Book review verdict: A photography masterclass by a master photographer
This is the 1st of what I hope will become several book reviews, please sign up to our mailing list to be notified as more book reviews are posted.
The first thing about this book that will strike the reader is the sheer size of it. Described by the publisher as oversized, this is a hefty volume. It showcases 150 of Yarrow’s best images, revealing Yarrow’s passion for his craft, and for conservation, with all royalties being donated to the British NGO, TUSK.
While being a showcase for Yarrow’s work, the book also establishes itself as a must-read for any student of photography.
Most of the images are monochrome, which Yarrow clearly has a preference for. This removes the distraction of colour from these images, demanding focus, and rendering the subject thought-provoking to the reader. Yarrow strives for engagement with his images, and uses the duration of viewer engagement as an indicator of the strength of an image.
Where he does use colour images, he does so with careful consideration, allowing colour to provoke instant reaction and emotion through his art. The inclusion of so many monochrome images may itself be a factor in generating an emotional response to the colour photographs.
Yarrow’s firm belief in Robert Capa’s directive to get closer to the subject is evident throughout the book.
The images present a masterclass in photography for those willing to study them, and that should be all photographers. The generation of emotional response through proximity to the subject, selected camera angles, bold use of negative space, the jarring introduction of a colour image, composition at its best, all serve to educate and inform the reader.
The images also provide an exceptional opportunity to develop the ability to read a photograph, and Yarrow has thoughtfully provided a section dedicated to image narratives. Yarrow touches on the need to learn from the work of others, and this book is an ideal vehicle for students to study the work of a photographer whose limited-edition prints can sell for prices upwards of $100,000.
The narrative and images also confirm Yarrow’s respect for film directors such as Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, and Ridley Scott, as he creates cinematic artwork with the aim of continuing his learning about light, line, and narrative, and of generating emotion. In so doing, Yarrow confirms his preference for short to wide-angle lenses rather than telephoto lenses, believing that the compression of distance resulting from long lenses also yields a compression of emotion. Although he does make this point within the text, his images provide an equally powerful supporting argument.
Yarrow provides more food for thought for photography and art students by delivering a brutally honest account of his own shortcomings while photographing football world cup matches in 1986. His inability to follow-focus resulted in missed images, unthinkable for any of today’s sports photographers. While today’s cameras are bristling with technology, including auto-focus and focus-tracking, Yarrow stresses that it is the actual point of focus that still needs to be accurately selected.
Perhaps the only downside of this book is its size, which makes it difficult to hold when reading, or to lay at an angle unless the reader is fortunate enough to have a fairly large coffee table of suitable height, with a tilting top, to rest it on.
Several of the images are reproduced across page spreads, but while this may be less than perfect for the viewer, it does not significantly detract from the experience of viewing them. Another factor when looking at large images is the distance between the viewer and the image. It is worth standing back to view from a reasonable distance. The book is also heavy, weighing in at around 4.5kg, a detail that many may find off-putting when considering it for their bookshelves.