The Photographer’s Shelf – Yéssica Klein

Not only by images is a photographer fed. Words are a pretty important part of a photographer’s diet too – especially if you’re a nerdy one! Lots of academics and theorists have spent some time (over) thinking about the power of the image since the first camera appeared in the 1820s, and their thoughts are really important for those who question if photography is art, if it has any meaning or even if it steals ones soul… Here are a couple of books and essays to get your thinking cogs working!

“A Short Story Of Photography”, Walter Benjamin (1931): this small essay by Frankfurt’s scholar Walter Benjamin is essential for any artist, really. It might be one of the first essays concerning the relationship between art and photography, and it’s historical context is equally fascinating – mind that it was written a few years after the first 35mm Leicas appeared, and just before the popular boom of Kodak’s film cameras. He also starts to develop what would become one of his most famous theories, the one about reproduction of art pieces. Is a picture of the Monalisa still art? If not, how do we argue that photography, when it can be so easily reproduced, is an art form? More on that on “The Work Of Art In The Age Of Mechanical Reproduction(1934).

“On Photography”, Susan Sontag (1977): a collection of essays from the American writer (and Annie Leibovitz’s partner) Susan Sontag. She focuses on the 70s photography scene in the States, analysing works by Diane Arbus and Andy Warhol. Her main argument is that collecting images is a form of voyeurism, and those who chose to photograph are intentionally avoiding any type of interaction. Some people find it a bit harsh, so maybe you want to keep that as an advanced read. Don’t forget about it, though! 

“Camera Lucida”, Roland Barthes (1981): French philosopher Roland Barthes wrote pretty much about everything, photography included. His book “Camera Lucida” analyses the art of the photograph through a semiotic lens, reflecting on compositions to find out what makes us think an image is beautiful. If it sounds complicated, don’t worry we can assure you it’s lighter than you can imagine!


“Why People Photograph”, Robert Adams (1994): well, why do they anyway? Is it because it’s fun? It is because we have a desperate need to make eternal the ephemeral moments? This series of essays by Robert Adams (an awarded American photographer himself) uses an easy vocabulary to deal with the postmodern appeal of the image – one article, for instance, is about photographing dogs… He’s a true believer in photography as a work of art, so it’s interesting to see how it contrasts to the previous texts.

So, if you ever have a break from the viewfinder, be sure to stick your face into one of these books. And don’t forget to tell us what you think 😉

Author: Yéssica Klein