Photography (Art Essentials)

Image of Photography (Art Essentials) (Art Essentials, 16)
Release Date: 
November 30, 2021
Thames & Hudson
Reviewed by: 

“For those seeking an encyclopedic understanding of photographic art history, Photography by David Bate is an essential book and is highly recommended.”

Photography by David Bate makes a persuasive argument that the paperback series, Art Essentials, from Thames & Hudson can pack a wallop in a small, elegant, paperback package. That response is precisely the impression that the reader will experience after spending several delightful and educational hours with the latest in this this important series of informative books.

David Bate takes the reader from the infancy of the medium in the 1820s in Europe to the current global explosion of photography. His insightful introduction brilliantly lays the foundation for an exploration of photography as a magical science and art from its birth through the present. The first precious images at photography’s birth are discussed in the context of the torrential waterfall of photographs that now inundate the world every day through Instagram and other social media.

In its less than 200-year history, photography has emerged as one of the principal means by which the world is viewed and analyzed. Simultaneously, photography has also successfully inserted itself into the language of art and has become a fixture in museums and art collections worldwide.

Recognizing this, Bate embarks on a careful and respectful presentation that creates the aura of a brilliant university lecture and transports the readers, his “students,” through a thorough analysis of the materials and techniques that emerged to cement photography as essential on the world stage. He creates remarkable essays discussing many of the great figures in photographic history and couples these insights with  representative photographic illustrations that enhance the point.

Presented as at once didactic and respectful, the book will cause the reader to emerge from Bate’s lecture with a complete understanding of the many technical processes that emerged over two centuries. There is a thorough glossary that concisely defines the Calotypes, Talbotypes, Daguerrotypes, glass plates, autochromes, film, and digital experiments through which photography evolved and often created art. Each experiment was magical in its own right. Simultaneously,  the reader will gain an understanding of the motivations of the people who seized these techniques as a vehicle to describe their world and their experiences.

This sharing of the magic is at the heart of Photography by David Bate.

Bate does a great service by meticulously balancing the achievements of women and third-world photographers within his litany of photographic greats. Women photographers are prominently included and their contributions to the field are extremely well represented.

There are key references included with each essay. It is elucidating to learn that Swiss-American photographic lion, Robert Frank, used a Leica camera and Kodak Tri-X 400 ASA film for his seminal and iconic book, The Americans. Bate also informs, for example, that the esteemed French surrealist photographer, Claude Cahun, changed her name from Lucy Schwob in order to effect a more gender-neutral persona.

Of course, there are omissions. Ansel Adams gets only a passing nod. Ruth Bernhard and Jacques-Henri Lartigue, among other photographic luminaries, are nowhere to be found. But these and other missing photographic giants are the inevitable biographies and analyses that couldn’t be included in such a monumental and encyclopedic undertaking.

The reader will emerge from absorbing this book with a thorough understanding of what makes photography such a unique and important medium in the arts and in basic human communication.

Bate is a photographer himself, but perhaps his greatest strength is as a professor of photography at the University of Westminster, London.

As our surrogate professor, Bate lectures, informs, and elucidates with a college level discourse and erudition. His students, will emerge from the lecture hall with an enhanced ability to discuss photography and to assess renowned photographers with perspicacity, knowledge, and insight.

For those seeking an encyclopedic understanding of photographic art history, Photography by David Bate is an essential book and is highly recommended.