beautiful images in one volume.

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I can see myself returning to it multiple times, to read through then try to apply the “lessons”, as well a book to pick up, pluck a page at random and enjoy the picture presented thereon.

The Nature Of Photographs by Stephen Shore on Amazon.

The Nature Of Photographs by Stephen Shore on The Book Depository.

Are you familiar with this book, or indeed the photography of Stephen Shore?

Please let us know below.

Thanks for looking. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too. If you’re interested, this is what my photography life looks like right now.

10 thoughts on “Books Before Gear #1 – The Nature Of Photographs – Stephen Shore”

  1. This was great. I hope you do a lot more reviews of books like these. Ones that are overlooked for the classics such as “The Americans”. While good, it’s nice to hear about books that I won’t normally find. I added that book to my wish list.

      1. Got the book and enjoyed it very much; I think I need to read it a few time though as there is a lot to digest from relatively few words.
        There were a few times I wished he had referred more directly to the images on the page. I know he did this on some pages but I felt it needed a little more on others. I realize he probably wants the reader to look more and make the connections for themselves and perhaps after a few more sessions I will feel different.

        1. Ah, very pleased you enjoyed it!

          Yes I felt very similarly, I almost wanted a bit more explanation sometimes, but then if it had given that, I wouldn’t have had much to interpret or figure out myself. So overall I think the quite sparse writing is just the right balance.

  2. Hello I dont comment regularly on peoples blogs as i just read the email and move on. But i wanted to just say i enjoy your posts and its appreciated. I went with this recommendation and recieved the book today. Actually going through it now. Its my type of book. Can i recommend The essence of photography by Bruce Barnbaum. Its an excellent book,one to make you think and learn.

    1. Hi Steve, thanks for commenting and welcome!

      Really pleased you’re enjoying the Shore book. I’m going to check out the Barnbaum recommendation and add to my wishlist, many thanks. Any others you’d recommend?

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