What’s The Meaning Of A Photograph?

I recently read photographer Stephen Shore’s excellent book The Nature of Photographs published by Phaidon Press. The book is based on Shore’s photography classes and is an interesting discussion on the visual language of photography. There are some great photos and many interesting ideas in what is essentially a photography theory, not a how-to book. Although Shore doesn’t talk much about f/stop & shutter speed combinations you will learn how to see and think more like a photographer by reading this book.

In the opening of the book Shore asks;
“How is this photograph different from the actual scene that Robert Frank saw as he stood in his Butte hotel room and looked out on this depressed mining town in the northern Rockies? How much of this image is a product of lenses, shutters, and media? What are the characteristics of photography that establish how a photograph looks?”

Robert Frank, Butte Montana, Silver Gelatin Print, 1956.

Robert Frank, Butte Montana, Silver Gelatin Print, 1956.













Shore breaks The Nature of Photographs into four sections:

  1. The Physical Level
  2. The Depictive Level
  3. The Mental Level
  4. Mental Modelling.

In his discussion of the physical level Shore reminds us that “as an object, a photograph has it’s own life in the world. It can be saved in a shoebox or in a museum. It can be reproduced as information or as an advertisement. It can be bought and sold. It may be regarded as a utilitarian object or as a work of art. The context in which a photograph is seen effects the meanings a viewer draws from it.”

It’s an interesting idea to consider.

I’ll be posting more thoughts and quotes from Stephen Shore’s book in future blog entries.

If you’re interested in reading the book you can purchase it below from my Amazon shop. I get a small percentage which goes towards my coffee fund. Thanks!

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One Response to What’s The Meaning Of A Photograph?

  1. Pingback: Photography Books | Nature of Photography | Stephen Shore | Kertesz | Struth

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