‘Reading Photographs’ is the first of Bloomsbury’s Basics: Creative Photography series. It is not on the reading list given in the course notes but it is on my tutor’s personal reading list and is the book that he recommends reading first. Having now read it (not first, unfortunately) I find that it has given meaning and a degree of understanding to some of my earlier reading.
The book is an introduction to many of the concepts of photography criticism, written in clear language, with interesting example images and case studies and (unlike many texts) does not assume any prior knowledge on the part of the reader. The six main sections introduce key concepts and will be more or less relevant depending on the reader. For me, section 1 (dealing with the history of photography) was revision and sections 4 and 5 (portraits and representations of people, and surveillance and voyeurism) may become relevant later.
Section 2: Identity is an introduction to semiotics. It gives the clearest explanation I have yet seen of the vocabulary of signs and reading images.
Section 3: Truth and lies covers documentary photography with a discussion of ‘reality’, manipulation, objectivity and viewpoint.
Section 6: Aesthetics introduces the ‘… is it Art?’ question with a potted history of photography’s relationship to the ‘fine arts’, together with comments on postmodernism, conceptualism, appropriation and the current attitude of galleries to photography.
I doubt that there are any really deep insights in this book but, as an introduction allowing this level-1 student to approach the works containing the deep insights, it does exactly what it says on the tin.
Salkeld, R. (2014) Reading photographs: An introduction to the theory and meaning of images. London: Bloomsbury.