A big part of building a personal blog is having a platform to improve my writing abilities. With that in mind, I had high hopes for 25 Lessons I’ve Learned about (Photography) Life by Lorenzo DomÍnguez as a tool to learn about writing on my favorite subject as I tossed it into my Amazon cart. Upon completing the book, I can safely say that the book did teach me a fair amount about writing on photography. Unfortunately, almost every lesson was an example of what not to do.
I got a nagging feeling that 25 Lessons wasn’t clicking for me early on, but I couldn’t put my finger on it until somewhere around the three-quarter mark. You know those tacky sunset-on-a-beach photos with the faux-inspirational print you see in psychologists’ offices, Christian book stores, and on the Facebook pages of your more optimistic friends? Well, 25 Lessons is essentially those posters in book form. Almost every line feels like it’s begging to become a featured blurb, or a quote on one of the aforementioned posters. Add that to DomÍnguez’s self admitted, perpetual optimism, and you have something that will make anyone without a shelf of Precious Moments figurines motion sick from continual eye-rolling.
What’s worse is that said ocular strain feels like it goes on far longer than it needs to. Even at 123 pages, the book feels padded. The author repeats himself multiple times over different chapters to the point that about half the lessons just seem like tweaks on previous ones. Entire paragraphs are tangential at best, and nothing feels lost by simply skipping over many of them. DomÍnguez even peppered the book with various quotes from other figures. Lines from the likes of Gandhi and Jonathan Swift that were tossed in among the text only remind us that others have said everything that DomÍnguez is saying, but better.
But, this is a book about photography, so there’s probably a strong visual presence that makes up for the shortcomings of the text, right? Well, no. For being a photographer, DomÍnguez doesn’t seem to grasp the concept of “show, don’t tell.” He goes to no small effort to explain the stories behind the photos he takes and even describe the photos themselves; he never includes those photos with the text to act as an illustration to the narrative. While there are photos, they’re just stuck at the end of chapters to create a break between the various lessons. Even those are relatively small, and placed sideways so that the reader must strain his neck and squint his eyes to make them out.
The thing is, I feel like all of the above sins could be forgiven if any of the advice to be found in 25 Lessons was something truly unique, original, or profound. I understand that DomÍnguez went through a great journey of personal discovery and wanted to share the lessons he learned by sharing the stories of how he learned them. While that should work in theory, I find it doesn’t work very well in execution. See, he learned from those experiences because he was there to actually experience them. Trying to relay the entirety of the impact of the moment of epiphany along with all that preceded it means that the vast majority of the emotional weight will be lost. This can make people think, but I feel like it can’t replicate the impact of an experience that creates the kind of lesson that one carries for the remainder of his life.
At first, I thought my dislike of this book came from the fact that I am less of an artistic photographer than a photojournalist. As a rule, we journalism types tend to be more cynical and callous than our counterparts who view photography as a strictly artistic venture. While this book would most likely go over better with the illustration crowd, it’s still too poorly executed for me to recommend even to them. Give this one a pass.
Was I too harsh on 25 Lessons? Let me know what you think on the comments below. Also, share a book that you’ve wanted to break down.