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Photography a concise history – book review

To put a backbone into my research on photography, I’ve invested in a couple of books on its history. Picked up at a reasonable price secondhand online. The first one, Photography a concise history, carries the stamp of Lancashire Library inside its front cover – I can only assume that it was acquired legitimately by the online book store from which I purchased it!

The book covers the period from the invention of the camera in the 1830s through to the 1970s. It deals only with European and American photographers. Each of its 10 chapters covers a period in time, the principle photographers in the period, and the social and artistic context for the period. Interestingly, each chapter is given a thematic title that reflect the mood in its period.  In total the book contains 136 images, with 8 in colour.

While the writing style is a little dry, I find the book valuable:

  • It provides some social context within each chapter, so it is possible to understand something of the environment the photographers were working in and how it was either reflected in their work or not.
  • Importantly, it explains the connection between the photographers, either personal or in time.
  • The genres and styles of the photographers are discussed alongside the images in the book.

The book is limited in its geographic outlook, but that also allows it to be concise. If there is one area in which I would have liked to have seen more content, that is the post World War II period. This is allowed only one chapter of the 10. Either there was not so much happening in that period, or what was happening was not of so much interest to the author.

Overall, a good investment for my research!


Jeffery I (1981). Photography a concise history. London, Thames & Hudson Ltd.

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