Lens on Life Book Review by ChristineMM


Title: Lens on Life Book: Documenting Your World Through Photographs
Author: Stephanie Calabrese Roberts

Publication: Focal Press, 2013

My Star Rating: 4 stars out of 5: I Like It 

Summary Statement:  As an Amateur Photographer I Enjoyed & Learned From It


Lens on Life focuses on documentary photography: documenting life through photographs. The book aims to teach amateur hobbyists as well as aspiring professional photographers and fine art photographers.  The photos in the book range from expensive DSLRs to the iPhone’s camera, and use photo editing with software or iPhone apps such as Instagram and Hipstagram.


The part I loved the most was the first chapter, “Get Inside the Mind of a Documentary Photographer”, where professional photographers are interviewed and we hear about how they came to become a photographer and what they do. Their stories do not only focus on their professional careers and for pay jobs but they talk about how and what they photograph for pleasure. I enjoyed hearing their process and thoughts on the art of photography and was inspired by the photographs.


Chapter  two, I feel, is an uneven chapter.  Besides tips such as you can find in almost any photography book, there is a section profiling the author’s friend Jen Lemen that is about self-portraits which was not a favorite part of the book, it seemed dragged out and was uninspiring to me.  Later, a section asks us to think about the story behind a photograph and to try to figure out the action happening without any context other than the image. I did not find this a useful exercise since my observations were sheer guesswork because the subject matter was about foreigners with customs so different than Americans.  


The next two chapters, about 60 pages, focus on planning a documentary project. This could be done for fun as a personal project, for an art exhibit, or for a paid job. The author used her own photographs taken in third world countries to illustrate the points such as to connect with people you respect and admire and to be respectful of your subject. Not covered is how to go about finding a paid editorial job, I guess there are other books on the market that cover that important topic.


A recurring theme in the book is to use your photographs to help make change in the world. I found it interesting to hear multiple photographers felt frustrated that they were sent on assignment to photograph problems in the world, to shed light on it, and then they felt guilty that no real change or solutions resulted. The author has founded a nonprofit organization, Lens on Life, working with people in third world countries to teach them to document their own lives. Some photos taken as part of that project are included in the book. I found those opinions interesting but they left me feeling almost guilty for not doing something monumental or professional with my photography. I’m “just” a hobbyist taking photos for enjoyment. I felt that another book by Focal Press, Expressive Photography was aimed at my demographic.


I enjoyed this book and felt inspired by a good portion of this book. Anytime that happens with a book about photography or art, it earns a 4 star rating from me: I Like It. Although not everything here applies to my life, I still found it a worthwhile read and worthy of my time.

Here are some photos I took of me reading the book, documentary style.


Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from Amazon.com's Vine program for the purpose of reviewing it on Amazon.com. I was not paid to review it and I was not under obligation to review it favorably or to blog the review.
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