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It doesn't take me to tell you that this is a classic; fifty years and counting can tell you that!

Book Review – The Focal Encyclopedia of Photography: 4th Edition Edited By Michael R. Peres

Focal Press just released the fourth edition classic publication The Focal Encyclopedia of Photography. Weighing in at over six pounds, this encyclopedia, now into its fifth decade of publication — the first addition appearing in 1956 — updates its predecessor, which appeared in 1993. Designed to be a reference for students, practitioners and researchers, this volume now uses a new informational design sharing the ever-changing breadth of photographic topics with a special emphasis on digital imaging and contemporary issues.

The Focal Encyclopedia of Photography was produced by an international team of photographic and imaging experts with collaboration from the George Eastman house. It also contains comprehensive essays as well as photographic reproductions, sharing information where photography and imaging serve a primary role. It is a non-traditional encyclopedia in that the subjects are grouped thematically as opposed to alphabetically. This will allow the subjects to be explored more naturally from within the context of their definition.

With over 800 pages this book is not divided into chapters, rather it is sectioned in to nine themes. After listing the ten pages of contributors and acknowledgements the book begins with a timeline of photography. There are really two timelines, the pre-photographic timeline from the 1200s to 1825 and the true photographic timeline from 1826 to 2005.These list all of the major developments within the history of photography from the simple glass lens, to Niepce's first photograph, to Kodak earning more from its digital products than from it film products.

"History and the evolution of Photography" is a wonderful section on the historical perspective from the George Eastman House and others. Discussed here is the technical evolution of photography in the 19th century, biographies of selected innovators, the evolution of the lens as well as photographic equipment of the time.

"Major Themes and Photographers of the 20th Century" gives a historical perspective of the growth of photography. Here we have photography and society, museums, and galleries. You have workshops, photographic higher education, magazines, biographies as well as the acceptance of photography into the fine art world.

"Photographic Companies and Applications" highlights the differing areas of photography such as advertising, catalog, commercial, still-life and landscape amongst many others. It also explores the vast number of tools that have come about throughout the years, mostly driven by society and what directions it is willing to accept. This was apparent in the quick demise of film and chemicals as being the preferred photographic method in less than a decade. These include the different types of cameras, films, and developers.

"Digital Photography" examines the maturing technology of digital camera. In fact that one of the main reasons for the revision of this book is the explosive growth of the medium since the last edition. Topics include archiving systems, standards, color management, color spaces, digital camera raw, metadata and creative applications of digital photography. Also discussed are the different types of sensors that are currently being built as well as the materials used to build them

"Contemporary Issues" examine the effect that photography has had on us as a society and will continue to have in the future. The essays explore ethical photojournalism, the future of publishing, contemporary image makers and the pressure to stay current. There is no doubt that photography has changed how we view the world. Whether to celebrate the joys of the ending of World War II, or to try to end the Vietnam conflict, photographs have had, and will continue to effect our world.

"Scientific Photography: Expanded Vision" tries to work out what defines scientific photography and what it has meant to the scientific world. Whether with the aid of a microscope or a telescope, these images have brought a great deal of understanding to our universe. Topics include anthropological, ballistics, botanical, forensic, infrared, medical and underwater.

"Human Vision" is a one essay topic that describes the complexities of how we see and interpret the images we view.

"20th Century Materials and Process Essentials" describe the path that photography took during its development in the last century. This includes the silver halide materials, the black and white films, color films, the different lens types, the cameras, enlargers and lighting amongst others. This section is organized to chronicle the rise of photography as a consumer driven industry.

It doesn't take me to tell you that this is a classic book on photography; fifty years and counting can tell you that. That this edition is perhaps the best of the best; that I can safely tell you. The book is of incredibly fine quality made with heavy duty paper and hard bound. It also comes with a fully searchable CD that contains the entire encyclopedia. I think that anyone who loves photography will love this book.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.

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