Behind the Lens: Photos worth thousands of words

If I would have made a New Year’s resolution, I might have told myself to resist buying photography books. I have quite a few, although not a collection to compare with 7-year-old Isaac Godsey of Lawrence and his nearly 700 Pez dispensers. I guess everyone has his or her weakness.

Here are some notable book finds from last year.

I recently stumbled on National Geographic photographer William Albert Allard’s 2008 “Portraits of America.” It’s an excellent collection of images from many of Allard’s Geographic assignments in America, including series on the Amish, minor-league baseball, rodeo culture and the blues music culture. Classic color photojournalism at its finest. Originally $60, there are several new copies of this 256-page book for $5.99 at Half Price Books, 1519 W. 23rd St.

While we’re talking about Allard, if you like “how-to” books, especially those that take you behind the scenes on how a photograph develops in the frame and how a photographer works a scene, Allard’s 1989 “The Photographic Essay” is one I recommend. Or I thought so, until I just looked up prices online. Paperback copies are going from $40 used to $265 new. Did I mention that the photography book market can be a little crazy? If you happen to buy the right book by the right photographer and wait several years, you can wind up with a collectible.

For Christmas, I received “Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis” by Timothy Egan. Egan won the National Book Award in 2006 for his book on the Dust Bowl, “Worst Hard Times.” This book describes Curtis as “Indiana Jones with a camera” and traces his career and obsession of documenting, in photographs, the “continent’s original inhabitants before the old ways disappeared.” Great reading and wonderful research on Egan’s part with some photographs included.

Maybe the most humorous book on photography I’ve ever run across is “Pring’s Photographer’s Miscellany; Stories, Techniques, Tips & Trivia.” The title pretty much describes this small, 96-page book. It manages to cover everything from the color temperature of moonlight – 4100 Kelvin — to an 1867 article on how to make photographs on wood. Several quotes are sprinkled throughout, including these gems:

  • “There are no bad pictures; that’s just how your face looks sometimes.” — Abraham Lincoln
  • “I believe in equality for everyone, except reporters and photographers.” — Mahatma Gandhi

If you want to see an excellent photography exhibit and then get the accompanying book of the show, you should not miss Terry Evans’ retrospective at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo., on exhibit through Jan 20. Evans, born in Kansas City in 1944, attended KU in the late ’60s and majored in painting and commercial art. Her show and book “Heartland: The Photographs of Terry Evans” lead viewers on a tour of diverse subjects and projects, many from Kansas and spanning a career starting in 1971.


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