Cleaning out my bookshelf the other day, I rediscovered a bunch of old photography books I bought from a second-hand store some time ago. Leafing through the pages and taking in that unmistakable “old book smell”, it got me thinking about the value of reading older books as opposed to shiny new publications and PDFs on a laptop.
Aged coffee table books, magazines, essays, how-to encyclopedias, and guides – there is just something about old books that capture the heart. And they continue to be relevant today, sometimes in new and surprising ways. Here are some ways old photography books and magazines are still valuable.
Why read photography books?
With the abundance of on-screen resources available nowadays, it’s easy to dismiss hard copies of books and magazines, even brand-new publications, as a step behind the cutting edge. But books, especially older ones, offer something that the modern iPad screen lacks. They offer an experience.
The physicality of the printed text lends the feeling of a place. And the presence of a physical book discourages multitasking, focusing the mind solely on reading and absorbing information. The smell and texture of old paper, tinted with age. The turning of the page – it all contributes to a sense of knowledge, history, and sometimes nostalgia too.
It’s the same for old magazines, with each glossy print serving as a time-capsule for photographic history.
Trends and culture
Studies have shown that reading physical books has a positive effect on the brain. It expands memory and imagination and inspires you, the reader, to develop new concepts and ideas. But older books have the additional charm of age, they are a photograph of their time.
But it’s amazing how little the groundwork of photography has changed. Although trends come and go, the foundations of photography have remained the same. Open up an old photography guide and you’ll see practical information that looks remarkably similar to many present-day photography guides.
Everything old is new again
Just like in fashion, trends in art are often recycled and re-invented. Recently, the “soft focus look” came back into vogue, gracing the covers of magazines and fashion shoots. Street photography has had a major resurgence on Instagram and the use of old film cameras over digital technology has also garnered popularity recently.
Old photography books are full of inspiration for trends like these, with guides on how to put them into practice and an abundance of imagery to study. You may even want to re-spark a trend on your own, plus, you might discover a few out-dated tips and tricks that will put you ahead of the trend.
A sweet deal
Unlike hot-off-the-press publications that haven’t filtered through to the second-hand market, old photography books are often incredibly economical. You could purchase three older books for the price of one new one. Maybe even more! Recently I bought a whole stack of beautiful, full-color photography magazines for 10 cents a pop. I couldn’t believe my luck.
Try looking for old books and magazines at book fairs, online, used bookstores, charity stores, and garage sales. You never know what you might find, a special kind of excitement reserved for photographers and book lovers alike!
Back to basics
While we all know that editing and photography often go hand-in-hand, books that predate Photoshop and digital technology can introduce you to a world of photography with an often overlooked method of execution – getting it right in-camera.
With the ability to take thousands of photos in a single day, modern photographers can get in the habit of taking numerous photographs and hoping for the best. Older photography books and magazines that rely on film or limited memory space depict a slower, more deliberate methodology which can be a refreshing way of shooting.
Photography has a long history recorded by countless publications. While brand new books and magazines may have the advantage of cutting-edge photography, older generations of print material hold a nostalgic charm and an alternative perspective to current photographic trends.
And they are cheaper too! So next time you visit a charity store or a book fair, why not pick up a few older photographic book or magazines? You’ll be surprised how useful and inspiring they really are! Share some of your book finds in the comments below.