On Reading — stealing from the best

Nearly all of my photographs organize themselves into loosely defined, open-ended projects that are never finished but often stop at an interesting place for a portfolio, show, or hand-made book.

People often ask; “Where do you get ideas for your projects?” British photographer and educator, David Hurn says; “Our advice to photographers is best expressed by Calvin Trilling: ‘The immature artist borrows; the mature artist steals.’ So steal from the best.”

I’m certainly stealing from the best for this one. In the 1970’s the great Andre Kertesz published a charming book titled “On Reading”. Quite a few years later I stumbled upon it in the public library and not too long after that my wonderful wife (at the time a used book dealer) found me a copy of my own. It has since been reprinted in paper cover but my vintage hardback is way cooler.

Raw material

The Seattle area (where we live) is more than a bit bookish so it isn’t at all hard to find raw material for my own “On Reading” project. In fact, I sorted through my negatives and found quite a few already there and I’ve added to the project from time to time ever since. People who are reading are easy marks — lost in their book the rest of the world kind of fades away. Here’s one from Honolulu:

On Reading #25” -Fujifilm GA645, HP5 220

On Reading #25” -Fujifilm GA645, HP5 120



I put this photograph up on my website and some months later received an email from an author/educator who was writing a textbook for aspiring primary grade teachers She wanted to use it as the cover photograph on her book. Here’s the good part: She teaches at the University of Silesia in Poland! Isn’t the internet wonderful sometimes?











“On Reading #30” – Canon AT-1, HP5+ 35mm

“On Reading #30” – Canon AT-1, HP5+ 35mm





Closer to home is this vendor at a farmers’ market in Portland, Oregon. She was definitely paying more attention to the latest Barbara Kingsolver novel than to her baked goods. Books are a good conversation starter — we talked current novels for a few minutes before she sold me a chocolate croissant and went back to reading.















“On Reading #66” – Mamiya 6, FP4+ 120

“On Reading #66” – Mamiya 6, FP4+ 120



And the most recent.   If I just go out to take photographs I usually come back empty-handed. If I go out to photograph with the agenda of working on a given project I will usually come back with something I like but not necessarily what I expected. I suspect that this has to do with looking for something instead of just looking. This day I started out looking for photographs of street musicians and came back with this.

All images ©Ron Hammond