The Nature of Photographs, by Stephen Shore: #BookReview.

136 pages
Photography Criticism & Essays

This is a primer intended for students studying photography at university, but it has something useful to say to anyone interested in what photography truly is and how it can affect our view of the world. It sports numerous photographs to illustrate the textual points made, and explains how photography, as a medium, can be seen as art.

Divided into five sections, The Nature of Photographs, The Physical Level, The Depictive Level, The Mental Level, and Mental Modelling, the book places photographic image-making into the world of more than merely record-making and into a method of altering how we see the world.

The author, a talented photographer, points out how making pictures with photography differs from the processes involved in creating pictures with paint. The latter begins with a blank canvas and applies paints to build a picture either from the view before the artist or from the artist’s imagination.

A photographer, however, uses the frame to select content already in place, a viewpoint to determine the relationships between the elements contained, the moment that best captures the scene before the camera, and the depth or point of focus that can include or exclude various elements of the finished work. Photography is essentially an analytical discipline. The photographer, faced with a subject already existing, employs the features of the medium to determine the outcome of the finished depiction of that subject.

The text, expanding on the four basic aspects of the medium, is written in an easily accessed style, making it easy for the non-technical minded to understand what can limit and what can enhance the outcome of that moment the shutter is pressed.

It’s a useful book for anyone involved in photography at any level. I’ve been a photographer for 60 years and I took a number of positives from this text, so I recommend it to all who are interested in this amazing and versatile medium.


[Any review is a personal opinion. No reviewer can represent the view of anyone else. The best we can manage is an honest reaction to any given book.]


On a personal note, I came across this book when I decided to clear out our loft to allow the plumber who’s redesigning our bathroom to install the necessary cabling to fit an electric shower (our old gas shower has reached retirement age and we expect to replace our gas boiler with an electric one in the next couple of years for environmental reasons). The loft space has housed our daughter’s personal effects from her years at university, and we decided, with her permission as she’s in Australia and now a married woman, to sort the wheat from the chaff. As a result, I came across this book, which was one of the texts she was required to read for her BA in photography. A serendipitous find.

4 thoughts on “The Nature of Photographs, by Stephen Shore: #BookReview.

    1. The pictures inside are a real mix, but most work in the sense they provoke thought about what the photograph is actually telling you. I agree about the cover; a clever composition and so apposite.

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