Some Cool Books for 35mmc Readers (Part 2)

By Dave Powell

Part 1 of this article described interesting and useful books about:

  • Film Cameras & Systems
  • Digital Photography & Processes
  • Photographic Arts & Techniques

This final installment offers some about:

  • Famous Photographers’ Lives and Methods
  • Photographic Tips, Tricks & DIY Equipment

Famous Photographers’ Lives and Methods

The two photographers who fascinate me most are Edward Steichen and Ansel Adams. Steichen, for the sheer variety and quality of his work. I think it was in the 1950’s that I saw his photo credit in a Life Magazine ad for Steinway pianos. And I’d never seen such a gorgeous black-and-white image.

Much later, I became fascinated with Ansel Adams after learning that he could have become either a concert pianist or photographer. My fascination deepened when one of my wife’s bosses told us about growing up near the Adams’s home in San Francisco… and once witnessing him feeding negatives and prints into a backyard bonfire. When asked why, he said he periodically weeded down to protect his legacy.

One wonders how many wonderful images went to the flames. AND whether Adams would have felt the need to similarly “cull the herd” if he lived in the era of Photoshop editing.

Anyway, on with the books:

Edward Steichen’s “A Life in Photography”

Edward Steichen autobiographyWritten by one of the world’s most influential photographers, this coffee-table book is truly inspiring. Published in 1963 by the New York Museum of Modern Art, its big 11×12-inch pages are printed on quality paper with a very slight sheen. Its partial- and full-page reproductions are luscious. And peppered among the 249 black-and-whites are Steichen’s favorite memories… plus lots of name-dropping!

I knew his landscapes, city scenes, celebrity portraits, “Family of Man” images, macro shots and abstracts were beautiful. But I didn’t know how beautiful until I bought this book. And– oh my– at this writing, one can still snag the hardbound for $8.85 on Amazon!

Ansel Adams’ “Basic Photo Series”

Books by Ansel AdamsI’m not sure the word “Basic” in the title really applies. This famous series is technically dense. Adams wrote it to help people learn his “Zone System” for determining camera settings, film-development procedures and printing parameters to achieve a print’s “pre-visualized look.”

Over the years, I bought these books in thrift shops and used book stores so that I’d have them if I ever decided to try Zone. With today’s advanced digital cameras and image editors, I haven’t felt the need. But people still use the system today… especially with fully manual cameras like the ones Adams owned.

As of now, I’ve collected:

  • “The Camera”
  • “The Negative”
  • “The Print”
  • “Natural-Light Photography”
  • “Camera and Lens: The Creative Approach”

I’m still missing (at least) “Artificial-Light Photography” and the “Polaroid Land Photography Manual.” But the books are beautifully illustrated… and highly recommended for learning to shoot the Adams way.

Mary Street Alinder’s Ansel Adams Books

Mary Street Alinder books about Ansel AdamsI haven’t seen even a minuscule fraction of the books written about Adams. But these three by Mary Street Alinder are must reads for anyone who wants to peer inside Ansel’s brain. From 1967 to Adams’ death in 1984, Alinder worked closely with him– becoming a friend, colleague and confidant. She also became an acknowledged expert on his photographs, printing processes and print-revision decisions later in life.

  • “Ansel Adams: An Autobiography”– Adams himself worked on this document right up to his death. By then, Alinder had taken on the “formidable task” of completing, checking and publishing it. And shortly before his passing, Ansel penned this dedication to her: “To Mary Alinder, my dear friend and editor, whose devotion and love gave me the daily inspiration to continue writing this book, and whose editorial genius assembled it into a meaningful whole. She truly knows me better than I know myself.”
  • Ansel Adams: A Biography”– Printed later, this volume covers more personal ground than the autobiography. One finds insights into Adams’ life, daily routines, difficulties, triumphs and philosophies.
  • “Ansel Adams: Letters and Images 1916-1984”– Illustrated with 125 of Ansel’s black-and-white landscapes and family snaps, this 400-page compilation of letters to Alinder and others offers perhaps the most personal insights of the three books. You can witness Ansel’s immense sense of humor first-hand… even learning that he sometimes (and fittingly) signed his letters “Beard.” Also researching and co-editing this massive collection was Andrea Gray Stillman, another long-time Adams collaborator, researcher and editor of Adams books and documentary films. A powerhouse team for a massive project!

A George Eastman House Compendium

Eastman Museum Photography HistoryWhile the earlier books are about specific photographers, this thick (766-page) compendium (published by Tashen) is about (by my rough estimate) the work of more than 350 photographers between 1839 and my volume’s 2000 publishing date. Updated versions continue to be released under the slightly different title “A History of Photography from 1839 to the Present.

Since 1949, the Rochester, New York home of Kodak founder George Eastman has been a world-leading museum of photography and film. This chronological history profiles the photographers, and more than 700 of their their most impressive images (from the museum’s collection of thousands). Yes, many famous shooters are here. But you’ll also find a Lewis Carroll albumen print of a young girl. And the text offers nicely concise biographies.

Just leafing through the volume is a great way to witness photography’s changes over the centuries. Taschen sells the current book for $25. But older versions like mine are also online. It’s a great browse too.

Photographic Tips, Tricks & DIY Equipment

The next books are treasure troves! With two exceptions, they’re older texts unearthed in used book stores, thrift shops and library sales. And while all were written for film photographers, much of their content can be applied to digital projects too. (They’re also great volumes to aimlessly thumb through late at night.)

Popular Science’s “How to Make Your Own Photographic Equipment”

Book about making DIY photo equipment

Popular Science magazine has been around a while. This 1941 anthology of its photo articles was targeted to both still and movie photographers. But the content remains fascinating and useful for digital shooters.

For example, the very first article is about making bellows for cameras and enlargers. And the last– most advanced– chapter is about working with camera-project materials including: brass, aluminum, bronze, “monel metal,” wood, sheet metal, glass, plastic, screws and bolts, machine tools, quick-drying cements, wood, bake-on enamel, non-baked art finishes, lacquers, non-reflecting finishes, and (of course) electricity.

In between, are an eye-popping variety of projects that I can’t fully characterize. Leafing through, I learned how to literally bind slides into “micro books,” make cut-film developing racks out of 16-gauge wire, and even build different types of enlargers. I may have to try some of these for 35mmc!

National Camera’s “Photo Technology Data Book”

Photo Technology Data BookFormerly titled the “Camera Repairman’s Handbook,” my 1970 edition’s tables of photography standards and lens-design schematics proved very useful for experiments like this one. The rest of its contents are too varied to even list, but here’s a decent overview and purchasing page.

Kodak Reference Materials

Miscellaneous Kodak ephemeraI didn’t buy most of these, but inherited them from my father. It’s sad that his increasingly severe OCD kept him from ever using the cameras he bought later in life… including a Nikon FE system that I inherited in unused condition.

And as a scientist, he collected a lot of Kodak reference materials. They’re all worth hunting down in used book stores and the boxes of loose ephemera that one finds in thrift/antique shops. But the little 1951 “Master Photoguide” (shown open at the upper-right of the photo) is especially cool… with built-in paperboard “computer” disks for determining:

  • Daylight film exposures
  • Flood-light film exposures
  • Flash exposures
  • Effective apertures (shown above) and
  • Depths-of-field

One of its pages also has built-in Wratten A, B, C-5 and G gel filters– for previewing glass filters’ effects on outdoor subjects! These were more for people using rangefinder and folding cameras than SLRs (whose viewfinders let you review the effects of real glass filters). But even today, this little shirt-pocket book can be appreciated for its informative mechanical marvelousness!

NOTE: Kodak also published a larger ring-bound version (immediately below the little “Master Photoguide” in the above photo). This book could be enhanced with hole-punched technical booklets (like the ones in the photo about solar-eclipse photography and making pinhole cameras). But it doesn’t include the cool paperboard “computer” disks!

Ziff Davis’s “Little Technical Library”

Little Technical Library booksThese 5×7-inch hardbound books (sold by Ziff-Davis in the 1930s and ‘40s) are just plain FUN!  I don’t know how many they published, but I’ve seen lists of thirty… and there were probably more. When first released, they cost just $.50, and were info-dense bargains. For example, “Tricks for Camera Owners” (far right) packs 300 “kinks” (tips, tricks and ideas) into its 150 diminutive pages.

I continue to keep my eyes open for these titles. And like Popular Science’s big book (earlier), they offer great late-night browsing!

The Caffenol Cookbook

That completes my small book collection (as of now). But a great free PDF resource for today’s DIY film developers is the official “Caffenol Cookbook & Bible.” It’s a must for anyone who’s interested in developing film with an eco-friendly concoction of coffee, vitamin-C, soda ash and table salt.  The web offers many additional Caffenol recipes (and instructional videos), but this PDF is a great place to start.

If this article (and Part 1) proved interesting and useful, happy hunting! And if you you have any favorite references, please share them in a comment!!

–Dave Powell is a Westford, Mass., writer and avid amateur photographer.

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About The Author

By Dave Powell
Trained in mathematics, physics, cosmology, computer programming and science journalism. Retired mathematician, award-winning technical and journalistic writer. 1989 winner of the Bruce B. Howat Award-- an international business-journalism equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize. (Only one Howat was awarded each year, IF the committee in Geneva found an article they really liked. But I don't think the prize is granted anymore.) Also a past author and editorial advisor for Sesame Street... where I regularly worked with Jim Henson and Kermit!
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Basil Steinle on Some Cool Books for 35mmc Readers (Part 2)

Comment posted: 22/12/2023

The book “Group f.64”, also by Alinder, belongs on your bookshelf!
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Dave Powell replied:

Comment posted: 22/12/2023

Hi Basil, I think I know what the book is about... and it's an excellent suggestion! Unfortunately, I just came down with Covid (for the second time)... and though I'm fully vaxed and boosted, this new strain going around has hit me harder than before. So I'll retire to the couch for the holidays, research that topic a bit, and add an update to this as soon as I can! Thanks again Basil... and here's hoping you can avoid the Covid Grinch! Dave

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David Dutchison on Some Cool Books for 35mmc Readers (Part 2)

Comment posted: 21/12/2023

Good read - both yours and the recommendations. 100% agree with Ansel Adams Basic Photography series. Simple and clearly written, and they will answer any question an analog newbie might have about using and producing images from a film camera. The first book is also pertinent to digital photographers who use manual exposure and/or legacy lenses.
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Dave Powell replied:

Comment posted: 21/12/2023

Thanks so much Dave! Ansel's books also contain so many inspirational images too. As I wrote the articles, I kept reminding myself that new generations continue to discover the joys of analog and digital tools. And older books remain very pertinent! Cheers, Dave

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Peter Roberts on Some Cool Books for 35mmc Readers (Part 2)

Comment posted: 21/12/2023

Enjoyable articles, Dave, which have added a few titles to my wish list. An interesting little book I found recently was 'Photographing the Fallen' which ties in with my interest in military history. Drawn from the archives of one Ivan Bawtree it records his work and experiences as a photographer with the Graves Registration Unit on the Western Front 1915-1919. It's not the usual war photographer stuff. There is perhaps a Part 3 to be written: fiction that has a photographer and/or photography as part of the plot. Three that spring to mind (in descending order of photographic prominence) are: 1/ Picture Palace by Paul Theroux 2/ Tennyson's Gift by Lynne Truss 3/ Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pulman They might be just the thing for dark winter evenings.
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Dave Powell replied:

Comment posted: 21/12/2023

Hi Peter! I just looked up "Photographing the fallen," and wow... it's actually a superb approach to its subject that could be applied to many other historic subjects. I must give it a read. And you know, I hadn't thought about fiction. Intriguing! I do remember a novel that I read decades ago, really enjoyed, but can't remember the title. It was a story about someone who the military trained to mentally travel in time. I believe it quickly morphed into an adventure-romance that involved bouncing back and forth between the present and the late 1800s... when the Statue of Liberty was being built. And to make the story seem more real, vintage photos of Lady Liberty's construction showed what the protagonist was experiencing during his visits. Rather nicely crafted too-- and dang, I wish I could remember its title! Thanks for your list. And as you say, winter will be a great opportunity to investigate! Cheers, Dave

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Jukka Reimola replied:

Comment posted: 21/12/2023

Hmmm... not the 1970 novel "Time and again" by Jack Finney?

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Murray Leshner replied:

Comment posted: 21/12/2023

My copy of Steichen's A.L.I.P. book arrived today, hardbound 1963 printing. First thing I noted was that he grew up in Hancock, Michigan, a mining town that sounds like it is still socioeconomically as it was during the height of copper mining, minus the mining. My son-in-law grew up in Houghton, where Michigan Tech(nological University) is located, across the river and the tracks, figuratively, as I understand it. Neighboring towns, but very different. Flipping through it and reading sections, I noted how technically different his photos were between 1898 and 1911. In part, his technique was probably evolving, but I also suspect a lot of lens designs appearing in that time span may have made improvements possible. One statement he made was inspiring to me...he shot over 1000 negatives of the same composition over a period of many years trying to achieve a look. Sometimes I'm embarrassed to find negatives from 20 years ago of flowers planted then, that have been transplanted elsewhere, and I still shoot every year, with different (digital for the time being) cameras, lenses, light, wind speed, etc. I have gotten feedback some people get tired of them. Now I can tell them to go take a nap. Murray

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Dave Powell replied:

Comment posted: 21/12/2023

That's IT! I enjoyed it and will do so again now. Thanks so much Jukka! Dave

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Dave Powell replied:

Comment posted: 21/12/2023

Hi Again Murray! Thanks for the great story from Steichen's book... and its advice for all of us! He was also following his mother's lead in a way. His first camera was a Kodak "detective camera" that his mother helped him buy. And only one image from his first roll was "clear" enough to print. His father thought that was terrible overall performance. But mom said the photo (of his sister playing the piano) was so wonderful that it was worth the other 49 failures on the roll. A lesson well learned! (This first camera of his may have been either Kodak's first ever 1888 model or the subsequent "Model 1"-- with preinstalled film for 100 circular images. And even then, Kodak developing cost $10!) Have a Happy New Year! Dave

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Jukka Reimola replied:

Comment posted: 21/12/2023

You're welcome. Thank you, for these book introductions.

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Gus on Some Cool Books for 35mmc Readers (Part 2)

Comment posted: 21/12/2023

Thanks Dave for these articles! I recently found "Basic Photo 2 The Negative" in a used bookstore and I've got my eyes out for "The Print"! We are very fortunate to have a library with an incredible collection of photography books. My strategy recently has been to try books out (by borrowing them), and I find them particularly useful or inspiring to buy them. Recent favorites have been: - Modern Architecture; Photographs by Ezra Stoller (includes his notes about working with the various architects and process behind the photos) - Mountain Light: In Search of the Dynamic Landscape by Galen A. Rowell (arranged in sections with preamble about process, technique, and adventure!)
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Dave Powell replied:

Comment posted: 21/12/2023

Wonderful suggestions Gus! I too like to borrow before buying… and am currently awaiting some books that others have also suggested. “Modern Architecture” will be next in line… since I also love architecture… followed by “Dynamic Landscape”! Thanks so much!! Dave

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Murray Leshner on Some Cool Books for 35mmc Readers (Part 2)

Comment posted: 21/12/2023

Very fascinating article. I have to go make sure I read your Part 1. Just ordered a used copy of the Steichen: A Life in Photography book. Odd how many places sell the hardbound one for a fraction of the paperback. Thanks
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Dave Powell replied:

Comment posted: 21/12/2023

You are most welcome Murray! And yes, it's amazing indeed. Just yesterday, I noticed someone asking more than $100 for a paperback version of another book that is also selling hardbound for under $20. Hope springs eternal! Cheers, Dave

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