ACCORDING TO AMAZON: Seizing the Light: A Social History of Photography provides a thought-provoking, accurate, and accessible introduction to the photographic arts for all readers. With stunning images and commentary by hundreds of international artists, the text clearly and concisely provides the building blocks necessary to critically explore photographic history from the photographers eye, an aesthetic point of view.
WHO IS ROBERT HIRSCH? Robert Hirsch is an acclaimed photographer and writer. His current series World in a Jar: War and Trauma has been exhibited at such places as Parsons School of Design, South East Center of Contemporary Art and Light Work in Syracuse, New York. In addition to contributing to such publications as Afterimage, exposure, and The Photo Review, Hirsch has published several important books on photography that include: Seizing the Light: A Social History of Photography and Light and Lens: Photography in the Digital Age. Hirsch is an former Associate Editor for Digital Camera(UK) and Photovision Magazine, and a contributor to Afterimage, exposure, Buffalo Spree, Fotophile, FYI, History of Photography, Ilford Photo Instructor Newsletter, and The Photo Review.
Stated Goals Discerning chronological account of Western photography from an American perspective; Convey the diversity of contemporary makers, issues, and applications; Present intriguing images inspiring people to visit galleries and museums; Explore artistic, social, and critical aspects of the creative process that motivates people to make, look at, and interpret images.
Positives I appreciate the effort to make the photographer and the photographer relevant to the cultural and social scene. It is significant that in the second edition the word social has been added to the subtitle. It is important to point out how the photograph is more than a physical object. It has both depictive elements as well as mental, content elements, Hirsch is good at this. Perhaps his work as a significant photographer facilitates this The book is not cluttered. The page layouts are simple; and while plain, they are comfortable.
Positives It is written in straight forward style. Neither the vocabulary nor the syntax are complicated; it is not like reading Artforum, sometimes it is easier to say what something is not. The captions under the images are complete and full of information. The details of the image are clear, the photographer and their situation are covered in the very readable text.
Negatives It is expensive for a soft bound book. The images and the related text are often several pages apart. The style of writing is dry, it is difficult to make history a sprightly read, but this is at times a bit stale. This is especially a fault of the last portion of the book where the more contemporary photographers are cataloged in a sort of “class directory” fashion.
Conclusions It is a suitable textbook for an undergraduate History of Photography course. Some re-doing of the flow might be needed according to teaching style, easy enough if you simply assign readings in the book. I put the page numbers on the schedule. Some supplemental materials can be used to expand upon the text discussions, using this book I often find myself doing this in an effort to make the course more lively and to introduce divergent opinions.
Other Books I Read Warner’s text is too busy for me, I think it is cluttered. Newhall’s text is a treasure, but is not as complete as I prefer. Frizot’s text is very European and weighs over 20 pounds. Rosenblum would be an equally good choice for me.