10 books like On Photography

By Susan Sontag,

Here are 10 books that authors have personally recommended if you like On Photography. Shepherd is a community of 7,000+ authors sharing their favorite books with the world.

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The Age of Movies

By Pauline Kael,

Book cover of The Age of Movies: Selected Writings of Pauline Kael

Pauline Kael, long time film critic for New Yorker magazine, brought to her reviews a combination of the visceral and the intellectual that I found absolutely delicious. For me, reading her was like eating a scrumptious meal. She was not afraid to employ rough colloquialisms; she understood, rightly, that they lent vitality and reality to writing. And she was conversational, often to the chagrin of the grammar-checkers at the magazine. She showed you could be smart and still talk like a regular person. She is still delicious to read, even though the movies aren’t currently playing. And she cracked open media criticism for the rest of us, making it possible to write seriously about Jaws and The Godfather and not just Ingmar Bergman. She also clearly loved sex in the movies, and talked about it frequently and vividly.  In a then quite reserved magazine like the New Yorker, that…

The Age of Movies

By Pauline Kael,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Age of Movies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A master film critic is at her witty, exhilarating, and opinionated best in this career-spanning collection featuring pieces on Bonnie and Clyde, The Godfather, and other modern movie classics

“Film criticism is exciting just because there is no formula to apply,” Pauline Kael once observed, “just because you must use everything you are and everything you know.” Between 1968 and 1991, as regular film reviewer for The New Yorker, Kael used those formidable tools to shape the tastes of a generation. She had a gift for capturing, with force and fluency, the essence of an actor’s gesture or the full…


Where the Girls Are

By Susan J. Douglas,

Book cover of Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media

Where the Girls Are is about a particular generation of women growing up in post War America, and the impact popular media had on their lives, both for good and for bad. It weaves wonderfully smart, often funny, always engagingly written discussions of pop music, movies, and television shows with Douglas’s own experiences at the time. It’s unabashedly feminist—but it isn’t a speech or a political manifesto. It’s an exploration of the push-pull of growing up female at a transitional time, a time in which attitudes toward women were changing, unevenly, and how pop culture reflected the tensions of the times. This book is history, memoir, sociology, media studies, all at once – immensely informative and very entertaining.

Where the Girls Are

By Susan J. Douglas,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Where the Girls Are as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Media critic Douglas deconstructs the ambiguous messages sent to American women via TV programs, popular music, advertising, and nightly news reporting over the last 40 years, and fathoms their influence on her own life and the lives of her contemporaries. Photos.


The Image

By Daniel J. Boorstin,

Book cover of The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America

Boorstin’s political perspective is conservative, but as a media critic he introduced one of the most significant concepts for understanding, not only our media-saturated culture in general, but the abuses of right-wing television, such as FOX. His concept of the ‘pseudo-event’ is one that I have found incredibly useful in teaching and thinking over the years. A pseudo-event is something that acquires its reality and power not because it is based on fact, but simply because the media has reported it, repeated it, exaggerated it, re-played it, made a mantra of it. Ring a bell? “Email Scandal”? “No Collusion, No Obstruction”? Boorstin also talks about the human pseudo-event, which is essentially the creation of celebrities whose fame is due neither to talent or any other special quality but simply to the fact that they become well-known. Boorstin published these insights in 1960!  I think he’d feel both intellectually validated and…

The Image

By Daniel J. Boorstin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Image as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

First published in 1962, this wonderfully provocative book introduced the notion of “pseudo-events”—events such as press conferences and presidential debates, which are manufactured solely in order to be reported—and the contemporary definition of celebrity as “a person who is known for his well-knownness.” Since then Daniel J. Boorstin’s prophetic vision of an America inundated by its own illusions has become an essential resource for any reader who wants to distinguish the manifold deceptions of our culture from its few enduring truths.


Maus I

By Art Spiegelman,

Book cover of Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History

This extraordinary graphic novel was recommended to me by my teacher training tutor years ago and I’ve never quite got over it. It’s a work of genius, that approaches the horrific subject of the Holocaust via the narrator’s father, rendering the Jewish people as mice and the Nazis as cats. It’s incredibly powerful and yet so easy to read, deceptively so. When I came to write my own novel about the Warsaw Ghetto and forest partisans of World War Two Poland the education that Maus gave me was never far from the forefront of my mind. A brilliant lesson in the power of words and pictures working together to sear those images into your consciousness forever. An absolutely unforgettable reading experience.

Maus I

By Art Spiegelman,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Maus I as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The bestselling first installment of the graphic novel acclaimed as “the most affecting and successful narrative ever done about the Holocaust” (Wall Street Journal) and “the first masterpiece in comic book history” (The New Yorker) • PULITZER PRIZE WINNER • One of Variety’s “Banned and Challenged Books Everyone Should Read”

A brutally moving work of art—widely hailed as the greatest graphic novel ever written—Maus recounts the chilling experiences of the author’s father during the Holocaust, with Jews drawn as wide-eyed mice and Nazis as menacing cats.

Maus is a haunting tale within a tale, weaving the author’s account of his…


Ways of Seeing

By John Berger,

Book cover of Ways of Seeing

Most of us look without seeing (much). We miss the key details. They might be facial expressions, revealing whether somebody is friend or foe or what is really going on in a famous painting. Berger brings in history, politics, socio-economic issues, the whole nine yards to make viewing art not the sterile exercise that some might take it as. Written in an accessible style with lots of visuals, no wonder the BBC ran a series based on this book back in the day.

Ways of Seeing

By John Berger,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Ways of Seeing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak.""But there is also another sense in which seeing comes before words. It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but word can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it. The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled."John Berger's "Ways of Seeing" is one of the most stimulating and the most influential books on art in any language. First published in 1972, it was based on the BBC television series about…


Camera Lucida

By Roland Barthes, Richard Howard (translator),

Book cover of Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography

I was stunned when I read Barthes’s book on photography! His primary question in this short work is why photographs affect him in ways different from other art forms. He finds a new language to describe how they hit his nervous system and provoke his emotions. While Barthes figures out the mysterious aura of old images, we begin to learn how they affect us as well. This is a beautiful, erotic work about suspended moments in time, as well as an elegy for loved ones preserved in this haunted medium. 

Camera Lucida

By Roland Barthes, Richard Howard (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Camera Lucida as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This personal, wide-ranging, and contemplative volume--and the last book Barthes published--finds the author applying his influential perceptiveness and associative insight to the subject of photography. To this end, several black-and-white photos (by the likes of Avedon, Clifford, Hine, Mapplethorpe, Nadar, Van Der Zee, and so forth) are reprinted throughout the text.


The Edge of Time

By Mariana Yampolsky,

Book cover of The Edge of Time: Photographs of Mexico

In the 1940s, a young American woman named Mariana Yampolsky came to Mexico to study and never looked back. Throughout the 1960s, she wandered around the country taking shots of the rural and indigenous people she met. Her lens conveyed the poorest aspects of Mexican culture with empathy and artistry that no other photographers of the time demonstrated. Inexplicably, for all its vast and varied geography, ethnicities, and societal classes, rivaling even China in terms of its photogenic diversity, there are very few photography books on Mexico, making The Edge of Time a timeless literary benchmark.

The Edge of Time

By Mariana Yampolsky,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Edge of Time as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"This is my country." Mariana Yampolsky knew it the moment she opened her window and saw a bougainvillea blooming against a white wall on her first morning in Mexico City in 1944. Her empathy for the Mexican people and their land has guided her work for more than fifty years, finding expression in books of dramatic black-and-white photographs ranging from her early La casa en la tierra and La casa que canta to The Traditional Architecture of Mexico.

The Edge of Time presents a retrospective of Yampolsky's photographic work since 1960. Reflecting her lifelong concerns, the images capture rural Mexico…


How Photography Became Contemporary Art

By Andy Grundberg,

Book cover of How Photography Became Contemporary Art: Inside an Artistic Revolution from Pop to the Digital Age

As a photography critic for The New York Times, Grundberg was present when a generation of artists began to take apart the photographic image and transform its meaning in society. He wrote about post-modern practice in the present tense, as it was happening. This book is a collection of his reviews and essays from the 1980s when the medium was at a crossroads; the factual veracity of photography was enduring challenges at every turn and the valuation of the photograph as an art object was under critical scrutiny.

How Photography Became Contemporary Art

By Andy Grundberg,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How Photography Became Contemporary Art as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A leading critic's inside story of "the photo boom" during the crucial decades of the 1970s and 80s

"Grundberg . . . is a vibrant, opinionated, authoritative guide to the medium's past and present."-Jackie Wullschlager, Financial Times, "Best Books of 2021: Visual Arts"

When Andy Grundberg landed in New York in the early 1970s as a budding writer, photography was at the margins of the contemporary art world. By 1991, when he left his post as critic for the New York Times, photography was at the vital center of artistic debate. Grundberg writes eloquently and authoritatively about photography's "boom years,"…


Looking at Photographs

By John Szarkowski,

Book cover of Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art

As the legendary curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, John Szarkowski was instrumental in elevating photography’s stature to an equal among the fine arts. He is eloquent in his explanation about the meaning of photography and illuminating in his descriptions of each of the one hundred photographs published in this book from MoMA’s sterling collection of photographs. There is no better guide to an awakening of your own eye than Szarkowski.

Looking at Photographs

By John Szarkowski,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Looking at Photographs as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

`This is a picture book, and its first purpose is to provide the material for simple delectation', wrote curator John Szarkowski in this first survey of The Museum of Modern Art's photography collection. Since 1930, when the Museum accessioned its first photograph, it has assembled an extraordinary and wide-ranging collection of pictures for preservation, study and exhibition. A visually splendid album, Looking at Photographs is both a treasury of remarkable photographs and a lively introduction to the aesthetics and the historical development of photography. This reissue, with new digital duotones, enhances a classic volume and makes it available to a…


Annie Leibovitz

By Annie Leibovitz,

Book cover of Annie Leibovitz: Photographs

As a teenager and aspiring Rock and Roll Photographer, I poured through this book over and over again. Annie Leibowitz's work is always stunning, but this period in particular is my favorite. Her use of color and the clean, crisp, powerful images were exactly what I wanted to do with my own work. And it didn’t hurt that most of this work was for Rolling Stone Magazine!

Annie Leibovitz

By Annie Leibovitz,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Annie Leibovitz as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Brings together a collection of seventy photographs--including portraits of musicians, actors, writers, and other celebrated personalities of American popular culture--taken by the chief photographer for "Rolling Stone" magazine over the past fifteen years


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