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Looking at Photographs: Animals

by A. D. Coleman


From the reviews:

"Looking at Photographs: Animals is a book by A. D. Coleman for children eight to twelve years old to teach them about what photographers do and how to look at a picture and tell what it's about. Most eight-year-olds should be able to understand this book but for some readers some of the ideas and words may need to be explained by an adult. Teenagers and adults who are not photographers will probably be interested in this book because they can learn a lot about photography. And mostly everyone will like this book just because of the wonderful pictures. . . . [It] is a good introduction to photography for young readers."

-- Cressa S. Mindlin Perloff, third-grader, The Photo Review
(For more responses from young readers, click here.)


"The book is structured as a classical textbook. . . . The text is straightforward English that doesn't talk down to the reader and is chockful of fine observations and important information for those who want to get acquainted with photography but have no special prerequisites. . . . Coleman manages to cover impressive ground in the book's roughly 40 pages.

"The book is a good tool for older children or young adults who are no longer content just to see photography as a simple representation of the world . . . suitable for both the schoolroom or independent study and might not be a bad place to start, either, for the clueless adult who wants to know more about the subject."

-- Ida Wettendorff, Katalog (Denmark)


"Although the amazing collection of photographs range from the microscopic to the historical to the playful to the fantastic, the heart of this book is Coleman's short essays. Concise, knowledgeable and occasionally ingenious, Coleman's texts explain through example, describing everything from basic technical terms like exposure to complicated concepts such as point-of-view and composition. . . . Coleman's approach to understanding photographs rests first and foremost on understanding how photographs are made, especially on the decisions that lead to interesting visual statements. While Coleman seldom discusses individual photographers, his approach highlights human agency . . . "

-- Vince Leo, Afterimage


"This volume is a pleasure to look at and the lessons in visual literacy are easy to absorb and remember."

-- School Library Journal


"[O]utstanding . . . This is a book to seek out, one you'll probably want for your family."

-- Bethany Tribune (Oklahoma)


"[T]his large, comely volume contains a full-page photograph and one small inset on each spread. The relaxed and chatty mini-essays that accompany b&w and full-color pictures cover a range of photographic concepts--historical, technical, and artistic . . . Drawn in by the intriguing photographs, readers painlessly are invited to consider a range of abstract concepts, from point-of-view to the relationships between objects."

-- Kirkus Reviews


"What better way to interest a kid in a photography book than to use animals as ambassadors? Adults, too, might take a lesson or two from the project. . . . Looking at Photographs: Animals takes a gentle and wide-ranging approach to the subject of photography. . . . A. D. Coleman should be congratulated on keeping the book general and nontechnical. . . . [He] weaves an interconnected tale, each set of facing pages a stage for two photos and some good sense and fun text. He doesn't use quotes, but he does talk about the pictures, inviting the viewer to take perhaps a second, third or even eighth look. Each page of text stands alone, a bite-size piece of information. Chew more if you want, or chew once and leave off for the day. It's a recipe kids will like. The whole project is a charmer."

-- Mark Wilson, Boston Globe


"This is a fascinating exploration of what photography is, using as its subject a universal adoration: animals. . . . a provocative musing on the world through photography."

-- Katy Arndt, Children's Book Editor, The Bloomsbury Review


"[A] great way to get a young person involved in viewing and appreciating photography . . . with easy-to-understand text describing the conditions under which each photograph was made, technical information and what the image tells us."

-- Petersen's PHOTOgraphic


"With photographic examples from Stieglitz to Wegman, this volume . . . provides an excellent overview of how photographs are made, what they reveal, and how to look at them. . . . [T]he discussion is clear and easy, explaining the importance of light, framing, viewpoint, scale, color, and relationship. This is an art book that opens up possibilities, showing how the best pictures reveal the unexpected and leave us to imagine beyond the frame."

-- Hazel Rochman, Booklist


"A gallery of remarkable animal images (by Eadweard Muybridge, Alfred Stieglitz, Mary Ellen Mark, and others) is the focus of this lively introduction to photography. In the course of showing how photos don't copy the visible world so much as interpret it, Coleman explains the important roles played by lighting, composition, and the photographer's feeling for his subject in making a memorable picture."

-- Parenting


"This book really isn't about animals but about photography, but the decision to unify a discussion of how photographic art works with a subject attractive to children is inspired. Coleman's text teaches, in all the best senses. Each double-page spread includes one full-page picture and a smaller one on the facing page, each designed around a particular way of looking at what we can see when we look at a photograph. The images include ones from the early days of photography as well as more contemporary photos, such as William Wegman's portrait of his dog, Fay Wray, on roller skates. The book can be opened to any page for a delightful experience. Young readers will be intrigued by the book, if they can pry it away from the adults who bought it for them."

-- Mary Harris Veeder, Chicago Tribune


"Photographers with an eye for excellence will recognize a rare educational opportunity when Looking at Photographs: Animals is published next month. . . . Superbly designed layouts are a distinguishing feature of this volume. . . . Photography critic A. D. Coleman has written the interesting and intelligent commentaries. . . . The amazing visual breadth of this book gives it wide appeal."

-- Karen Williams, Christian Science Monitor

From the book:

Painters, who start with a blank canvas, have to choose what to put into their pictures. But photographers, who begin by pointing their cameras at something in the real world, have to decide what to leave out.

Photographers refer to the edges of the photographic image as the frame. The act of deciding where that border will be placed, in order to select a section of whatever's in front of the camera and to leave out the rest of the scene, is called framing. It's one of the most important decisions involved in making a photograph.

This photograph shows us a very common sight: a man feeding something -- crackerjack or peanuts, probably -- to an elephant. But Garry Winogrand tells us what's happening by showing us just a few bits of information. We don't see the whole elephant -- only its trunk, stretching out from the left edge of the frame. And we don't see the man either; there's nothing visible except his right hand and forearm, reaching forward from the other side of the image. These two extensions form a horizontal line, dividing the photograph almost exactly in half. This creates a very balanced composition, while at the same time conveying a sense of action; we can feel the coordinated motions of these two separate creatures.

Winogrand waited for the precise instant in which their behavior would reveal its purpose. Some photographers call this the decisive moment. The tip of the elephant's trunk is turned upwards, in its characteristic position for receiving something; the man's hand is opening in the way a hand does when it's releasing something. Even if we couldn't see something dropping from it, we'd know just what basic act of friendly sharing was going on.

Publishing information:

Looking at Photographs: Animals
(San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1995). First edition.
ISBN: 0-8118-0418-6 hardbound, $14.95.

Out of print.


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All contents © copyright 1995-2005 by A. D. Coleman/CODA Enterprises. All rights reserved.