Book Review: Henry Carroll’s ‘Photographers on Photography’

Book Review: Henry Carroll’s ‘Photographers on Photography’

Today, we’re going to step away from multitude of camera announcements, software updates, and gorgeous new lenses that have tickled our feeds recently and take a look at a brand new book titled “Photographers on Photography: How the Masters See, Think, and Shoot.”

When Laurence King Publishing reached out and asked if I’d like to take a look at a couple of their new books for Fstoppers, I was excited for sure. Much of what we do in the photography industry, and indeed here at Fstoppers, is related to technique, gear, and business. These are all important aspects of photography. However, it is great, from time to time, to explore photography in a deeper manner. Henry Carroll’s book does just that.

With a subtitle like “How the Masters See, Think, and Shoot,” this seems like the perfect compendium for all photographers to read and in some ways it is. The book is packed from cover to cover with quotes and photographs from photographers of various genres and dissections of those quotes by the author. Each spread opens with a new quote and displays a new photographer’s work. Carroll then gives his take on the quote and occasionally peppers in an interview with the photographer (those who are still with us).

Used courtesy of George Eastman Museum, gift of Alvin Langdon Coburn. Copyright of The Universal Order. Image supplied by Laurence King Publishing.

Photographers covered within the pages of this book include household names like Ansel Adams, Daido Moriyama, and William Henry Fox Talbot. However, you’ll find plenty of lesser known photographers who have equally profound words to share when it comes to their thoughts on photography and its meaning or purpose. 

Alec Soth’s advice is just one nugget we can take away from this book. “If in your heart of hearts you want to take pictures of kitties, take pictures of kitties.” Do what you love and do it well. Don’t think that there is something you should take pictures of or something that you shouldn’t. You can unpack this quote and apply it to not only photography, but much of life. “Photographers on Photography” is packed with quotes and advice like this.

Copyright of Ishiuchi Miyako/courtesy of The Third Gallery Aya. Image provided by Laurence King Publishing.

Some quotes are less universal than Soth’s. Each is likely to have those with whom it resonates and those with whom it has no place. While reading, I found myself constantly questioning how I feel about my own photography, the photography of others, and photography itself as I turned the pages. Even when I disagreed or had no affinity with the artist’s work, I was given pause to think. That, to me, is what makes this book valuable. It contains no answers, but it does contain a lot of starting points for discussion and further thought.

Who Is It For?

Clearly a book that makes you question the nature of photographs, the nature of the process, and consider their purpose is one that is not as practical as some. In this way, if you’re looking for practical or technical advice, this is not for you. However, if you’re interested in getting inside the minds of some great photographers and beginning to think more deeply about your own work and photography in general, this might just be the book for you.

Used courtesy of National Science and Media Museum/Science & Society Picture Library. Image provided by Laurence King Publishing.

What’s Missing?

Although the book contains quotes from 50 photographers along with the analysis provided by the author, I would have liked to see a couple more direct interviews with photographers themselves. The four short conversations in the book are packed with additional insight that was fascinating to read. 

I also feel that many modern forms of photography went under-represented. The book tends to focus on the masters and those in the contemporary fine-art space, without giving much room for other, equally important, forms of photography. Perhaps a second book could focus on modern wedding, portrait, family, advertising, and editorial photographers to name just a few. This would give us a wider look at the nature of photography. 

Even without these, this is a fantastic book that explores photography in a thoughtful way. We can all benefit from giving some thought as to why and how we photograph what we do. If you’d like to pick up a copy of “Photographers on Photography,” you can get yours here.

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5 Comments

Michael Jin's picture

Always cool to hear about a book I haven't read before.

Tim Ericsson's picture

I applaud this change of pace on the site! More book reviews please, especially over the next few weeks so I can fill out my holiday shopping cart!

Tim Gallo's picture

buy bjp subscription - greatest money spend :) also apperture series.

Tim Ericsson's picture

I get aperture now, but not bjp. Thanks for the rec!

Tim Gallo's picture

i just happened to buy it on a whim, and its wasted money for me. quotes are interesting which cannot said about henry carroll and his comments, some of which i found questionable, some of which were just too obvious (in like "butter is buttery" obvious)
explaining quotes and approach of this photographers makes quotes weak and leaves a feeling that it is explained by someone who has no idea what it means to take pictures; like students of photography explaining works of greats in their presence... its akward.
it can be fun for amateurs i guess, but for somebody taking studying photography seriously its a more of a miss than hit book. especially if you are a photographer and trying to get into the mind of masters.

i suggest the apperture series that are written by actual photographers
https://aperture.org/shop/books/educational

(especially the todd hido book was a revelation.)

or just read actual interviews of photographers which are plenty on internet...