Coles, Robert. Doing Documentary Work. New York Public Library, 1998. ISBN: 9780195124958. [Preview with Google Books]
The compilation of a series of lectures the Harvard psychiatrist and documentarian gave at the New York Public Library. The lectures explore the ethical, intellectual, and technical challenges facing anyone who would do documentary work. While photography per se is only a peripheral part of this work, the principles and ideas discussed by Coles apply as much to documentary photography as they do to any other type of documentary fieldwork.
Agee, James, and Walker Evans. Cotton Tenants: Three Families. Melville House, 2014. ISBN: 9781612193984. [Preview with Google Books]
In "Doing Documentary Work," Robert Coles waxes eloquent about James Agee's classic, "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men." The only problem is, all due respect to Coles, "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men" is virtually unreadable. Agee, accompanied by photographer Walker Evans, went to Alabama to write for Fortune Magazine about the plight of tenant cotton farmers. For one reason or another, Fortune never published Agee's article, and eventually the reporting resulted in LUNPFM. But recently, the manuscript he submitted to Fortune was found in the basement of a house Agee occupied, and it was published as "Cotton Tenants," which was readable, and worth the wait. Discuss.
You will be spending this semester making images, taking photographs. So it might be a good idea to read a book about not taking photographs. This little volume—available as a Kindle book, is a collection of 60 essays by photographers writing about a photograph, or photographs, they did not take. And it is as much about the creative process, and the ethics of that process, as any book about photographs that were taken. Read it carefully, and thoughtfully.
This little book is your "how to" manual. F stops, shutter speed, etc. are all in here. But the focus of the book—forgive me if you can—is on framing, on actually making images. I don't agree with everything Carroll has to say, and we will discuss some of the areas of disagreement. But everything he has to say is both intelligent and helpful.
This massive book—some 500+ pages and a 9 pound shipping weight—contains reproductions of more than 120 contact sheets of images shot by about 70 past and present members of the Magnum photo agency, since its founding after WWII the leading collective of documentary photographers and photo journalists. Contact sheets, for those of you who grew up in the digital age, are sheets of photographic paper on which all the negatives from a roll of film are laid and then exposed to the light, producing a single print of all the images on the roll in the order in which they were shot. Photographers and editors looked at the contacts to decide which images to print. This book will not only expose you to some of the greatest images shot by some of the greatest photographers, it will also show you what came before and after the famous images, introduce you to the editing process, and to different photographers' ways of shooting.
Highly Recommended (But Not Required)
A truly excellent "how-to" book by an outstanding photographer and professor at Rhode Island School of Design. If you haven't had a basic photography course, this book will fill in virtually all the classroom gaps—it can't make up for your lack of shooting experience. If you do have experience and technical knowledge, it will provide an excellent refresher.
This book is well worth your time and thought. Fink, who teaches photography at Bard College, is perhaps best known for his monograph "Social Graces," in which he examined New York "society" and working class residents of a poor Pennsylvania town. "On Composition" is a fascinating explication of his creative process, and of the making of outstanding images.
More from Magnum. This excellent volume, which I have used in the class but is being replaced this year by "Magnum Contact Sheets," presents examples of the work of more than 70 Magnum photographers, along with the stories of some of their famous shoots, and biographical information about the photographers.
This overview in photos of the history of photography is a must-own, particularly as it's available in a less expensive miniature version.
If this book doesn't inspire you, sell your camera. It is a little jewel, a successful marriage of art photography and pure documentary photography, and demonstrates how the simplest of ideas can produce a sublime project.
The Big Dig as you have never seen it or thought of it. As I wrote in an Amazon review—"At its most basic, Digging is to the workers of Boston's Big Dig, the endless construction project that has remade the face of downtown Boston, what Lewis Hine's work from the early 1930s is to the workers who built the Empire State Building: A memorial in photographs to the pure muscle power that makes real the dreams of engineers. Hintlian set out more than four years ago to preserve for the ages the contribution of the workers whose daily toil would otherwise be forgotten when the last concrete was poured and the Big Dig was finally finished."
Selections from the seminal work by the inventor of the modern photo story If you are not inspired by this, sell your camera.
In the past, this class took a Saturday trip to New York City to see a show of this work; would that we could again this year. We started the day seeing the Cartier-Bresson retrospective at the MOMA, and then saw the Smith show. I came away from the two shows acknowledging that without Cartier-Bresson there could not have been a Smith, but Smith's work is far more powerful and emotionally resonant.
This is the ultimate collection by the man who 'invented' 35 mm photography, helped found the great photo agency / collective Magnum, and who coined the term, "decisive moment." Although Bresson is often described as a "photojournalist, he really wasn't one. He adopted the label because his Magnum founding partner Robert Cappa told him that if he described himself as what he was, a surrealist photographer, he would never get work.
Out of print but worth digging for. This is a truly magnificent collection of combat photographs by, as the title makes clear, photographers who did not survive the combat they were covering. Here you'll find work by some of the known greats, including Robert Cappa and Larry Burrows, as well as by some of the unknown greats, including, especially, Henri Huet.
Okay, it's three volumes, in a slipcase, and weighs in at 23 pounds, and contains more than 900 images. But what images! It's all here: Davidson's legendary "Brooklyn Gang" essay, his circus work, his civil rights photography, "East 100th Street," "Central Park," his subway project from the 1970s, all the photos from the book "England and Scotland," and his more recent work on Los Angeles. The printing in this book is so good one wants to cut out prints and frame them–but hopefully one is not deranged enough to do so.
A seminal work. You cannot claim to be serious about photography and be unfamiliar with this book.
An overwhelming collection of anti-war photographs of combat and its ultimate results. A book that will weigh as heavily on your conscience as it will on your lap.
A photographic journey back in time taken by polymath Gordon Parks, the only black FSA photographer and the first black staff photographer for LIFE Magazine. In 1950 LIFE assigned Parks to return to his childhood home of Ft. Scott, KA, to photograph the places and people of his growing up. Many of Parks's high school classmates had joined the Great Migration, and had moved to northern inner cities, and those that had, he did his best to find. This is a fascinating photographic look at black American life in the Midwest and northern cities, in the era before—before Brown v Board of Education, before the modern civil rights movement, before the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Freedom Rides, and before the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. And, by the way, LIFE never published the photos.
A young documentary photographer captures life in rural Iowa, the land in which he grew up. That Robert Frank dained to write a short forward for this body of work should tell you something about its quality. Suffice it to say that many of the images are nothing short of astounding, as is the honesty they reflect.