Within the Frame: The Journey of Photographic Vision by David DuChemin is actually the first photography book I have ever read. Most of my approach toward photography is either inherited from my father, or developed from within, and without, on my perpetual journey to figure out what art is–and to a lesser extent why art is. But, had I read this at the time it was published, I might be crediting my hard earned insights to this book.
What I’m saying, from this lofty ego-centric perch of mine, is it was really good. Seal of approval. I concur. Whatever.
DuChemin is a photographer, inspired by international travel. Or the otherness of the international world. He is a photographer of colors, and doors and the mundane life transactions of momentary friends. His work demands skill in all of the major photographic niches, and that makes him a good candidate to write a book of this sort.
Within the Frame, is a book I might’ve have read a long time ago had I come across it, for the simple reason that it seems to know it’s supposed to be read. It can be read like an actual book. You can pretty much skip the pictures if you want. Photographer-Authors have a way of neglecting that people who want to look at pictures, look at pictures. And people who want to read, read. The result ends up being an arrogantly unreadable 15×20″ fancy, typeset coffee table book.
I read Within the Frame on my iPad Kindle App. I glanced at the pictures and mostly skipped their explanations. I got to read it like a real book–taking in DuChemin’s stream of thoughts, uninterrupted by the need for creative interpretation. Even the print version is 8×9″ dimensions, which is reasonable.
If I might digress for a moment.
I realize I spend a fair amount of time in these little round-up reviews talking about topics of seemingly fringe importance. Like the book cover, the size of the book, the length of the chapters, or how good the table of contents is. Old adages like “don’t judge a book by its cover” definitely have some measure of truth. There are diamonds in the rough–or something like that. But the form and package something comes in can have a lot of influence over how likely I am to interact with it meaningfully. Books that can’t fit on a bookshelf sit out until they eventually get lost and can’t be referenced. Badly conceived cover art puts a challenging spin on an entire book when a tiny typo is discovered somewhere in chapter 6. A book unavailable on the iPad means keeping notes in isolation from the rest of note-taking processes.
TL;DR, this stuff matters to me.
DuChemin committed none of these superficial sins, and reading was a breeze–if not for the little tinge of jealousy demanding I ask “yeah, well what the hell does this guy know?”
Plenty, as it turns out.
Although for most experienced photographers, there probably isn’t too much new info to be mined here. But plenty of organized perspective, much of which I think photographers of various disciplines, myself included, would find refreshing and useful.
DuChemin’s perspective is entirely oriented around the vision of the photographer. Hence the name of the book. The “vision” here is a higher-level one. Not, “a photograph of a woman pensively staring out at the water”. Rather, “a photograph of serene challenge and introspection”. Not an image of lovers kissing. An image of love itself. In DuChemin’s view, every stylistic choice springs from the photographer’s vision.
It is the first two chapters where the most diligent exploration of the “photographer’s vision” takes place. And I think it’s here that many of today’s photographers have not yet started to explore. There are so many things to learn about pressing the button on the shutter, but there are so many invisible internal steps that influence the circumstances around when, where, what and why the button is pressed in the first place.
This being the first “photography book” I have read, I was surprised to find that much of DuChemin’s language, concepts and mental focus mirrors my own. In fact, just a few days before picking up Within the Frame, I published an article on LightStalking that itself could have come right from these pages. This is perplexing, since I haven’t fed my photography vocabulary much over the years. But it’s welcome assurance that I’ve been on the right track.
The following chapters hover between conceptual and practical advice on gear, storytelling, portraiture, spaces and landscapes and culture. There’s a lot of useful advice and insights someone in the average circumstances would take a long time to come by. For example, in the discussions about photographing culture, there is a lot to consider in being culturally sensitive. The angles on sensitivity have some jagged edges, that are hard to navigate without nicking yourself a few times. I think DuChemin’s advice here could spare some folks quite a bit of heartache.
One section that I found personally useful was the advice concerning location scouting. This is something that, in spite of many years of shooting, I have never been really great at. My own vision tends to be too narrow, and what I scout is later scrapped. This has still been a quasi-effective strategy for me because it means that when I show up on location for the actual shoot, I’ve had some time to discover why I don’t want to use the spots I initially picked out. And that’s helpful in a way. But DuChemin’s advice is better–and interestingly, not altogether different from what I’m currently doing. Just more complete. And like I said, this book mostly shines in its compelling and well stated perspectives.
This is a book that I’ll be recommending to new photographers for its succinct and well grounded perspective. There is also enough technical insight to help people get a grasp of the concepts, even without the camera directly in front of them. Most of all, I think this book can help teach new photographers to see their process more for what it is. It’s hard for people to get a grasp on how many invisible and non-technical skills go into taking a stunning picture, but this book helps to clarify what can be happening behind the eyes. And more importantly, why we really, really want to develop it.