Thursday, April 18, 2013


Photography books in the stacks at the Arlington County public library.

I was at the Arlington County library a few weeks back doing research for a book I'm currently writing (not photo related) and found myself in the photography section. I guess I was drawn there by some invisible force.

Anyway, while looking over all the titles and authors the thought hit me that there have been so many incredible photographers over the years and yet for the past couple of years I've only been following current, mostly young, photographers.

In just one small section of one shelf there were books by Mary Ellen Mark, Arnold Newman, Edward Weston, Robert Capa, Man Ray, Annie Leibowitz, Eve Arnold and even a copy of Edward Steichen's The Family Of Man, a personal favorite.

Before I go any farther, this isn't a post about how today's photographers are nothing compared to the pioneers of the past or about how you can't possibly understand the art of photography if you don't study the masters. I suppose what really struck me is just how soon I forgot. Why did I temporarily forget about these photographers.

Unless you are studying photography in college or at a university, is there really a need to look back and see what came before? I've heard and read this question many times, almost as often as whether you can be a true photographer if you never shot film, or for that matter worked in a darkroom.

The first thing I thought as I looked over the titles wasn't just the fact that its been a while since I thought about these photographers, but that's probably because I haven't seen them on Google +, Facebook or Twitter.  For those photographers still with us, do they have a website or blog? You see, more and more that is how I follow photographers and I suspect that is how you follow them too.
The cover of This is War by David Douglas Duncan
The photographer David Douglass Duncan is a personal favorite of mine and in 1995 I built a website featuring his work. The Web was still new and since there was nothing available online, I did my research in the library and copied a variety of Duncan's photographs with my camera. For years after that I would hear from publishers requesting to license those photographs, or for information on contacting Duncan. All this despite a clear disclaimer on the site that I did not represent Mr. Duncan and that this website was produced for a college electronic journalism class. What if Duncan had access to publish his photographs on the Web or participate in Google Hangouts? I suspect as private a person as Duncan was the result would be the same, however I've been surprised by others adoption of technology.

Today's digital cameras and software make it possible for photographers at all levels to take better photographs and then instantly publish and share those images widely, offering new and old photographers alike the chance to grow, improve and even create a nice following. Plus there are a ton of tutorials, many free, to help you along the way, even without a formal education.

So with that I challenge everyone to visit the library and spend some time looking through the stacks where you might be surprised at what you discover. The first surprise you might notice is that not every technique or subject you've viewed on the Web is new. It's only the Web that is new.

So if you find yourself following the same photographers all the time, and are craving something different, I might suggest you start with any book from the photograph at the top of this post.

And keep shooting and sharing.

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