How Not to Take a Picture: In a New Book, Alec Soth, Taryn Simon, and 200 Others Share the Subjects They Would Never, Ever Photograph

Alec Soth, Ed Panar, Pittsburgh (2019) from Photo No-Nos: Meditations on What Not to Photograph(Aperture, 2021). © Alec Soth/Magnum Photo

“Death.” “Dogs.” “Sunsets.” “The Hidden Faces of The Moon.” “The Distorting Lens of the Colonial Machine.”

These are some of the entries you’ll find in Photo No-Nos, a sort of encyclopedia of all the subjects deemed off-limits by more than 200 contemporary photographers, writers, and curators. Among the experts offering their personal “no-nos” are well-known contemporary artists such as Sara Cwynar, Roe Ethridge, and Taryn Simon. 

Arranged alphabetically, from “Abandoned Buildings” to “Zoom Screenshots,” the book’s list of subjects are broken up by longer passages from contributors elaborating on a particular subject or theme. For Alec Soth, “Cemeteries” tops the list of banned subjects; for Lyle Ashton Harris, it’s “Landscapes.” Eva O’Leary avoids photographing people from above, especially other women. “This way of seeing caters to the male gaze,” she writes.

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