Life Library of Photography—Exactly What I Have Been Looking For!

Exploring the history and growth of photography, researching techniques and practices—all add to the enjoyment of learning photography and snapping the shutter. Josh Solomon is responsible for my latest library additions. His post extolling the virtue of The Camera set me on a quest to find the 51-year-old Life Library of Photography. There are two editions, and from what I could learn, the original volumes were published from 1970 to 1973 and a revised set from 1981 to 1983. I wanted the original 70s set. I have had great fortune searching for old books, almost as good as finding Minoltas. These wonderful volumes are themselves works of art. 

My journey into photography, now at two years, is still new, and I am discovering just how deep one can go, how much remains to be mastered. I would guess that nearly every adult has used a camera of some kind. Since taking photos is such a common experience, it is easy to consider photography simple. The way photography is presented as an activity sometimes adds to the distortion. From experience, I know that getting the light and reflection in an image just right in the camera takes much more planning and skill than it appears. I want to master the craft and learn to do things in a way that requires a at high level of skill. That way, I can have a sense of accomplishment, a sense of mastery. My photography journey is a personal quest, a challenge to determine what I am actually capable of doing. It is something I’m doing for the same reason people run marathons or toil growing vegetables they could readily buy in a store. Good books are one of the few ways left to acquire what is becoming arcane knowledge.  

The Life Library of Photography consists of 17 volumes. I have managed to buy 14 of them, and while they can be expensive, patience can lead to bargains. In my case, I paid less than three dollars per volume, all in very good to excellent condition. The writing is commendable, clear, eloquent, and insightful. The accompanying images also add to the quality of the presentation. When it comes to history, methods, and practices, these works are some of the most detailed I have encountered. What I like best about these books is that they focus solely on film. Digitally-oriented books, at least those I own, tend to tell how to capture an image, then spend far more pages describing how to fix it. The only fixing I want to do is increase or decrease the exposure time when the negative is on the enlarger.  

These volumes contain many images created by famous photographers, and I find it odd there is no photographer whose works resonate with me. No images connect with me in the same way as the paintings of Monet, Van Gogh, or Beardon, or the music of Miles Davis, Shirley Horn, or Pat Metheny. Some images, such as those of Diane Arbus, I find incredibly off-putting.  

Books in this collection provide plenty of practical information–such is the case with The Print—a worthwhile read for those wanting to venture into a darkroom. On the other hand, The Art of Photography offers insight into how others have chosen to explore what it means to be human with all of its joys and miseries. Taken together, these volumes are guidebooks in both a practical and sublime sense. Read them with a glass of your favorite drink, then pick up your camera, load some film, and create. 

6 Comments

  1. Those books were my inspiration back in the 1970s when I got the set. You will enjoy every volume!!!

    1. Author

      You’re right, they are wonderful!

  2. These are by far the best books for learning about and understanding film photography. Anyone even slightly interested should buy and read the whole series. Even the ones that seem less interesting are able to fascinate and inform. Plus many examples of what a print should look like..

    1. Author

      I agree! This collection provides a complete range of info on film photography and the writing and images are excellent!

  3. May I suggest that you add Ansel Adam’s three books on photography — The Camera, The Negative, and The Print to your collection. The first two are still available in paperback; all of them are available on the used market.

    1. Author

      Hi Peter, thanks for the suggestions. The Ansel Adams set was gifted to me two years ago. These books are well known and everyone has heard of them, and everyone who discovered I was into photography suggested them. They require no additional marketing help from me.

      I try to focus on books that most people will not have heard of because I think that is more helpful to those who, like me, are new to photography.

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