'Photography' Book Review By Stephen Bull

So today I am going to do a review on a chapter from the book ‘Photography’ by Stephen Bull. It explores the media-saturated society in everyday life and how a number of factors (including digital technology) have had an impact on Photography thus far.

By just reading the first couple of pages of ‘The Identity of Photography’ I have discovered that the book has a thematic structure within. It is split up into subsections that concentrate on different topics within the designated themes being discussed.

Here are the sections that the book is split into:

·       The Identity of Photography.
·       The Meanings of Photographs.
·       Photography for Sale.
·       Snapshots.
·       The Photograph as Document.
·       Photography as Art.
·       Photographs in Fashion.
·       Photography and Celebrity.

Following my last minute news I received on Tuesday (regarding the London Fashion Weekend), I felt that it was appropriate to choose the ‘Photography in Fashion’ chapter. I thought this could help as a part of my research by discovering what styles were popular in the past and see if any have returned/evolved during the Catwalk.

Personally, there are a lot of unnecessary references placed within this chapter, which does stop the book from flowing freely. The structure Bull writes in is rather methodical, as he explains the history of fashion going from one era to the next. This chapter is jam-packed with information, theories and arguments, which are interesting to contemplate and read. Although the chapter is split up to subsections, it is still rather long (consisting of 29 pages), which at times made it difficult to continue reading. Additionally, some of the grammar and the constant use of long sentences were a little too much to process all at once; I had to keep re-reading parts again to fully understand them. If there were fewer references in each chapter, I probably would have read the whole book because I feel I would learn a lot from it. Although it was difficult to read all at once, I did find it educational and the history of fashion fascinating.

I believe the introduction is not only an excellent way to start the book, but also a good way to sum up the whole chapter nicely too. Fashion by definition must always be ‘New’. This statement is according to Roland Barthes Theory where he argues that “Fashion plays on ‘the limits of our memory’, in order to conceal the fact that the same styles return” (page 149). When you truly think about it, it is a good argument, as rarely is anything ever classed as truly ‘new’ anymore. I would say that most things ‘these days’ have been either ‘recycled’ or evolved from previous trends. Additionally, I think this is demonstrated well in this chapter as he goes from one era to the next you realise the dramatic changes that have occurred. For example, going from fantasy, bright and colourful works of art in the 1970’s - 1980’s to grunge and punk rock in the 1990’s. From then on, once everything had been explored you realise there is only so far you can go until you start revisiting the past for ideas and then revamping them into a more modern perspective.

Overall, I believe this chapter perfectly sums up how Fashion Photography has evolved from its early origins as an elitist art form, to becoming the ‘shop window’ for such diverse topics as social issues, sexual fantasy and aspirational glamour. For me, what makes photography fascinating is that it is continuing re-inventing itself with the emergence of new technology, techniques and trends. In this way, it can draw on the influences of the past whilst incorporating the innovations of the present to maintain its ‘freshness’.

Although I found that particular chapter informative and interesting, I couldn’t bring myself to read the whole book, how ever much I should have! I think if Bull included fewer references, short, sharp sentences and just explained the changes in photography throughout the years, this book would have appealed to me more. On the whole, this chapter has opened my eyes and taught me to take more of an interest in latest trends to see how much fashion has either evolved or (in some chances) gone back in time. Now that I have read this chapter, I feel a lot more prepared for the London Fashion Weekend. Although I will be concentrating on trying to capture the perfect picture, it will help me appreciate and become more observant whilst witnessing the latest trends on the catwalk.


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