Welcome to a new feature at Mortal Muses which focuses on inspiration and where to find it — whether in books, images, music, films, whatever! To get the ball rolling, here are eight books that have inspired me and encouraged me to try new things and take my photography in new directions.
Immediate Family by Sally Mann
I can’t remember when I first saw one of Sally Mann’s images, but it was back in the 1990s sometime; I remember being haunted by the mesmerising pictures of her children. Even now, twenty years on, her black-and-white photography still disturbs me. Children holding cigarettes, wearing lipstick and full-on nudity are so bold, and yet her images say so much about childhood. It’s not at all surprising that one of her daughters now works as a model. My own photographs of my children don’t go quite as far as Mann’s, but her ability to turn family portraits into universal images of childhood is a huge inspiration to me.
Film is not Dead by Jonathan Canlas
If you’ve only ever shot digital and want to start taking photos with old-school film, then this is the book for you. Canlas, a wedding photographer and a huge personality in real life, makes film fun and approachable. He details each type of film and explains the characteristics of different cameras with enthusiasm and encouragement. The book also showcases some of his wonderful photography. I dare you to read this book and not want to dig out your old film cameras, or at least look on eBay for a new/old camera if you’re too young to remember the pre-portra age! I loved this book so much that I ended up buying a Contax 645 and going on Canlas’s residential course, and our fridge now has a shelf dedicated to storing roll film.
Year of Mornings: 3191 Miles Apart by Maria Alexandra Vettese and Stephanie Congdon Barnes
Two women, living 3191 miles apart (hence the name of the book), meet just the once, and decide to take pictures every morning and then post the results onto a blog. It sounds simple enough, but the results are stunning in their quiet beauty. The book is divided into seasonal sections and you really get a feel of the shift of time through the year. I can think of no other book which captures the beauty of the everyday so very perfectly, and it has encouraged me in my efforts to capture it too.
Eve Arnold’s People by Eve Arnold
Eve Arnold, the legendary female photographer, started her photographic career rather late in life. But as you can see in this book, she made up for it rather quickly. As a latecomer to photography myself I find her story hugely inspiring. I prefer her black and white images, and particularly those of women, as I feel they tell better stories (her images of women in Harlem in the 1950s are so evocative). This is a book which shows a photographer’s skills evolving wonderfully. The contrasts of her work are also magnificent: Marilyn Monroe and the Kennedys on one page and civil-rights activists on the next.
Picture Perfect Practice by Roberto Valenzuela
I love taking portraits and having never read a book about composition, I found myself drawn to this book. Valenzuela, a wedding photographer, provides excellent explanations of the various rules of composition, with diagrams too. But more usefully, he also sets exercises, giving the reader ways to look at the world through new eyes. My whole family joined me in some of these exercises on our recent holiday and even now we spot shapes and patterns where we saw none previously. I also have a copy of this book on my iPhone for spare moments where I want to exercise my brain! This book will literally change how you look at the world.
Instant Love by Jenifer Altman, Susannah Conway and Amanda Gilligan
Thinking of trying Polaroid photography? This small book contains exhaustive reviews of the basic models of Polaroid cameras and how to deal with temperamental Polaroid film. There is a wonderful chapter on composition which contains tips for any photographer, not just the Polaroid shooter. And the chapter on light is a must for every Polaroid photographer, full of ideas for ways to get the most out of your film and camera. After explaining how to store and display your pictures, the final chapter concludes with inspirational portfolios. Truly, this will get you out there with a Polaroid camera!
Bill’s Every Day Asian with photography by Mikkel Vang
This might seem like an odd choice, because it’s a cookbook by Bill Granger, not a photography book. But it combines wonderful recipes with gorgeous photography. Vang uses such exquisite and carefully chosen colour palettes to create diptychs and triptychs in beautiful locations, combining images of the food with portraits, landscapes and lovely details. I cook from this book at least twice every week. To most readers it’s just a cookbook, but to me it’s a source of photographic recipes too.
Lens on Life by Stephanie Calabrese Roberts
If you’re tired of learning all the different ways to pose people from “Picture Perfect Practice”, then this is the book for you. The exercises Roberts sets will help you gain an insight into the world of documentary photography. I particularly enjoyed the little features on documentary photographers throughout the book, and hearing their stories and secrets. And although this book isn’t an easy read, I’ll be following its advice as I develop my own documentary project over the next few months.
Which books have inspired you most as a photographer? They don’t have to be photography books. Tell us in the comments!