On Learning Photography and Photographic History

Photography: Essays & Images, 1980. by Beaumont Newhall

Toronto. I spent many years learning by trial and error how to make decent B&W photographs. Most of my learning came magazines and some how-to books, plus peppering knowledgeable friends with questions. My first book on the history side of things was Helmut Gernsheim’s opus “The History of Photography“. I picked up an edition published by Thames and Hudson of England. The book was first published in 1955 by the Oxford University Press. My revised and enlarged edition was printed in 1969. I bought it in Montreal the summer of 1971 after seeing a brief note in one of the photo magazines of the time. It was an eye-opener. Until then I had no idea that such high quality images could and were being made in the late 1800s/early 1900s.

Nearly a decade later,  at the PhotoHistory V symposium in Rochester (October 30, 1982)  I met and spoke to Professor Gernsheim. Also speaking at the event was Professor Beaumont Newhall, author of “Photography: Essays & Images” published by the Museum of Modern Art in NYC in 1980.

Both books gave me considerable insight into the evolution of photography. Professor Gernsheim wrote a detailed history liberally quoting from letters and articles of the day. Professor Newhall on the other hand edited a selection of original essays by now famous people. To quote Newhall, “This book is an autobiography of the art of photography , written by some of the men and women who by their inventive genius, their scientific skill, and their artistic sensibility have forged a technique into a vital visual medium.”

These two books introduced me to the rich history and evolution of photography making me realize that I had jumped in media res of a revolutionary art form, record of history, and a means of personal expression.

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