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100 Ideas that Changed Photography

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I was keen to review this book as its format interested me. Is it a history, a primer or a reference book? It could have been produced as a ‘100 greatest hits’ of the history of photography. In fact, the ‘ideas’ are chronological, well almost (I’d position the lens before photography, as used in telescopes, microscopes etc.).

What is different about this book’s approach is that it aims to capture a broader picture. As well as numerous historical highlights, the ‘ideas’ include influences from outside the medium, encouraging a more encompassing view of photography. These range from photography’s interactions with other media, to the ways that people use photography. As well as inventions, the ‘ideas’ include tabloids, television, photo-booths, collecting and exploration, to name but a few. Television, for example, isn’t often included in histories of photography, despite its effect on the medium. Note that these are 100 ideas, not the 100 ideas. As Marien states, you’d have to add a zero or two to the 100 for a comprehensive list of photography’s ‘ideas’.
This is a sizeable book, but there are only two pages per topic, including illustrations. The delivery in ‘bite-sized pieces’ makes it an accessible book, one that can easily be picked up and dipped into. This format is also less off-putting to visually biased readers (as many photographers are) than predominantly textual books. It is essentially a taster, tempting readers to explore topics deeper. The engaging format is further enhanced by the excellent standard of photographs chosen and the quality of their reproduction.

So how does this book compare to other publications? It won’t replace the Focal Encyclopedia as a reference tool. Nor does it have the rigour of The Key Concepts: Photography (David Bate), which explores ideas in greater depth. Both of these are aimed squarely at students. 100 Ideas will sit alongside the ‘easy browsing’ books on my shelves, such as Dialogue With Photography (Hill & Cooper), or Phaidon’s The Photobook. These bridge the gap between histories, theoretical texts and primers.
What, you may ask did I learn from reading it? I looked at many concepts from a different viewpoint, taking a step back, to see a more contextual view. I learnt some new terms too, such as Concrete Photography (no sand or cement required!). I also found some great images that I hadn’t seen before, such as Vo Anh Khanh’s shot of a North Vietnamese operating theatre in a swamp U Minh Forest, Ca Cau (p 45), or the witty pasta advertising on a ship’s hull of Noodleslurper. Irritatingly the latter, as with some other images, has not been credited to the photographer.
I’d recommend it primarily for level-one students although, as it is currently retailing at around £13, it should appeal to a far wider audience …including those of us who’ve got more photography books on our shelves than all other genres put together.
Derek Trillo is a photography tutor with OCA

Posted by author: Derek
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