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A weekly column by Mike Johnston

September 8, 2002

Readings for Practicing Photographers

Good morning! This week's column is brief, because I spent a fair amount of time amassing a list for you. It was a fun process , but, of course, it took longer than I thought it would. Hope you enjoy.

Apart from a fortunate few souls who rode the tech stock bubble and managed to bail before it burst, the class of people best served by the existence of the internet may well be photographers. It enables us to show and share our work both widely and cheaply. And it's democratic — there is no hurdle you have to get over in order to participate.

Traditionally, the best way for photographers to share their work, both with the public and with each other have been books. Although I've made a concerted effort to look at large amounts of original work over the years, the way I've come to know most photographers is through published books. Books are a way for us to remain in control of the way our work is presented. They're also a method of preserving pictures; a single portfolio or corpus of work is always susceptible to loss, damage, or disaster. But print three thousand or five thousand copies and disseminate them around the nation and the world, and at least a few are certain to survive.

Naturally, too, books are the best way to learn. At age 27, when I graduated from photography school, I made several vows with myself. One was to make a lifetime study of the literature. Although my library of photography books is on the small side--numbering around 400 volumes--it's carefully selected, and I know it well.

Many of the books that have been most influential on my photography aren't even photography books. Some are works of fiction or literature, books of history, books about other crafts, even religious works.

What I've done this week is to take advantage of's "listmania" feature to compile a short list of some of my favorite photography books, plus a few that have influenced me and my practice of the art. I've called it "Readings for Practicing Photographers." Some are good general recommendations, some are idiosyncratic personal choices. Of course you'll exercise your own discretion in figuring out which is which.

--> Here's the list <--

Maybe now that the kids are back in school and colder weather is nearing, you'll have time to pick up a few of these. I hope a few of them might influence or inspire you too. I wouldn't steer you wrong!

—Mike Johnston

Mike Johnston writes and publishes an old-fashioned, entertaining quarterly ink-on-paper newsletter called The 37th Frame ( He has a B.F.A. in Photography from the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, D.C., where he was a student of the late Steve Szabo and of Joe Cameron.

He was East Coast Editor of Camera & Darkroom magazine from 1988 to 1994 and Editor-in-Chief of PHOTO Techniques magazine from 1994-2000, where his editorial column "The 37th Frame" was a popular feature and where he presented, among other things, a set of three articles on "bokeh" by John Kennerdell, Oren Grad, and Harold Merklinger that were subsequently widely discussed among photographers.

His critical and technical writings have appeared in various publications and newsletters such as The Washington Review and D-Max. A number of his articles written under the pseudonym "L. T. Gray" (el Tigre) appeared in the English magazine Darkroom User.

The 37th Frame is an ink-on-paper quarterly for a small but select audience that's sardonic, sarcastic, intelligent, independent, practical, entertaining, funny, and well written. It's especially notable for detailed subjective reviews of lenses.

TO SUBSCRIBE: send a check for $18 for one year or $32 for two years to: Mike Johnston, The 37th Frame, 316 Windsor Drive, Waukesha, Wisconsin 53186.

You can also make a PayPal payment to, but please be sure to send an e-mail to the same address reporting your payment and your name and mailing address.

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