How Photography Books Have Radically Reduced My Appetite For New Photos

As part of my photographic simplification in recent months, I’ve abandoned social media, unplugged from my online life at weekends, and invested in a few photography books.

One of the interesting side effects I’ve noticed is how I am consuming barely any photography online now. 

Partly this is because I am online less generally, and when I am it’s mostly writing for 35hunter, leaving and responding to comments here and on the few blogs I follow, responding to a few emails, and editing my own photos with Google Photos and Flickr.

And partly it’s due, I’m sure, to the impact the photography books are having.

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The most relevant metaphor I can use as a comparison, is eating.

With photography books, it’s like you have chosen a specific restaurant (photographer) with its distinct style of food (photography) ahead of time, and booked a table. Then you take the time to sit down and fully enjoy the food (photographs) one mouthful (photograph) at a time.

A very enjoyable evening ensues, memorable time well spent that influences how you see and enjoy eating (looking at photographs) in general, and gives inspiration for your own cooking (photography) back home.

Whereas before, scanning through hundreds of photos a day on Instragram, Flickr, blogs, PentaxForums etc, feels in retrospect like sprinting through a food street market grabbing random handfuls of food left right and centre, then ramming them down your throat as rapidly as possible, so you have room for the next snatched morsel a second later.

Which leaves you feeling stuffed, exhausted and with so many flavours colliding anarchically in your mouth, you can’t clearly define or appreciate any of them. Not a pleasant experience, and somehow you end up feeling sick from over indulging, and desperately hungry and unfulfilled at the same time.

The drastic difference between these two experiences of course encourages you to avoid the food street markets and spend more quality time in quality restaurants.

Which is where I’m at – more deliberate and focused time with the books, less scattered and snatched time with the screen.

How about you? How much do you digest photography in books compared with online? How do each of these mediums impact how much you do of the other? And how does all of this influence your own photography? 

Please let us know in the comments below (and remember to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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.

19 thoughts on “How Photography Books Have Radically Reduced My Appetite For New Photos”

  1. I view photos of art posted by Robyn Gordon on FB, I look at your photos Dan and then offline I go through magazines and cut out photos to put in my journals and appreciate them when I cut them out and then again when I am writing in the journal. I keep meaning to go to the library for photo books but don’t get there. It’s on my to do list which is rather long xox susanJOY

    1. Susan, cutting out photos and pasting in journals reminds me of writing stuff down to remember it. If I try to keep it in my head it’s too nebulous and intangible, but if I write down something I need to remember, just that act of writing it and seeing what I’ve written locks it in my memory far more effectively. Even if I then never look at what I’ve written again. In other words by having something physical and tangible in our hands, it seems to make more of an impact with us than if it’s a fleeting image on screen.

  2. Excelente post…Cualquier semejanza con la sociedad de consumo en general es pura coincidencia jeje…Saludos!

    1. Hey Pablo, thanks for your comments, yes absolutely, I think we’re becoming brainwashed in many areas to continue this mindless consumption just for the act of consumption almost, and without really considering what we are consuming and why. If we step back and take more consideration, we can consume less, and make better choices. Yes, across all of life, not just browsing photographs.

  3. I also decided in 2017 not to buy any photography gear and to spend my money instead on a monthly photo book. Initially, I found or hard to break the online viewing mentality so when a new book arrived I felt the need to look through the entire book and see ever picture right away. Of course, this meant that I ended up skimming the images in a very online fashion. It took some time to learn to slew down, to realize that I didn’t need to see everything because the images would still be there tomorrow, would not disappear into the vast unsearchable reaches of the internet. So now, when a new book arrived I take my time, looking at fewer images but looking at them longer and deeper. And returning from time to time to look again.

    My own online consumption has also dropped off as a result. I see it less as street and more like Starbucks or McDonalds – predictable and lacking in real variety. I think the internet tends to homogenise style – one a particular approach to landscape or portraiture or urban photography gets a following that approach then gets copied and replicated. My approach is to follow some specific individuals whose work I like and a handful of websites where I have previously found new work that has appealed to me.

    I’ve also reached the point where I fell that spending to much time constantly attending to new images is closing off my scope for encountering the rights of the photographic past.

    The only downside is the a lot of photo books are expensive, but I’ve also come to enjoy finding a second hand Bastian online or in used book stores.

    1. Olli, thanks for your thoughtful input.

      It’s quite worrying how the pace of modern life is having such an impact on our attention spans and consumption habits. Like we’ve forgotten how to sit down quietly and immerse ourselves in a great book.

      Yes I agree about fast food joints like McD and Starbucks, I just couldn’t fit the analogy to a street full of these that we could run through and grab handfuls of food as we passed.

      I do think it’s an excellent point about homogeneity and people tracking what’s popular and then trying to emulate/clone it to become more popular themselves, rather than find and pursue their own artistic style.

      I think this is another value in older photography books that have transcended any time or fashion and stand purely on the quality of the work.

      Really like what you said about coming back to a book too, because you know where it is and what page you got to. Although of course we have bookmarks/favourites in our browsers etc, and other apps that do this for is, it still quickly becomes overwhelming. Having a book by your bed, with a bookmark in it, is so much simpler and more direct.

      The cost is a factor of course, but I wrote a while back about having a photography budget of £25 a month and how I went hundreds into the red, before selling a bunch of stuff I didn’t need and getting back towards the black again. This budget I think is reasonable to get a decent photo book a month, or wait a couple of months and get one of the more expensive ones. Buying used where you can lowers the cost further still. It’s still a pretty affordable hobby, even compared with the costs of shooting and processing film now.

  4. Well, I’m not that extreme as you describe it … hundreds of images a day on numerous online-platforms. This is too much … some kind of massive overload.

    Online, I stroll through two photo platforms and this means maybe a dozen of images a day. Animated by you, I began enjoying some photo books. I mentioned it already somewhere, that this … opening a photo book and viewing a single image a day, again and again … let’s me see things in a different … more intensive way. This is in no way comparable to the endless online- hunt for the next spectacular image. So what’s the conclusion … slow down and intensify your photographic experience.

    1. Love that last line Reinhold – “slow down and intensify your photographic experience” .

      An excellent mantra for every aspect of our photography!

  5. I’m somewhere in the middle, I guess. I also left social media and most sharing platforms, getting sick of the unstoppable stream of racism (Twitter), the big egos (Instagram) or the spam & bots (Tumblr – I still follow a handful of people there, but currently I only post links to WordPress myself). And I removed my Facebook and Flickr accounts a few years ago.

    I do own books (William Klein, Daido Moriyama, to name a few), but I regularly search, bookmark and re-visit the work of photographers online as well. Example: now that I have picked up the Holga again, I like to “study” the website of documentary photographer Brigitte Grignet (www.brigittegrignet.com), who has shot some amazing photo work with the Holga. To me, that is just as enjoyable as picking up a book.

    A side note: for my daily activities I hardly use a computer or the internet, so I spend little time online anyway.

    1. Just as a quick aside, Robert – thank you for the pointer to the work of Brigitte Grignet . Wonderful stuff there.

    2. Robert, I think this is a route I will return to also. But for now I felt so supersaturated with online images and platforms, I needed to strip back to virtually nothing, and pick up a few books.

      I expect in a few months I might want to return to explore more online, and indeed now I do still follow a few blogs that inspire me.

  6. I spend far too much time online in general. It’s not even Instagram or Flickr that’s the problem… it’s Youtube and Netflix! As a result, I seem to have the attention span of a gnat when it comes to consuming content through paper-form. It takes me ages to finish reading or a book, or it gets abandoned altogether; I rarely get to peruse a magazine before it becomes out of date; and as for photobooks, they’ll often lie forgotten as I waste time hunting for Youtube videos to pass the time.

    I really do want to change though… I have a library membership that I never use (except I did use it once to get an Ansel Adams book out, and I bloody enjoyed it, even thought about buying my own copy), so I’m going to try my hardest to get at least one photobook out each month. You have inspired me 🙂 although if I remember correctly they didn’t have a huge selection, but I can borrow from other libraries in my borough as well, so fingers crossed…!

    1. I’m kind of the opposite with online video, and I don’t really like watching TV much, via Netflix or anything else.

      I know there are hundreds, maybe thousands of interesting and worthwhile photography and art related documentaries etc on YouTube, I just never really get around to watching them. I prefer the slower pace of images and written words.

      I think a big factor for me too is adverts. I can’t stand them on TV, on YouTube, or some of the commercial websites, I just find them so intrusive to the solitary and focused experiences I can have with watching a film on DVD say or reading a book in a quiet room. Even things like when you put a DVD on, that you’ve paid for outright, and you still get a bunch of adverts for other films that you have to skip through. I’ve paid my money, just play the film!!

      You might recall I upgraded my WordPress plan some months back to stop showing ads. There are still blogs I follow that have ads and pop ups (“subscribe so you don’t miss a post” – I already have! or the now ubiquitous cookies/privacy policy pop ups that appear all the time), and I often hover over the unsubscribe option (and sometimes press it!).

      You don’t get any of this with a book, just the simple, pure experience, at your own speed, on your own terms.

      I think most libraries not only have the county/borough wide affiliation so you can order books even if not in your nearest library, and I’m pretty sure some do it across county/borough boundaries too.

      There are the usual sources like Amazon too of course for used books, which is what a library book is after all, unless you’re the first person to read a brand new one!

      1. I actually decided to buy Ansel Adams In Colour from Amazon used 🙂 I was cheap though and bought the previous edition, not the newest one haha.

        I try not to buy books generally because they never get read most of the time, and just end up taking up space. I’m actually about to give away a ton of books to the British Heart Foundation, and I’m pretty sure I hadn’t read half of them. It’s such a shame because I was an avid reader when I was younger, but university kind of put me off books (and my chosen career path).

        I have an Adblock extension installed so I don’t get ads on Youtube 🙂 so I rarely see ads generally because I hardly watch TV either.

        1. Oh I didn’t know you could get that extension for YouTube, interesting.

          I used to read more books too, and now hardly any, aside from photography.

          It’s a good idea going for an older edition, you imagine the photographs are going to be the same.

          Oh and I was put off a few things by University too. Strange the impact it had, and little of it positive or useful relating to where I am in my life now. But that’s a whole other topic!

  7. Really interesting post here that’s got me thinking I need to spend less time online and revisit some of the great photography books on my shelves. Thank you!

    1. You’re most welcome, thanks for reading and commenting. It’s not that there aren’t any great photographs online, it’s more the whole speed and approach and mentality that’s so different when sitting down and immersing yourself in a book rather than scanning a screen.

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