Bruce Barnbaum -The Art of Photography


Copyright 1994 (6th printing, 2013) Bruce Barnbaum

Bruce Barnbaum’s The Art of Photography, An approach to Personal Expression, which was first published in 1994, is a photographic book that comes up frequently as a resource for photographers who make submissions to LensCulture. Thus as a submission reviewer for LensCulture and if I was going to suggest to photographers that this could be a great reference book for them, I should darn know what Barnbaum has written and understand why this book could be pertinent to them.

I first met Barnbaum many, many years ago when he and John Sexton were developing their zone system/creativity workshops, which at the time both were heavily influenced by the west coast school of photographic modernist. John Sexton went on to be one of the last photographic assistants for Ansel Adams. So no surprise that Barnbaum’s book has a heavy emphasis on black and white techniques; Zone system for film (roll and sheet), film development, filters, black and white papers and darkroom printing (yes, the wet darkroom, not Photoshop), bellows and reciprocity factors (assuming you were using at least a 4×5” view camera), film density, etc and all the necessities for black and white analog photography. So no surprise, this is a solid technical reference book for those using a black and white analog medium (a photographic space I worked in for 15 years).

So the real question for me is Barnbaum’s book relevant to a photographer who is working on contemporary concepts and projects? For me the answer is yes and no and really depends on the individual and their openness (guess you could call this a guarded “yes”). There are chapters which discuss “What are the Elements Composition”, Photographic Realism, Abstraction and Art, Thoughts on Creativity, Toward a Personal Philosophy and Artist Integrity, but again, from the viewpoint of a modernist, not contemporary photographer. This is also a chapter on how to use the zone system for digital photography, both color and black and white, which is relevant to individuals who have digital exposure and digital printing issues.

Nevertheless if you read Barnbaum’s concepts (and get beyond his modernist examples) to understand the basic questions that are being asked, these could be applicable to any artist; What is your emotional response to what you are thinking about photographing; What is your personal point of view; Subject matter ultimately becomes secondary to the artist seeing, vison (read: concept) and philosophy of life. With an advanced degree in mathematics from UCLA and an on-going interest in physics, don’t be put off by when suddenly he introduces quantum mechanics theory to discuss a point about creativity.

In the final chapter, Barnbaum states that a photographer/artist shouldn’t try to analyze something to death before going and actually doing it (whether the zone system for film or Photoshop for digital); “be willing to experiment with new tools, new subject matter, new ways of seeing and composing, new ways to interpret the scene”. Makes sense to me.

Publisher: rockynook (Santa Barbara, CA)

The book has stiff-cover, glued/perfect bound binding, four-color lithography, Index, and printed in Korea









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