Monday, August 22, 2011

Why Some Photographs Work

A review of  Why Photographs Work ... 52 Great Images :Who Made Them, What Makes Them Special and Why, by George Barr

This book's title might give the impression that the author has figured something out that the rest of us haven't.  If we only knew the secret to why photographs work, we'd be able to create one masterpiece after another without the anguish we all experience when what we printed out or put on the screen is something that is less than we had imagined it would be.

So, were we to measure this book only by its title, we'd be enticed and disappointed.  Barr doesn't offer any universal generalizations that are keys to greatness.  What he gives us is a highly personal selection of 52 images that work for him.  And he explains why, analyzing tonality, composition, light, texture, movement, etc. in so much detail at times I stopped reading after a couple of paragraphs and just returned to the sheer enjoyment of the images.  Frankly, I often found the analysis Barr provides for each image excessive overkill. 

But there are other good reasons to recommend this book.  The reproductions are exquisite.  The pages measure 10 by 10 inches, big enough, barely, to do justice to the world-class images they hold.  The extensive perspectives the photographers write about their images more that make up for Barr's excessive analytics.  And there is a brief but sufficient technical paragraph about the equipment used in the making of each photograph.

The 52 images selected reflect Barr's taste and idiosyncrasies.  Anyone else would have probably made different selections of images that possess just as much power. But that's beside the point.  George Barr gives us 52 photographs by 52 different photographers.  Each one is worth the time to savor and enjoy.  Each photographer is worth getting to know better.

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