Book Review: Newfotoscapes

Newfotoscapes is a 21st Century publishing venture by Jonathan Shaw, Co-Director of the Disruptive Media Learning Lab and Associate Head of Media Department at Coventry University.   He is also one of the educators I interviewed in my book, Photography 4.0: A Teaching Guide for the 21st Century, chosen because of the innovative work he and his colleagues are doing at Coventry.   His Newfotoscapes exemplifies his out of the box thinking because he has released this little gem as a free web version with a plethora of interesting links, a name-your-price eBook (which I have not reviewed) and a $40 beautiful hard cover object with hand binding and textured paper, or at least this is how I remember the book I handled at the national conference of the Association of Photography in Higher Education (APHE) in Bournemouth, England.  (I am waiting for my book to arrive because even though I’ve read the web version and thought the informative links transformed my “reading” experience, I am a die-hard bibliophile and I want the object.)  Even if you read the web version, you can donate to the project for future editions via the site: newfotoscapes.


Shaw’s intent for this book, a series of Q&A interviews that he conducts with what he describes as “key stakeholders in, and influential commentators on, photography…” is to “navigate the evolving topography surrounding the image in the twenty-first century.”  These stakeholders include educators, authors, community leaders, critics and former heads of photo agencies.  Although the interviews are not all specific to photography education, they do all explore the evolving photographic topography and issues such as how the screen as a mediated experience changes the function of the photograph, or the implications of photography as a “computational” object, or how embedding information in an image online enhances the contextual and story telling possibilities.


One of the most interesting sections, and maybe the most useful to educators, is the “Antennae” in which participants share influences: people, ideas, books, websites, interviews, etc. This is a wealth of information and even I found a couple of links and books that had not penetrated my very active resources radar screen.


As with any selection of people to interview that an author makes, Shaw’s choices tell us more about him than necessarily representing a universal list of names that we might all agree are the key stakeholders or the influential commentators.  Fortunately for the reader,  Shaw is a quirky and eclectic thinker who mixes, for example, Mishka Henner talking about image hacking with traditional photo book publisher Dewi Lewis.  For the most part the interviews provide fresh thinking not written about or expressed elsewhere.  Some interviews are certainly more interesting than others.  My only criticism might be that even Shaw cannot escape falling into the rabbit hole of the photography versus art debate, or the discussion of whether photographers should be called artists because photography is not a “separate discipline” anymore.  Maybe we will finish this debate this decade and move on.


Overall, Newfotoscapes is well worth the time you’ll spend reading it on line, as an eBook or appreciating the beauty of the designed object.


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