I was given my first camera before I reached my teens. It was a simple point and shoot Kodak film camera, but it was the start of my love affair with photography. For birthdays and Christmas presents I’d sometimes receive money and that would go straight in the money box to upgrade eventually to an SLR, but the only one in my price range was a Russian Zenith brand camera. I bought it anyway, despite it’s poor reviews in camera mags. More money came in and I added an extra lens and some filters. It just felt right….having the SLR and a big lens on shooting wildlife in the woods. The resulting photos were OK….better than I could get with the point and shoot so I was happy.
In my mid teens, after school and on weekends I worked at the local supermarket and eventually saved enough money to buy a “real” camera. I’d been awestruck by celebrity photographer of the day David Bailey, who didn’t just photograph the “jet set” – he was part of it. He was one of the biggest stars around and photographed anyone who was at the top of their profession. Movie stars, rock stars, top models, celebrities of all types, world leaders….all the movers and shakers were photographed by David Bailey. So, when I saw him on T.V. advertising the Olympus OM10 SLR I knew I had to have it.
I wasn’t disappointed. It was a nice camera. Much lighter and better quality than the Zenith and a stylier look too. It came with a standard 50mm lens. I got my first zoom lens to go with it and then added a wide angle lens and I was all set up. Of course that was longer ago than I care to admit and over the years I moved with the times…..dabbled with Polaroid instant photos in addition to the OM10….had a go with a few other film cameras in various formats (including a twin lens reflex that produced square nagatives) and eventually when the quality of digital photography reached an acceptable level I made the switch to digital – DSLR’s. Firstly Fujifilm digital cameras – in fact I still occasionally use my Fuji HS10 which has a wonderful 24 – 720mm lens. The only real let down is the speed of focus (and the size of the sensor). It produces some nice clear and bright images.
At the moment I have a couple of Nikon bodies and lenses in my camera bag. BUT this article isn’t about me and my cameras it’s about the photographers I admire or who influenced me over the years. Yes Bailey was the first, so when I came across his book “Locations” in a local book store I bought it for old times sake. Turning over the pages I see again what attracted me to his style of photography – the glamour and the “beautiful people” – and yet it now seems somewhat tawdry (false, showy but cheap).
The above pic shows a German Language version of the book. I have the English version. Actually, and not meaning to be unkind to the lady on the front of the book but, you wouldn’t know from the cover that he was a glamour photographer. He was famous for having affairs with a number of his models and even married two of them. In 1975 he married American fashion model and writer Marie Helvin; and in 1986 the model Catherine Dyer (born 20 July 1961), to whom he remains married. One of his most famous books featuring photos of Helvin in various stages of undress was “Trouble and Strife”.
These days I have a number of photographic heroes and heroines. The Heroines I already touched on in an earlier post, so I’ll talk about the male photographers and the books of theirs that grace my bookcases and coffee table.
My passions – other than writing – are photography and travel, so no surprise that one of my favourite photographers – probably my overall favourite – is Steve McCurry, who’s photo “Afghan Girl” shot him to stardom.
Above “Afghan Girl” photo on left and McCurry on right. His photo of “the Afghan Girl” graced both the cover of National Geographic magazine and at least one (if not more) Nat Geo hard cover book “The Photographs”….which I also have on my bookshelf.
He tends to work in Asia a lot, particularly India where he makes the most of the vibrant colours. I don’t think that there is a photographer any better when it comes to colour photography. He has an eye for the right shot and will scope out a setting for a long time waiting for the right person wearing the right colours to walk by a particular scene. The brightly coloured saris and the pastel coloured buildings in India are perfect subjects for him to photograph. I have a number of his books including “The Path to Buddha”, “Untold – the stories behind the photographs” and a small format Phaidon book simply titled “Steve McCurry”.
The “Untold” book is a wonderful insight into a photographers world and gives the back story on how many of his popular photos came to be taken. I also have a thick, large format book “Magnum” – no not the TV show – about the Magnum Photo Agency – which features McCurry’s work and also have several hardcover National Geographic books which have several of his photos. I’d also love to own a copy of his book “Monsoon” – photographed in India naturally.
Talking of “Monsoon”….New Zealand photographer and fellow Magnum Photo Agency member Brian Brake has a book of the same name – shot in India which has a number of excellent photos, BUT without wanting to offend any Brian Brake fans out there, although he is a very good photographer, in my opinion, he comes second to McCurry.
The above photo is both inside and on the cover of his book. The photo initially received rave reviews – until it came out that he had actually set up the shot. It seemed on the surface that it was a shot of a girl lifting her face to the rains of the monsoon – BUT he’d set it up with an assistant holding a hose on a ladder and having his model pose under the hose. Either way, it’s still a very nice shot. I have Brake’s “Monsoon” along side another of his books “Lens on the World” beside my Steve McCurry books, on my book case, in my office.
“Lens on the World” covers a huge range of Brakes photos throughout his career.
I have just the one book by Helmut Newton – “Polaroids”. I have been in awe of Newton’s statuesque nudes for years. He also photographs celebrities, rock stars etc. When I was in Paris in 2016 I saw an exhibition of his huge format photos at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie – located at n. 5, Rue de Fourcy. It was only when I saw these huge, larger than life prints up close – the clarity was amazing – that I realised what a good photographer he is… or I should say was. Although most of the prints at the exhibition were in black and white he also worked in colour. I suppose I’d have to put him in the same catagory as David Bailey – a glamour and glamorous photographer, who lived the lifestyle of the rich and the famous.
“Elliot Erwitt’s Paris“. I had to buy this book – by one of my favourite photographers – of photos of one of my favourite cities in the world.
Elliott Erwitt (yet another member of Magnum) – classed as an American photographer but born in France -for me is one of the finest photographers at “capturing the moment”. It’s a real skill out on the street to capture the right shot at the right time. One second too early or one second too late and the shot is meaningless. Hit the shot in the sweet spot and you have as Henri Cartier-Bresson’s coined it “captured the decisive moment”. He enjoys taking photos of the absurd….loves getting down to the level of dogs (he loves to photograph dogs and has an entire book of dog photos)…and really has fun with his camera. Which is why, now in his 90’s, he is still putting out books of his work. He has often said he has never worked a day in his life….taking photos is a joy not a job. Two examples of his work are below.
Another master of Street Photography – another Frenchman – Robert Doisneau is another of my favourites. Probably his most famous photo is also his most infamous photo. Doisneau is renowned for his 1950 image Le baiser de l’hôtel de ville (Kiss by the Town Hall), a photograph of a couple kissing on a busy Parisian street.
Initially hailed as a masterpiece of “catching the moment” – it was later revealed that it was posed specially for the photographer to get the shot. Posed or not, it’s still a great photo and graces the cover of the Taschen produced “Icons” (as in Icons of photography)book on my shelf. He, like Erwitt loved capturing comedic shots like the one below of a gendarme – captured at just the right moment.
And to round things off I’ll just mention books I have of a couple of the pioneers of photography…Edward Weston – an American photographer who’s favoured photographic subjects were of nudes or of close up shots of peppers and shells although, in a career spanning 40 years, he also photographed a variety of still life, portraits and landscapes. He has been called one of the most influential and innovative of America’s photographers. Again, like Bailey his nude studies seemed to be of women he had relationships with, most famous of these was Tina Modetti – a stage and film actress who later became a photographer in her own right.
His early photos were soft focus but as he progressed he became The Master of detailed photography producing incredibly clear images with what was at the time fairly primitive equipment.
…and finally no photographic library is complete without at least one book by Ansel Adams. Most famous for his photos of the Yosemite region of the USA – his photos of the great outdoors are legendary. He first visited Yosemite with his family back in 1916 when he was given his first camera, a box brownie, by his father. The rest, as they say, is history. As a professional photographer, working in large format he produced very clear detailed photos and like his fellow photographer Edward Weston was a founding member of the f/64 group of photographers. His work has been reproduced in books, magazines and calendars – and his images are still being used – even though he has been dead for over 30 years. True quality does not date.
His book “400 photographs” is one of the books that I often look at for inspiration.
The above books are some of my favourite “go to” books when I need a photographic lift and are a small selection of my library of photographic books. I’m just testing the water here. If you’d like me to share more about my collection of photography books, please comment below.