Book Review : The Short Story of Photography
By Iyana Jones
If you’ve got a passion for photography and want to learn more about it’s technical side, The Short Story of Photography is a perfect introduction to the intricacies of the form. Author Ian Haydn Smith touches on the most significant features of photography: genres, famous works, themes, and techniques, resulting in a well rounded crash course for curious readers.
Smith handles this book like an abstract seminar, trying to educate while refraining from dictating explicit explanations. By not using direct definitions and instead providing examples, readers are able to understand artistic vocabulary through their own lenses and not through memorization. His first section explores 33 genres of photography, where he uses the photos as prime examples and provides historical background for the readers to connect the difficult terminology to its definition.
The “Works” portion touches on the greatest examples of each genre of photography from its inception. This dense, but accessible, section illustrates how these distinct genres often overlap, creating multifunctional photos. The legendary photos Smith chooses are engaging - they span from the 1800s to modern day images that have inspired and changed the way photography has been conceptualized. One of the best would be Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1936, taken by Dorothea Lange, depicting a homeless woman and her children. This photo became famous for it’s ability to transform this homeless woman into an image of grace. This worried mother looks into the distance and what concerns her the viewer can only guess. Her children’s faces are hidden in their mother’s shoulder, making her unnerving expression create the mood for the photo.
What is interesting to note is that Migrant Mother was a photo that was manipulated, but that was not mentioned in the book. It calls to question what other details of the photos contained in this book ethically corrupt backstories that the audiences wouldn't know.
Probably the most intricate and most useful part of the book comes in the form of the Technique section. All of the complicated jargon is translated into simpler language for the inexperienced to understand. It gives better insight into what goes into creating the iconic photographs that we get to learn about in the section before.
The Short Story of Photography is an instructional manual that removes the atmosphere of the classroom and replaces it with an engaging “at your pace” guide. For anyone who has longed to learn about photography, you can do so with ease with this book.