Quick Book Review: “On Photographing People and Communities” by Dawoud Bey

Last year, I went to Ghana for a Mission Rabies project.  I got to see several small village communities and I took many great photos.  I’ll be going to Tanzania in mid-January for another Mission Rabies project, and I wanted to read some inspirational photography books to prepare me for (what I hope will be) more excellent photography opportunities.  This book, part of Aperture magazine’s workshop series, really filled the bill.  Dawoud Bey is renowned for his portraits that reflect both the individual and their larger community.  Bey explains his own creative process and he offers meaningful insight into how to create striking portraits that showcase the humanity of his subjects.  The book contains a bevy of beautiful examples of his work, along with many pearls of wisdom that come from years and years of experience.  “Making art has never been the safest or easiest pursuit. There is no quick or clever hustle that will sustain you, no one you can meet whose connections will allow you to skip the long hours it takes to produce something of substance.  Every photographer is faced with creative challenges, as well as the realities of having somehow to maintain a practice during times of economic uncertainty.  Making art is an act of faith.”  That particular paragraph resonated strongly with me, as did this statement: “I believe that if you can make work that begins to transcend difference while locating a common humanity that we all share, a radical reshaping of the world is possible, one person at a time.” I was aware of this in Ghana but I’m not sure how well I succeeded.  On my Tanzania trip, I hope that the portraits that I take can “transcend difference while locating a common humanity.” This book would have been great for the portraits alone, but the smart, thoughtful text is really the reason for photographers to seek it out.  

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