Non-crash course in art photography?
April 3, 2007 8:15 PM   Subscribe

What are the best online (or offline) 'textbooks' for learning about the history of fine arts photography?

I have experience with critical and artistic movements in literature and film within the last century, so I'm not completely lost on vocabulary or approaches to critical theory. I've tried wiki, google, and mefi, but I have yet to see any comprehensive encycliopedia or timeline of fine arts photography. I'm interested in coverage of major artists and movements with copious examples (ya know...actual photographs with accompanying passages), with enough discussion of current trends and figures to not be lost while attempting to think critically about works being produced now.

Longer and more microscopic the better. Broader treatments of documentary photography, journalism, and 'industries' are welcome. I do not, however, want histories that dwell too much on technical innovations.

I realize that pulling together copyrighted works as such would lend itself better to a textbook, but I'd also love to have a few sites to chew on while at work. Maybe some colleges or museums have underutilized sites that fit what I'm looking for?
posted by cowbellemoo to Education (8 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
The History of Photography by Newhall and Looking at Photographs and The Photographer's Eye both by John Szarkowski are good books to start with.

Also, the Contest of Meaning is a good book containing criticsm from the likes of Rosler and Bright to name a few.
posted by photoslob at 9:53 PM on April 3, 2007

"Seizing the Light" by Robert Hirsch was the textbook for both the History of Photography classes I took. It goes from camera obscuras to Daguerre and Talbot to now and has plenty of example images. Sounds like it's exactly what you want.

You said you don't want a history of technical innovations, but that's pretty much all early and 19th century photography was. You'll have to wade through a lot of it at the beginning because a huge portion of that era was basically a bunch of chemists who couldn't draw inventing different processes.
posted by bradbane at 5:37 AM on April 4, 2007

Response by poster: Yeah, I realize that technical achievements were part of the genesis, but I guess I'm just more interested in photography after it became more accessible to produce.
posted by cowbellemoo at 6:19 AM on April 4, 2007

You might enjoy the "The ongoing moment", a book by a non-photographer about great images and their precedent images. Definitely check out the conscientious blog for reviews of contemporary photography.
posted by xammerboy at 9:43 AM on April 4, 2007

"The Photograph As Contemporary Art" by Charlotte Cotton is an excellent survey and overview of contemporary practice. You didn't mention searching through Amazon for books on photography; that's how I found Charlotte Cotton's book.
posted by conrad53 at 10:58 AM on April 4, 2007

Best answer: My mother teaches fine art photography and the history of photography. Here's what she recommends (and what she teaches her basic class from)—

On The Art of Fixing a Shadow, published by the Art Institute of Chicago. Luscious imagery, good survey of major movements.

Basic Critical Theory for Photographers is an excellent guide to, well, critical theory, but it doesn't have any images.

Photography Speaks has the artists themselves describing their work, which provides a counterpoint to historians.

Photography in Print is all essays on photography by the heavyweight critics. Again, no pictures, but excellent theory.
posted by klangklangston at 5:08 PM on April 4, 2007

Response by poster: Excellent excellent!

Everyone can pat themselves on the back. Klangklangston only gets best answer for building up his (her) authority.

Once again, thanks! I'll be hitting the used bookstores this weekend...
posted by cowbellemoo at 6:18 PM on April 4, 2007

Oh, and here comes a new book: The Nature of Photographs by Steven Shore.
posted by xo at 1:20 PM on April 11, 2007

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