Cover of Good Pictures by Kim Beil
Good Pictures
A History of Popular Photography
Kim Beil


June 2020
288 pages.

Paper ISBN: 9781503608665



A picture-rich field guide to American photography, from daguerreotype to digital.

We are all photographers now, with camera phones in hand and social media accounts at the ready. And we know which pictures we like. But, what makes a "good picture"? And how could anyone think those old styles were actually good? Soft-focus yearbook photos from the '80s are now hopelessly—and happily—outdated, as are the low-angle portraits fashionable in the 1940s or the blank stares of the 1840s. From portraits to products, landscapes to food pics, Good Pictures proves that the history of photography is a history of changing styles.

In a series of short, engaging essays, Kim Beil uncovers the origins of fifty photographic trends and investigates their original appeal, their decline, and sometimes their reuse by later generations of photographers. Drawing on a wealth of visual material, from vintage how-to manuals to magazine articles for working photographers, this full-color book illustrates the evolution of trends with hundreds of pictures made by amateurs, artists, and commercial photographers alike. Whether for selfies or sepia tones, the rules for good pictures are always shifting, reflecting new ways of thinking about ourselves and our place in the visual world.

About the author

Kim Beil teaches art history at Stanford University and writes about modern and contemporary art for magazines including Artforum, Art in America, and Photograph. She thinks of Instagram as research and can be found @kebeil.

"This is a terrific book—once I'd picked it up, I couldn't put it down again. In a series of punchy and perfectly judged miniatures, Kim Beil introduces us to the forgotten influencers of photographic style and retrieves from neglected how-to guides a treasure trove that has long been awaiting this sort of treatment."

—Peter Buse, author of The Camera Does the Rest: How Polaroid Changed Photography