Suggested preliminary reading:
Susan Sontag (1977) On Photography. Penguin.
Sontag’s book is considered both controversial and insightful. She brings to the process of analysis a literary sensibility that doesn’t always sit easily with the practice of image-making. The essay In Plato’s Cave (chapter 1), is particularly relevant to a debate about the nature of photographic realism and visual epistemology.
Roland Barthes (1983) Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, London, Vintage.
Barthes is best known for his extensive theoretical work around the nature of sign systems (semiotics), ideology and myth. In this beautifully written book, the author re-evaluates his relationship with photography through the autobiographical examination of a family photograph.
A.D. Coleman (1978) Depth of Field: Essays on Photography, Mass Media, and Lens Culture. University of New Mexico Press.
Coleman’s essays touch on ethical debates around street photography (chapter 10), and what he terms ‘the destruction business’ of art criticism (chapter 1).
Graham Clarke (1997) The Photograph. Oxford University Press.
Clarke’s book provides a useful overview of photography from a history of art/visual culture perspective. He covers a wide range of subjects including, what is a photograph? (chapter 1), how do we read photographs? (chapter 2), the city and portraiture (chapters 5 and 6), and the body (chapter 7). There is also a good discussion on the history and theory of documentary photography (chapter 8). This book is very introductory reader.
Sarah Pink (2001) Doing Visual Ethnography. Sage.
Pink’s book is a very good introduction to some of the key debates within visual sociology and anthropology. Her interdisciplinary book covers a wide range of theoretical and methodological issues, and it is recommended that you read the introduction and chapters 1 and 3 which focus on the relationship between ethnography and photography.
Les Back (2007) The Art of Listening. Berg
Back’s approach to visual image-making is based on listening to both photographers and those being photographed. Rather than taking a traditional art historical position of the informed, impartial and expert observer; Back is interested to learn about how photographers interact with their social environments, and how subjects negotiate and establish photographic agency. Chapter 4, (Listening with the Eye) provides a good discussion about an extended photographic encounter in London’s East End.
Caroline Knowles and Paul Sweetman (2004) Picturing the Social Landscape: Visual Methods and the Sociological Imagination. Routledge.
This is a very accessible and relevant text that introduces key concepts around photography, visual methods and the sociological imagination. The introductory chapter by Knowles and afterword by Howard Becker focus on the methodological position of photography and its claim to evidentiality. 20
Gillian Rose (2012) Visual Methods: An Introduction to Researching with Visual Methods. Sage.
Rose’s book focuses on a critical examination of how photography contributes towards researching societies and cultures. It is a useful introduction to research methods with discussions around photo-elicitation, aesthetics and ethics (chapters 4, 11 and 12). It is helpful to refer to this book in conjunction with Back, Knowles and Pink for a grounding in wider debates within ethnography and qualitative social science.