With instagram and hipstamatic anyone can be a photographer, so what constitutes an amateur or a professional? New technology has broken down the boundary, making it more and more difficult to distinguish between the two. In an age of mechanical reproduction, as Walter Benjamin would argue, contemporary photography isn’t special due to its accessibility, loss of aura, and lack of skill.

Sorry Mr. Benjamin, I couldn’t disagree more. Not to completely write off traditional film photography, but digital photography has the ability to capture and manipulate moments that film simply cannot. As Elisabeth Couturier, author of Talk About Contemporary Photography puts it, the once predictably formatted “clock, clack, Kodak” snapshot has been replaced with the reproducible image that can come in all shapes and sizes.

Image: JR, View of the project Woman, Favela Morro da Providência, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 2008, © JR


Couturier, a noted art critic and journalist, addresses these issues of representation in her latest book. As Couturier puts it, “The photographic image emerges from the finer obsessions and idiosyncrasies of an inventive visual artist to tell stories, dream up scenarios, and invent narratives.”

The book is photo heavy, as any good photography book should be, yet there is enough text to conceptualize how and why photographers do what they do. The author discusses contemporary photography’s role in society while still providing basic photography terms and knowledge for less savvy readers. Topics range from photojournalism to fashion photography to portraiture.

Image: JEFF WALL, Milk, 1984. Cibachome on transparent film, light-box, 73½ x 90¼ in. (187 x 229 cm). © Jeff Wall/Courtesy of the artist and the Marian Goodman Gallery, Paris/New York

Chronologies of technical innovations and key dates allow readers to really understand the evolution of photography starting from the daguerrotype in 1839, ending with where the photography market lies today, and covering every major event in between. The book also highlights 30 contemporary photographers from around the world, with each photographer showcasing a particularly special photograph as well as getting their own “Who is He/She?” “His/Her Work” and “He/She Said” section. Be sure to check out Jeff Wall – he is from Vancouver, Canada, and is awesome.

© TALK ABOUT CONTEMPORARY PHOTOGRAPHY by Elisabeth Couturier, Flammarion, 2012.

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