NOTE: This is a review of the third edition of this book, which Amazon is also posting under the fourth edition, which is a substantially better book. For people interested in the fourth edition, please read my review which appears under the title of "Getting Better."
A look at the subtitle to this book, "An Introduction to Understanding Images", might lead one to believe that it is about photographs and what makes them good or bad (or if there are such things as "good" and "bad" photographs). But instead it is about photographic criticism, primarily written. And even then it really doesn't tell you very much about how to write criticism yourself, or how to interpret what you read, or how to develop patterns of thought that would enable you to criticize in a useful fashion. Instead most of the book is concerned with the pigeon holes into which different kinds of photographic criticism can be put.
An unstated thesis of this book seems to be that the criticism of photographs is an art form itself. Certainly anyone who has read something like Walter Benjamin's "the Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" might agree. But if it is an art, then it has both form and content, and any book claiming to teach one about the art (I almost said craft) had better address those points. To know that there are theoretical schools like Postmodernism or Feminist Theory is useful to those trying to organize photographic criticism and may be helpful to the photographic critic who is trying to decide what his own approach is, but knowing that these schools exist does not help a critic as much as a knowledge of how to look at a picture and organize a written commentary.
Fortunately, the book has a number of examples of written criticism, including several examples of different critics addressing the same picture. Unfortunately most of the criticism addresses the content of the photograph without considering how the form relates to the content or how, as Mark Schorer has said, technique leads to discovery. For example, Ansel Adams' photographs rely upon the range of light from the whitest whites to the blackest blacks to make their statements about the grandeur of the American wilderness. Unfortunately, nothing in this book considers photographic technique for the critic, although there are plenty of opportunities. For example, there is an ambiguous picture by Robert Doisneau taken in a Paris Café showing a younger women and an older man. The picture is grainy and the depth of field shows the women more sharply then the man. Both of these techniques should contribute to the possible interpretation of this photograph, and yet they are not mentioned.
I think the photo critic who wants to improve his art would be far better served by learning something about photography, and then reading actual criticism, like John Szarkowski's "Looking at Photographs". "Criticizing Photographs" should only be considered as a supplement to such studies.