Home Photography by Andrew Sanderson: I have to stop going into bookshops for at least a few years if books like this keep coming out. And I swore I wasn’t going to buy any more tutorial books. Good job the floor under our bookcases is solid concrete.
Actually, this is less a tutorial and more a philosophical tome. And the photographs are fantastic. You’ll look at your home completely differently afterwards, and probably take a lot more pictures around it. Very inspiring.
Update, 2004-01-26: My full review is at Nikonians. Andrew Sanderson’s web site is finally up (NB. not the URL in the book), and you can find some of his stock images at Trevillion or visit his gallery (Sanderson, George & Peach) in Holmfirth, Yorks. [Andrew: Many thanks for your kind email. I did reply, but I’m not sure if you got it.]
Some quotes from the book that seem particularly apposite to Internet photography forums and their rampant gear mania:
“We can easily find ourselves getting a little too wrapped up in concerns which have no real bearing on the outcome of the picture. …The standard of your work will not necessarily depend on your equipment, nor will it depend on your choice of materials as such…” (p. 58)
“Many amateurs would see a big improvement in their work if they stopped reading and worrying so much, and simply went out and shot a mile of film.” (p. 68)
“…Most users of 35mm do not achieve the maximum quality that these cameras are capable of, due to sloppy technique.” (p. 122)
Nikonians has, rather rudely, become a pay-site so my review - the one that was contributed freely to their site - is no longer generally accessible. I managed to retrieve a draft copy, which is reproduced below.
Beginning photographers often hit two problems eventually (apart from the myriad technical challenges, that is):
- Experienced photographers often write about having a “vision” and “style”; how does one find these? What sort of photographs do I want to take?
- Lack of subject matter or, more precisely, inspiration; there no longer seems to be much worth photographing once the initial thrill of using the camera has worn off.
Andrew Sanderson’s new book has been a big help to me with both of these issues. His thesis is that our own everyday surroundings provide an ample source of pictures once we learn to overcome our familiarity with them. He illustrates this with a collection of stunning, gorgeous images taken from his own home life, an approach initially forced on him by child-rearing duties. (Incidentally, production quality of the book is excellent, with glossy pages used.)
Most of Sanderson’s work is in the form of toned B&W prints on a variety of formats (there is one colour image). Cynics might argue that anything looks beautiful in toned B&W - heck, I’d look beautiful represented that way - but his observational and compositional skills render these pictures truly exceptional. Moreover, they contain the same elements that surround most of us. Several are based on food; his close-up of Emmental cheese apparently prompts much frenzied speculation on the subject matter (“boiled eggs in milk?”), while a subtly lit still-life of “Eggs and pegs” in a bowl (taken while unoccupied during a visit to his mother-in-law) is attractive despite the prosaic subject matter. Even a “snapshot” of a black cat on the roof of a caravan, viewed through the kitchen window, forms an intriguing outline in the midst of an ordinary frame. Scale is playfully manipulated; shadows are used to direct the attention; the commonplace takes on new form or meaning.
Accompanying the pictures, the text gently prods us with questions designed to shake up the way we view our surroundings and consider what images around us are waiting to be discovered even as we sit reading. Sanderson throws in a generous treatise on his own motivations and approach (apologising in the introduction for such “airy-fairy” talk).
Chapter headings are loosely defined, more an excuse for free association around the words: the room space; in your kitchen; architecture; gardens, plants and flowers; people (even nude self-portraits!); pets; toys; a short walk; etc. The subheadings are common to many photographic books (being visual, composition, etc.) but the treatments are not. Throughout, the author carefully picks examples of his own work that will in turn inspire the reader to have a go - and they won’t need to move far to do so. He even includes a selection of thumbnails at the rear to give a taste of some of the unused shots.
If you are a stickler for technical details on an image, be warned that Sanderson is not. Few of the pictures are accompanied by this information; in a postscript, Sanderson argues that the picture itself contains sufficient detail when examined to convey the necessary exposure data and that, as modern lenses generally meet an adequate standard of optical quality, equipment is irrelevant.
While the photography is uniformly excellent, sentence construction in the text becomes clumsy on occasion. There are a few too many sentences joined by commas like this one, one would have thought that a good editor might have fixed these.
However, these minor problems do not detract from what is a both an inspirational tract and a testament to Sanderson’s own creative abilities. I suspect many would be proud to own this book, either to develop a new approach or simply as a work of art in its own right.
On a personal note, I realised that I have always liked images of the style displayed here but would have been hard-pushed to categorise them, let alone select this style as an avenue for my own impulses. In particular, the illustrated use of available light (or unusual light sources such as the anglepoise lamp) and selective focus to impart an artistic quality to the image was an eye-opener. As a consequence of reading this book (and some unrelated discussions here on Nikonians), I have modified my own approach and finally begun to take the kind of pictures I always wanted. As a humble amateur, I can’t ask for more.