PJ Book Club

May 8th, 2011 | Uncategorized |

The recent posting of a short interview with legendary photo editor John G. Morris on YouTube reminded me I’ve been meaning to write something on my readings of late.

As my children have gotten older (one is seven, the other three) I finally have started to find time to read again. This has meant both the chance to enjoy some of the fiction I enjoy, but also a chance to read more on the subjects of photojournalism that occupy such a key place in my life.

This does not mean I’ve had endless time and have read everything on the topic. But a few titles have really stood-out to me lately. I know as visual journalists we tend to consume books with more visuals perhaps than text, but these books are all or mostly narrative in nature rather than books of photographs.

Two of the books; Claude Cookman’s “American Photojournalism” and Howard Chapnick’s “Truth Needs no Ally” are arguably text books. Prof. Cookman’s book is a history of photojournalism that I consider a must read because of the author’s deep connection and compelling narrative of how the earliest practitioners of photography were the forefathers of what we now know as photojournalism. Cookman also wrote the definitive history of the founding of the NPPA “A Voice is Born” so I will admit a bias towards this narrative.

Chapnick’s book might be a bit dated, published in 1994, as a series of lessons on a career in photojournalism. And yet chapters on the purpose and value of visual reporting as well as his thinking on creativity and ethics are more than worth the time. I do recommend reading these two books spaced by other titles as to lesson the feeling of being back in school.

Sebastian Junger’s book “War” is the narrative of his year in Afghanistan’s Korengal valley that also created the National Geographic documentary “Restrepo”. The book is not so much about visual journalism, but to read the harrowing accounts of the efforts of Junger and his colleague Tim Hetherington as they document the soldiers’ lives is riveting.

Ken Light’s “Witness in our Time” is a collection of interviews with documentary photographers. Some you may never have heard of but many are household names in our field and to read their thoughts can be enlightening and inspiring.

With the impending release of the film version, a reading of Greg Marinovich and Joao Silva’s “The Bang Bang Club” was necessary. I, of course, came of age in this field during the events of the book. I knew the names well and have been meaning to read the book ever since it was published in 2000. I’m glad I got to before seeing the movie, because I will be interested to see how Hollywood did in dramatizing the story. The book is riveting. If you were alive in the early 90’s and following the photos coming out of South Africa you won’t be able to put this one down.

Of course the book can be a bit of a downer. Two members of the eponymous club are no longer with us. I had to follow with something a bit lighter so I read Annie Griffiths Belt’s “A Camera, Two Kids and a Camel”. Annie’s book is much more of a photo book than any of the others. And while you will spend time just looking at the beautiful examples of her work on the pages, you would be remiss if you skip her narrative. The book, as the title hints, is about her travels as a staff photographer for National Geographic and bringing her children along on those trips. Her stories are generally light and entertaining, but it is easy to be inspired by them because of her clear passion for what she does.

I actually read John G. Morris’ “Get the Picture” somewhere in the middle of all these books, but am feeling strongest about it still. News Photographer Editor Don Winslow refers to Morris as “the picture editor of all picture editors” and the story of his life is compelling and inspirational. From the dramatic tale of the 11 Robert Capa D-Day images that survived a lab error in London in 1944 through his work with the Magnum photo agency and a remarkable stint as picture editor of Ladies Home Journal you get a real sense for how photojournalism evolved through most of the 20th century.

I heartily recommend all these books and look forward to suggestions from you.

9 Responses to “PJ Book Club”

  1. […] “Restrepo”. The book is not so much about visual journalism, but to read the harrowing …http://blogs.nppa.org/perspect .. Share and […]

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