Book: Bull, S. Photography

I’ve had this book for about 18 months without getting round to reading it, and only chose it to take away over xmas because it was a good size and weight to stick in my handbag and read on the plane. I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be the great choice it turned out to be. I ended up devouring it from cover to cover and repeatedly found myself admiring Bull’s short and succinct summaries of subjects ranging from surrealism to modernism and postmodernism to the ideas put forward by Bazin, Barthes, Benjamin, Sontag, Solomon-Godeau and others. In less than 200 highly readable pages the book covers an astonishing amount of ground and provided me not just with an overview of more or less everything I’ve read and learned about photography in the past two years, but also a better understanding of some of the original materials.

In part this is due to Bull’s ability to distill complex ideas into a single sentence, and in another part it’s due to the way he provides such clear context for the work, ideas and movements he discusses. His tracing of ideas in photography (and art in general) to developments in the wider world has prompted me to consider the source of the current interest in identity and its politics, and I’ve come to realise that it’s a natural and inevitable consequence of the era-defining developments of our time – the rise of globalisation and all its social, economic, technological and political manifestations including the development of globalised communication via the internet, and the consequent erosion of the power and importance of the nation state, including its role as a source of identity. There are of course many, many other consequences that flow from these developments, as well as reactive backlashes in the shape of the current rise of nationalistic right-wing movements, but I have found that thinking about identity politics in this context makes a lot of sense. It also gives me a sense of potential directions to look for relevance in my own future work.

References and resources

Bull, S. (2010) Photography. Routledge Introductions to Media and Communications. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.