The World Through a Lens: a Photographic Perspective

The cover of Wild and Crazy

My bio hints at it, but I’ll state this fact plainly: I am a photographer. Not*1 in an “I take pictures” way, but in the “I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography” way. Yup. I was a weirdo arts school kid before being a*2 library school student. I’m also completely over the art world, primarily because of my bachelor’s. All you “I take pictures” photographers? Keep at it! It’s not a degree that makes you a photographer; it’s taking pictures. At least in my eyes.

So why did going to school for art turn me against the art world? I like taking pretty photographs*3 and trying to ascribe some higher meaning to them just to please critics gives me a headache. I’m an uncomplicated photographer; what you see in the picture is what you choose to see. I just saw something neat and framed it in a way that pleased me.

Not all photographers work like I do, though. Some have missions to complete, subjects they excel in capturing, a desire to push the medium forward, or a cause to champion. They shoot for magazinescompetitionsjournalism, or any myriad of reasons. Sometimes those photos are collected in massive books. We’ve all been in a bookstore and seen coffee table books, behemoths full of imagery to peruse while taking a break with a nice hot drink. Lovely to look through, but with homes getting smaller, who has space for them these days? This is where the library comes in*4, borrow the book, look through it for a time, and return it when you’re done, knowing it’ll be there again if you want it.

The cover of The Photo Ark

Joel Sartore has a mission: to photograph every animal in captivity in the world, especially endangered animals, to support conservation efforts. He has partnered with National Geographic, and if you’re interested in seeing some of the results, VPL has you covered. The Photo Ark is the most complete work we have, showing everything from lowly grasshoppers to the hulking greater one-horned rhinoceros. These shots are unlike most wildlife photography, as they’re taken in a studio setting, allowing for stark white or black backgrounds that make the animals pop off the page. These photos are coupled with information about the animals and insight into the photographic process. If a still image doesn’t quite do it for you, we have Rare: Creatures of the Photo Ark ready for you to check out. This three-part series shows Sartore’s process while providing more information about the animals he shoots. It also ties into his mission that the best way to garner support for these animals is to view them directly in the eye.

The cover of Animal Ark

The photographs are great for all ages, no matter the book they’re in, but Animal Ark was explicitly created with children in mind, pairing pictures from the Ark with poetry from Newbery award-winning author Kwame Alexander. Though aimed at a younger audience, the book is as much a call to action as its older sibling. However, Alexander mixes levity into his poetry, ensuring the message isn’t overbearing*5. Finally, if you’re looking for a more focused experience, Birds of the Photo Ark exists for the birders out there. Aaaaand since it wouldn’t be me without a bit of cross-contamination of hobbies, check out the board game Wingspan for more info on these birds from a fantastic engine-building game.

The cover of Biophilia

The Ark presents live animals in a studio environment, but this next selection focuses on what at first sounds like a more macabre subject: taxidermy. The insects, birds, fish, and reptiles in Biophilia were all dead before seeing the business end of a camera. Even knowing this, Christopher Marley’s imagery is sure to bring joy to the viewer. A verdant collage created from a multitude of beetles and butterflies greets you on the cover, inside you get visually acquainted with why a spider crab earned that name, and later still, sets of fake eyes stare back at you from an arrangement of butterflies. Each page offers the viewer something to reflect on or details to get lost in, and the creatures never feel dead. Indeed, as the title exclaims, this is a celebration of life.

The cover of Find Momo

Do you live vicariously through others’ travel photographs*6? Or maybe you love to look at pictures of puppers. Take these categories, mix in a dash of Where’s Waldo, and you get Find Momo and Find Momo Coast to Coast. These books challenge readers to find Canadian photographer Andrew Knapp’s border collie Momo on every page. Momo can be a difficult doggo to discern amongst photographs of landscapes ranging from an abandoned couch in the middle of a snowy field, to odd little roadside attractions, to streetscapes of colourful buildings. Of the three photographers I’ve focused on in this post, I’m most jealous of Knapp. Sure, Sartore has unparalleled access to fantastic subjects that most photographers can only dream of, and Marley’s design sense is something to aspire to. But Knapp’s work is the closest to the photos I enjoy taking. I appreciate his compositions, Momo or no Momo. Though Momo does drive some of that jealousy, as I’m also very much a dog person.

This is just a small selection of the amazing photographic gems hidden away on our shelves. Have you come across a book of photos that should be mentioned? Give it some love in the comments and help others find new visual inspiration.  

*1 Only

*2 Still a weirdo

*3 I resisted putting my website in the post itself, but those of you who read my footnotes can judge this statement for yourselves

*4 Yes, I know some of you will think, “but that’s where my phone comes in,” and here I’ll defer to my art-school background: a printed photograph is more potent than one seen on a screen

*5 This topic doesn’t merit my usual flippancy, so no saying anvilicious up there, but I can add all the TVtropes links I want for my footnote readers

*6 Okay, I’ll admit that 99% of people will never get these kinds of shots

About Adam

Adam is a Digital Creation Specialist - Children who never has enough shelf space for his board game collection, wall space for his photographs, or stomach space for his baking. Once he’s got a book in his clutches (preferably a fantasy, or humorous non-fiction one) absolutely nothing else is getting done that day. Working in a library is a blessing and a curse to his free time.