Favorite Books & Tools

As artists, it's essential to fill ourselves regularly with inspiration and insight. These books have inspired and comforted me when I've needed it most. I hope you'll find something here that touches you in the same way. I've also included a list of the tools I use right now. I strongly believe the photographer makes the photographs, not the gear - but good tools are a joy to use. I'm happy to recommend my tools of choice, so you can refine and simplify your research. I don't receive any sort of commission for these recommendations. I only recommend items I truly adore. Enjoy!

 

Why People Photograph
by Robert Adams

This is an iconic, beautiful little tome. Adams writes about the creative process with incredible depth, clarity, and compassion. Included are a number of pithy profiles of his favorite photographers, so it's also a lovely primer on some of the great artists of the last century. This book is a continual source of inspiration and I recommend it to all my students. 

 

Beauty in Photography
by Robert Adams

Another thoughtful, wonderful book by the inimitable Robert Adams. The title essay is one of my favorites. He writes about how visual form is beautiful because it gives us the sense that life is more than chaos and meaningless suffering. He defends (and celebrates) beauty as a noble creative goal - and I love him for it. My favorite quote from the book: β€œThe job of the photographer...is not to catalogue indisputable fact but to try to be coherent about intuition and hope.” Yes. 

 

A Glorious Freedom: Older Women Leading Extraordinary Lives

This book is a new favorite. Lisa Congdon is a fabulous painter who didn't start her creative career until later in life. This lovely tome includes empowering interviews, profiles, and essays about women who have blossomed as artists, thought leaders, and entrepreneurs after 40. It's a quick read, but I know I'll go back to it often. It would also make a sweet gift.

 

The Zen of Creativity: Cultivating Your Artistic Life
by John Daido Loori Roshi

This is a gem of a book, for those interested in a Buddhist approach to the creative practice. I love Loori Roshi's wise, humble philosophy. The book includes creative exercises based on core mindfulness techniques. It's also beautifully illustrated with zen calligraphy. I treasure my copy.

 

Occam's Razor: An Outside-In View of Contemporary Photography
by Bill Jay

A witty, straight-to-the-point book about photography practice, education, criticism, and culture. This book is a fantastic counterpoint to all the stuffy, tedious writing about photography. One of my favorite quotes from the book: "Photography is not an intellectual game, but an emotional response to charged living." Yes!

 

Sun in the Blood of the Cat
by Bill Jay

Another marvelous book about photography by Bill Jay. Evidence of his lovely sense of humor - he arrived at the title by dictating the working title "Something Photographic" to his computer. The software translated it to "Sun in the Blood of the Cat" and he embraced it! He writes about MFA programs, photo criticism, fame - all the good stuff. And, it's laugh-out-loud funny. I adore this man.

 

The Mind's Eye: Writings on Photography & Photographers
by Henri Cartier-Bresson

Cartier-Bresson was one of the first photographers I fell in love with when I was a young artist. He coined the term "decisive moment" to describe that instant when visual elements align to create a masterful image. It wouldn't be a stretch to call Cartier-Bresson the greatest street photographer of all time. He was a wonderful philosopher, too - and this is a rich, gratifying collection of essays.

 

Letters to a Young Poet
by Ranier Maria Rilke

Written in the early years of the 20th century, this book is a tender, encouraging set of letters to an aspiring poet who requested Rilke's advice. Rilke's thoughts on passion, dedication, and making the creative practice personal are powerfully relevant for photographers, as well. One of my favorite quotes from the book: "Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves...live the questions."  

 

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
by Elizabeth Gilbert

This is such an enjoyable, inspirational read. Gilbert's advice is empowering, actionable, warm, and down to earth. She talks about courage, persistence, and how to trust the creative process. My favorite quote from the book: "Stop treating your creativity like it's a tired old, unhappy marriage...and start regarding it with the fresh eyes of a passionate lover." Say it, sister!

 

Upstream
by Mary Oliver

I always think poets have a great deal of insight when it comes to the creative process. Mary Oliver is one of my very favorites, and this collection of essays is a joy. One of my favorite quotes from the book: "Attention is the beginning of devotion." It makes me think about how we can use our photography to deeply see and honor our subjects - instead of just scratching the surface. There are so many gems in these pages - my book is dog-eared to within an inch of its life. 

 

The Writing Life
by Annie Dillard

On the surface, this is a book about writing - but the ideas translate brilliantly to the world of visual art. Really, it's a beautiful, poetic meditation on living the artistic life. Dillard talks about cultivating inspiration, making tough creative choices, producing work you're proud of, creative confidence, and so much more. This is a book you could read once a year and really benefit from each time.