13 November 2008

book review: On being a photographer

On being a photographer

David Hurn/Magnum in conversation with Bill Jay

Published by Lenswork Publishing

3rd edition, 2008
ISBN: 971-1-888803-06-8

When this tiny little blue book arrived, I had a quick glance on the contents and I really wondered what I would learn from Davin Hurn, Magnum photographer. I was quickly absorbed by Bill Jay’s way of writing: spot on, a straight forward language that made me read page after page.

Starting with a background of David Hurn, Bill Jay shares some memories when they met the first time and covers the photographic David has done in a few pages before the actual conversation starts.

When reading the book, it feels like I’m sitting in a corner and listening to them both. The interview material with David is carefully handled and the red line is evident.

A photographer may not just walk the streets but he/she do a lot of walking, with a purpose, so the most important piece of equipment after the camera is a good pair of shoes. A writer can do a lot of work from a hotel room but a photographer has to be there, so he/she is in for a hell of a lot hiking.” says Hurn, and I start to think of all the shoes he must have worn out.

Then he continues: “Photographers should not put pictures in a box under their beds and be the only ones that see them. If they put film in their cameras it presupposes that they want to record what they see and show somebody else. Photography is about communication.” – couldn’t agree more, David! After a couple of chapters covering how to select a subject, shooting a single picture, creating contacts, I find myself almost being a part of the conversation, I agree and I disagree and my mind is challenged by their discussion. It’s very refreshing and increases my appetite for photography. I’m also delighted to read about the dedication and passion that Hurn show for his profession.

“As a general guide I would guess that for a seven-picture essay I would shoot 20 – 30 cassettes of 36-exposure 35mm film. A single, exhibition-quality image probably occurs every say, 100 films. For what it is worth”- Hurn.

It’s notable that his success is based on hard work, lots of talent, and a critical attitude. Hurn shares his thoughts about simple things such clothes, how to be dressed smart and be able to take pictures whether you’re in a slum or attending wealthy party and how polite manner opens up new doors.

It’s a book about photography but without photographs – sadly enough. Some photographs by David Hurn would have been appreciated, especially in the first part of the book that covers his career. Still this is a great book that I’ll go back to more than once. If you get your hands on it, grab it and read it!

A Woodland Guardian


© Jeanne Wells