Terry Barrett’s book Criticizing Photographs is a general introduction to photography theory with an emphasis on criticism – it aims to show the reader why criticism is important, how to understand photography criticism, and how to read photographs critically.
This is a pretty good introduction to the area of photography criticism. I’m not going to attempt a summary of an entire book but suffice to say Barrett is big on classification. He starts by classifying the act of criticism into four activities: describing, interpreting, evaluating and theorizing. He then takes each of these activities in turn and analyzes what is involved in each, using plenty of examples. This approach may well be too simplistic for some, but for those of us just starting to grapple with this stuff it provides a useful map of the terrain.
It occurred to me as I was reading it that the super-organised structure of the book would lend itself nicely to a summary using what this guy calls a MindMap but what most of us just refer to as a diagram. So I sat down and drew one after I finished it. Here it is …
The book also introduced me to the work of Joel-Peter Witkin. While his subject matter can be disturbing and repellent, I find his methods fascinating – he makes darkroom prints that look nothing like traditional ones by using techiniques such as multiple negatives sandwiched together, printing through media like tissue paper, distressing the surface of the negative, and selective toning and bleaching in different areas of the print. The results are spectacular but definitely not for the squeamish. Don’t look at them in work or you really will get the sack.
I should add that I read the third edition (1999) of Barrett’s book. There are more recent editions available but I have no idea to what extent they differ in content.