Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: “Forever Changed” by Linda Mornell

Forever changed coverForever Changed tells the story of psychiatric nurse Linda Mornell, who founded Summer Search. Summer Search is a national organization with a comprehensive program that gives “high school students what they need to develop the personal and practical skills to become college-educated leaders who give back to their families and communities.”

The subtitle of Forever Changed reads as follows: “How Summer Programs and Insight Mentoring Challenge Adolescents and Transform Lives.” While there’s certainly some information on this important subject in the book, neither the subtitle nor the Summer Search mission statement quoted above give an adequate idea of the rich content and compelling stories that await within.

The epigraph for the first chapter of Forever Changed quotes Salman Rusdie: “Those who do not have the power over the the story that dominates their lives, the power to retell it, to rethink it, deconstruct it…and change it as times change…cannot think new thoughts.” This begins to hint at what Mornell is really after in her book: how understanding the stories that make up our lives gives power to change.

The stories in Forever Changed are, in fact, juicy. Mornell uses her own story of starting Summer Search on a shoestring and growing it into a national organization—truly new territory for her—as the framework for telling the stories of participants in the Summer Search programs, often in their own fascinating words.

This is a book that gives hope. The lives of adolescents that Mornell worked with through Summer Search have in many cases been profoundly changed for the better. There’s also insight. What kind of person sticks with it and makes it despite incredible privations? How do you best interview adolescents from troubled backgrounds, and get them to open up and tell their stories? It turns out that even the intake interviews that Mornell and Summer Search conducted have been transformative, and Mornell explains why, her accounts leavened with a sense of humor about the process of growing up in less than privileged situations.

Read  Forever Changed for the stories of the triumph of hope and persistence over adversity and an increasingly sclerotic class system. Come away with insight on a number of fronts, most of all how we can make a difference.

Forever Changed is published by Triumph Books, ISBN 978-1-62937-022-4, illustrated, $24.95. Click here for the link to Forever Changed on Amazon.

Full disclosure: I am a friend and admirer of Linda Mornell and the work she has done at Summer Search, and had several discussions with Linda about her book while it was still in manuscript.

Reviews of Creative Landscapes

As is probably typical of book authors, I’m pretty obsessive about checking the rankings and reviews for my books on Amazon. I wanted to share with you some of the great reviews of Creative Landscapes: Digital Photography Tips & Techniques. Thanks everyone for these thoughtful and positive narratives—I appreciate them more than words can say!

Creative Landscapes: Digital Tips & Techniques

“This is not another technical introduction to digital photography, but rather like taking some enjoyable long walks with a more-experienced photographer friend, one whose original training was in art and whose interests are wide ranging, and who tells you what he has distilled out of years of thoughtful practice and love of photography. The voice in the book is personal as Davis describes his views of landscape photography, discusses how to work in a variety of enviroments, tells the stories behind some of the images, and quotes other photographers whom he admires.”—Marianne Glosenger

“Harold’s book is one of the stepping stones, one of the tools for developing the craft that is of a Landscape Photographer.”—Kenneth G. Millett

“This is just a stunning book.”—Mary Darling

“What I appreciated from Davis’ work is his grounded understanding of what it takes to render a powerful and captivating landscape photo. From patience to vision, from technical knowledge of the equipment to conveying an emotion in you work; these are all ingredients to deliver a memorable landscape image. Underscoring all this is a critical understanding of the raw ingredients to make the image work, light. Davis gives you gift of understanding all these elements to enable you to strengthen your future photographic landscapes. Whether you are just getting started or seasoned like me, purchasing this book is a great investment in yourself. It will help you not only with your landscape photography, but will enrich your perspective as you pursue your own journey in self-expression through photography.”—Don Watson

“I can honestly say this is one of Harold’s best books. Many of the subjects were review for me, but I never felt bored by the presentation. The material is presented in a way that makes you think you are right there with him. I recommend this book to anyone looking to expand their knowledge of landscape photography. It’s easy to look past the information you already know, when you have a great teacher. I know I learned a few new tricks.”—Travis Forbear

“[T]his book covers everything from planning the trip, composing the shot, and post-processing. It has so many useful reminders, good ideas, and technical tips. This book to read and re-read to be informed and inspired to create wonderful landscape photographs. Perfect gift for everyone who is interested in photography.”—Grace Bourke

Check out Creative Landscapes: Digital Photography Tips & Techniques on Amazon.
Slot Canyon

Also posted in Bemusements, Writing

Book Review: Night Vision

Night Vision Troy Paiva, whose work is handsomely reproduced in Chronicle Book’s recent Night Vision, is one of the acknowledged masters within the small cadre of professional night photographers. The stunning photos in this monograph demonstrate the high quality of Troy’s work.

These are images of crumbling ruins in the American west ranging from abandoned military bases and resorts to the old train station in Oakland, airplane part junkyards, and erstwhile roadside attractions. If it is romantic, seedy, falling down, and visually arresting it is grist for Troy Paiva’s night time mill, who previously mined this vein in his classic Lost America: The Abandoned Roadside West.

Night Vision is subtitled The Art of Urban Exploration, which strikes me as a bit odd. Certainly, the fascinating photos in this book and the related stories are about the archeology of recent human culture. But they are not particularly “urban.” In fact, with the exception of the wonderful series of photos of the old Oakland train station, this work shows isolated or even rural settings (you can get a sense of this even from the book’s cover).

While Troy Paiva’s writing is lucid and compelling, I also don’t have much use for the trendy and mostly irrelevant opening essay, Desert Iliad by Geoff Manaugh.

Troy writes that he shot film until fairly recently, switching to digital in 2005 (about the time I did). I believe that most of the photos in the book were taken with digital equipment. Troy’s preferred subject matter and technique differ from mine. He is looking for lost human artifacts at night, I primarily like the natural landscape. Troy’s exposures are in the 2-4 minute range, and he light paints with flashlights and gels. My exposures are often far longer, and I’m not that interested in colored light painting. These differences help point out the vast vocabulary range available in night photography, and why this is an exciting area for many people.

In his description of his technique, Troy writes that mostly he doesn’t post process his images much: “These captures are virtually untouched, straight out of the camera, with all the scene’s warts and blemishes intact.” Why Troy thinks this is a positive is unclear to me, although obviously many people share this viewpoint. (I won’t go into the argument in great length here, but a digital camera is a computer with a scanner and lens attached, so why not do some of the processing on a computer with greater capabilities?)

I highly recommend this book for three different reasons:

  • You can learn techniques of night photography from a master.
  • Troy’s stories of getting these photos on location in crumbling America are a great tale of adventure.
  • The images are stunning, and worth the price of admission on their own.

Book Review: Understanding Shutter Speed

Understanding Shutter Speed When I first looked at Understanding Shutter Speed by Bryan Peterson on Amazon I wondered how shutter speed, only one of the components of an exposure, made up a book. In fact, there are some organizational problems that are caused by choosing this particular slice as a wedge into the topic of photography. A good editor might well have wondered what the final chapter on “Composition” is doing at all in this particular book.

The great strength here is idea generation. It’s hard not to look at the illustrations in this book and say, “Hey why don’t I try that?” The caption information is explicit enough so that you can recreate the ideas shown for yourself, or use them as a jumping off point. As an idea book, Understanding Shutter Speed is well worth its price.

Personally, I find the text (as opposed to the photos and photo captions) problematic. Peterson seems out of his depth when it comes to digital. He really seems to think that from a noise viewpoint you are better off underexposing by two stops and adjusting in RAW as opposed to boosting the ISO and exposing properly (he’s wrong). His discussion of ISO using a metaphor of hundreds of carpenters struck me as simply silly and without much point.

Even if this kind of vague metaphor is your cup of tea, Peterson misses the whole arena of creative shutter speed fun that is possible with Photoshop and Camera RAW. (As an example, consider this flower photo that combines petals in slow circular motion with fixed interiors.)

This book is an intellectual muddle, and does not cover the creative possibilities of digital (as opposed to film photography). I realize that the deficits of this book sound quite serious (and they are). But leaving the intellectual muddle out of it, and sticking to pre-digital era photography, this is a book you’ll want to own as an absolutely glorious idea generator.

Book Review: Welcome to Oz

Welcome to Oz Vincent Versace’s Welcome To Oz is quite possibly the most innovative and best digital photography title I’ve ever come across (excluding my own books, of course!).

Versace is a superb photographer. So this is not one of those digital photography books that is written by a Photoshop guru without the creative gifts and guts to make images. But it is still largely a Photoshop book.

Versace’s subtitle tells the story of his book: "A Cinematic Approach to Digital Still Photography with Photoshop". After reading this book, I felt better able to view photograph-making from the perspective of what would happen to the photo in the computer as well as in the camera. And, as I said, the images are splendid (and the step-by step accounts of how they were created very thorough).

If I have one caveat here, it is that Versace provides versions of his original images, and encourages readers to duplicate his work on these samples. Personally, I prefer to try things out on my own images, and I enourage readers and students to process their own work. Otherwise, the whole thing becomes a slavish imitation of a master rather than an original creative endeavor. But that’s a quibble, this is a really good book.

Briefly noted: In the original version of this review, I said that Versace provided low resolution copies of the images in the book. This statement was wrong. I have corrected that statement to read simply “versions” based on an email from the author: I provide full resolution 16 bit and 8 bit Tiff files to work on. What I also provide in low resolution (100PPI) is a copy of the actual PSD that I created when I wrote each of the chapters. I do that so you can see what I did actually looks like. My thought was to gt the reader follow along with me on the image(s) in the lesson so the reader can get the technique down, having the 100ppi file to compare to with the full res file to work on so they can feel the “pain” of moving big files. The thought being that the reader will learn the keyboard shortcuts and apply it to there own work. I agree with you the last thing I want is someone xeroxing my work. Last thing the world needs is another one of me.

In my review, the point really wasn’t the resolution, it was providing the files. I don’t like this, and I don’t do it. But this is truly a matter of taste, and undoubtedly there will be many readers who appreciate it. I’ll give Vincent Versace the last word on the topic:

Another reason I give files out was a lesson I learned from my Uncle, he had me spot all of his prints and work on his negs before I worked on mine.What I learned was, what is a good negative, jump started my composition and the importance of a “clean” negative. I figured if I let the readers play with properly exposed, well composed files it will rub off in their work.

Also posted in Photography