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Reading Pictured: Then and Now

Michael Lieberman

Staff Writer

Michael Lieberman is first and foremost a cheerleader; for books, for literacy and for the freedom of expression. He is the founder of Wessel & Lieberman Booksellers and the creator of the popular blog, Book Patrol.

kertesz on reading cover

To learn to read is to light a fire;
every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.
– Victor Hugo

Hundreds, possibly thousands, of images of people reading are uploaded to the web everyday. Us book types would be hard-pressed to get through a day without seeing an image of someone reading something.

This was not the case in 1971 when Grossman Publishers released On Reading a compilation of photographs by Hungarian-born photographer Andre Kertész. For over a half a century Kertész took pictures of people reading, from his first photograph of a reader in 1915 until the his last one in the late 1970s wherever his travels took him he was capturing readers.

kertesz on reading1


Hopital de Beau, France (elderly woman in bed), 1929





Enter Steve McCurry. Though best known for his iconic photograph, Afghan Girl, McCurry has also been picturing readers as he travels the world. He recently blogged about a series of photographs of people reading under the title To Light a Fire, whose name comes from the Victor Hugo quote above.

With the same combination of technical skill and spirit McCurry channels Kertész in capturing the essence and power of reading – in their world no one looks weak, as long as there is access to information there is hope.

steve mccurry thailand

steve mccurry burma

mccurrry people reading

mccurrry people reading2

mccurrry people reading3



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