*This post is inspired, and almost verbatim, by an email I wrote to J2 (Julia) after reading her post today about wanting to learn more. Wanting to become a student of photography and not just of weddings and her camera. Thanks Julia for getting me, and the rest of us thinking outside our own business again*
My favorite class was never history. I do love history but studying the boring part of it out of a text book was never inspirational. My parents, also lovers of history, would take my brother and I to historical sites all over the country. Every family vacation would include at least one stop at a civil war battle field, a presidents birth place or some other National Park. I even had one of those really cool Passports to the National Parks that my brother and I would run into the visitors center to get stamped at every stop. When it came to college art history was the class i dreaded. I hated looking at slide for 2 hours listening to a lecture about some guy i'd never heard of before. Did I appreciate the art work? yes and no. I appreciated its beauty but only as much as one can when seeing it projected in a dark room rather then seeing it in real life in a museum. The best part about going to Northeastern Univ. was that one of our three weekly art history classes we met at The MFA (which is across the street from the NU campus). So once a week I was excited for class because rather then sitting looking at slides or reading out of a text book we were actually walking around looking at REAL art not images of art. That made all the difference for me.
If you want to learn more then aperture, f-stops and the wedding and portrait photography world I recommend taking some time and visiting some galleries and museums. Even if the people who's work you see are total unknowns in most circles. Looking at printed images rather then screens or books is so much more fun. You'd be surprised how much you loose in reproductions of the images. Especially black and white images... you loose so much tonality. I went to the Portland Museum of Art a year or two ago and saw a Rock and Roll Photography show that was mind blowing. So many images of famous rock starts over the years. Some were things you've seen published some were back stage images some were personal images taken by friends. The collection was incredibly diverse and the level of photography talent in that collection was outstanding. I've also seen an Ansel Adams exhibit at the MFA and who doesn't love that? Of course you could spend hours looking at his images. Knowing that he took an 8x10 camera up into Yosemite alone amazes me. Those things are heavy!!! But I really thing seeing images for the first time that you've not seen in print before, who were created by someone who to you is an unknown really gives you a chance to have no pre-conceived notions and allows you to form your own opinion. Who is going to say "ehh I don't love that" to an Ansel Adams?
Knowing some of the basic history of where photography started is worth the time learning. I think my History of Photography class was one of my all time favorite classes in college. The teacher awesome. The best part was she was a photographer not a historian. Knowing when the first images were taken, how they did it, leaning about daguerreotypes, tin types, platinum prints etc was really interesting and makes you appreciate how far this art medium has come. Photography took a long time to be considered art. For so long photographers had to fight to be known as artists and part of me is starting to worry that might happen again. With digital everyone is a photographer but is everyone an artist? I think being able to know the history of the medium and appreciating where and how it began creates a level of respect that all artists should have.
My recommendations for anyone wanting to learn are go to any and every museum and gallery and take in as much as you can. I also highly recommend A World History of Photography by Naomi Rosenblum (that was our history of photo textbook and I often find myself flipping through it just for inspiration). Some of my favorite photographers that I have books of their work and look at quite regularly are: Robert Frank, Cindy Sherman, Weege, Ed Ruscha and Lewis Hines. I also personally recommend Neal Rantoul (he does lots of landscapes and one crazy project where he photographed babies and body parts in jars... little strange but very cool if that stuff doesn't bother you) he was my photo professor at NU so I might be a little bias there but trust me he's one talented man.
Kudos to you if you are taking an interest in more then the immediate industry we are all in. I think wanting to learn the history and learn more then just what is practical on the wedding day really elevates the people who love photography for the art that is is and what they can do with it.