Take Your Photography to the Next Level
From the Inspiration to the Image, By George Barr
|Value for money||8/10|
|Did it do what it said on the box?||8/10|
A Great Inspiration For When You're Stuck or Frustrated
This is an unusual book, being almost as much about the psychology of photography as its craft. There are better books about technique, but none I know better lead the reader to analyse his or her successes, failures and way forwards in photography. If you feel stuck or frustrated, unable to improve, or have ever thought "I can’t photograph anything here" then this may be just the book for you.
In the introduction, Barr suggests you shouldn’t read the book if you can’t relate to his images, but that’s wrong. If your photographic interests are sweeping landscapes, stunning action or unambiguous portraits then you may well be puzzled by the images, as Barr focuses strongly on abstract details, usually of faded industrial objects. However, rejecting the book on that basis would cause a great many readers to unjustly ignore this work.
After an introductory chapter in which Barr analyses some of his own work in detail, the core of the book focuses on success and failure in photography: what photographs well; how photographs, and photographers, may succeed or fail; and what to do if you are dissatisfied with your ability to find images, capture and render them, or present them to others.
Where this book really scores is in the numerous "how to" bullet lists, of things to do and processes to follow in order to both find an image, and then ensure you have the best possible composition of it.
George Barr is obviously, as a project manager once described herself to me, a "very listy sort of person". Sometimes this works very well, but at other times it feels a little like things are being analysed past the point of usefulness.
In the final chapter Barr presents a pair of five-level capability models, of the form much loved by management methodologists, against which a photographer’s technical skill and artistic achievement can be measured. After guides to assessing one’s level, there are then suggested steps to progress between levels, encapsulating the book’s earlier advice. This has to be the most scientific way to present "taking your art to the next level", but it works well.
The book is not perfect. In particular some sections where Barr analyses individual images are poorly laid out, with the discussion two pages or more adrift from the relevant photos. In the middle of the book the analytical approach gets taken to an extreme, listing multiple variants of corner and frame structure, and I confess to hurrying through this.
Ultimately, however, such criticisms are relatively minor, if you focus on the book’s core strengths. I would heartily recommend this book to any photographer seeking inspiration for those times, which we all experience, when photography becomes difficult, disappointing or frustrating. Plus, of course, anyone wanting to move up to the next level.