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Author: Chris Orwig

Publisher: New Riders (Peachpit)

Reviewer: Conrad J. Obregon

With a title like “Visual Poetry: A Creative Guide for Making Engaging Digital Photographs” and a promise of “a creative guide for making engaging digital photographs”, this book sounds irresistible. Who doesn’t want to find more creativity, in photography or otherwise?

The book starts with general discussion and inspirational messages about poetry, creativity, vision, and even a little technique. Having laid this foundation Orwig then examines a number of different genres, although his taxonomy is a little unusual: portraits; kids and families; wedding bells; travel; action and the great outdoors; and found objects and subjects. The genre chapters start with inspirational messages, then give so called “practical tips”, suggest “gear at a glance” and then provide workshop assignments. The final book part discusses equipment (don’t get hung up on it) and becoming a professional (persevere). Each chapter ends with a few interviews with famous and some less famous great photographers including Joyce Tenneson, Steve McCurry and Ralph Clevenger.

To me, the workshop assignments are the best part of the book. They include surveying the work of photographers in books and on line, photography assignments and encouragement to share your images, including posting them on a book-related flickr site. My own experience tells me that if you can bend your will to do the assignments, your photography will improve. I say bend your will because most of us will be reluctant to, for example, approach strangers and ask to take their pictures.

The interviews asked the same questions of all the photographers, e.g., “what inspires you?” What the answers show is that professional photographers have many different views, but that most believe that to succeed one has to persevere.

It was Orwig’s inspirational messages that most put me off, even though many of them are good advice. They usually took the form of a message of from one third of a page to several pages, wrapped around a tip, telling us to do something, like dare to be different. I don’t mean to be uncharitable, but they often reminded me of those posters that show some animal battling nature with a phrase like “fortitude” underneath, or half-time speeches from a high school coach. As I read one after another, I felt that the messages would be better off on one of those daily tear-off calendars with a different message every day.

Developing creativity is hard. You have to find it deep in you, and bring it to the surface. Another recent book by the same publisher,”Within the Frame: The Journey of Photographic Vision” by David DuChemin, was far more successful in helping me to mine my creativity. Still, just as there are many paths to photographic success, there are many paths to releasing our creativity. If short inspirational messages work for you, this book may help.

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