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Photo Books - Top 25
Knowing the Masters is one of the best places to begin when you’re looking to extend your capabilities. Here are 25 photography books that can help you begin that quest. It’s not a perfect list. That isn’t possible. Done is better than perfect.
1. "The Americans" by Robert Frank was first published in France in 1958 and then in the United States in 1959. It consisted of 83 photographs that revealed the true nature of American life. Frank exposed the racism, corruption of politicians, and the numbness caused by an expanding culture of consumption. He also found beauty in simple, overlooked aspects of American life. His photographic style was intuitive, immediate, and off-kilter, and he linked his photographs thematically, conceptually, formally, and linguistically. The Americans is a powerful and provocative book that redefined the icons of America.
2. Henri Cartier-Bresson's "The Decisive Moment" is a pivotal book first published in 1952. Its only reprint by Steidl is a detailed facsimile of the original, highlighting Cartier-Bresson's concept of the 'decisive moment' in photography. The book influenced countless photographers and includes a collage cover by Henri Matisse, plus an added booklet on the book's history by Clément Chéroux. Cartier-Bresson, a former painter, turned to photography in the 1930s, co-founded Magnum in 1947, and established the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson in 2003.
3. "Magnum Contact Sheets" now available in a paperback edition, provides an exceptional collection of contact sheets and supplementary materials, demonstrating how renowned Magnum photographers capture and perfect their shots. It addresses vital aspects of photographic practice and uncovers the creative techniques, strategies, and editing processes behind some of the world's most notable images.
The book includes 139 contact sheets from 69 photographers, zoom-in details, selected photos, press cards, notebooks, and spreads from contemporary publications such as Life magazine and Picture Post. Each contact sheet is further explained by texts written by the photographers themselves or by experts selected by the members' estates.
Prominent photographers featured include Henri Cartier-Bresson, Elliott Erwitt, Inge Morath, Jonas Bendiksen, Alessandra Sanguinetti, and Alec Soth. The contact sheets represent over seven decades of history, encompassing events like Robert Capa's Normandy landings, the 1968 Paris riots captured by Bruno Barbey, images of Che Guevara by René Burri, Malcolm X by Eve Arnold, and Bruce Gilden's portraits of quintessential New Yorkers.
4. "Annie Leibovitz at Work" by Annie Leibovitz - In this book, Leibovitz shares her insights and experiences from her decades-long career as a photographer. Leibovitz's book is recommended for those interested in contemporary history. It covers photojournalism, studio work, photographing dancers and athletes, working with writers, and transitioning from film to digital cameras. This revised and updated edition is a must-read for anyone interested in photography.
5. "On Photography" by Susan Sontag was published in 1977. It includes six essays on the meaning and importance of photographs, starting with the famous "In Plato's Cave" essay. The book also contains a "Brief Anthology of Quotations" at the end. It is highly regarded in its field.
6. "The Mind's Eye" by Henri Cartier-Bresson essays on photography and photographers, including some that have not been translated into English before, have been collected for the first time. The book includes his famous text on "the decisive moment" and his observations on Moscow, Cuba, and China during turbulent times. The essays capture the same immediacy and visual intensity as his photography.
7. "The Family of Man" by Edward Steichen contains 503 photographs from around the world, depicting the range of human life from birth to death. It was first exhibited at The Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1955 and has been in print for over 40 years. The book symbolizes the universality of human emotions and has been published by the Museum since its initial release.
8. Michael Freeman's “The Photographer's Eye” has a new look for its tenth anniversary. Design is key to creating a successful photograph. Good design means organizing graphic elements into an effective, compelling composition. Digital photography has made design more exciting by allowing instant feedback and post-shutter editing. The book explores traditional composition and design methods, as well as new digital techniques that account for post-production editing.
9. “The Nature of Photographs” by Stephen Shore teaches people how to look at and understand all types of photographs. It's an essential tool for students, teachers, and anyone who wants to take better pictures or learn to look at them in a more informed way.
10. Photographer, teacher, and author Bruce Barnbaum presents how-to techniques for traditional and digital photography in "The Art of Photography." The newest edition includes many new images and revised text with a particular focus on two crucial chapters covering digital photography. Barnbaum delves deeply into the philosophical, expressive, and creative aspects of photography so often avoided in other books.
11. "The Tao of Photography" by Philippe L. Gross and S.I. Shapiro uses Taoist teachings to explore the spiritual and creative aspects of photography. It includes excerpts from the Chuang-tzu and Western aesthetes, as well as over 60 photographs by renowned photographers. The book also includes instructional text and exercises to help photographers of all levels incorporate the Tao into their work.
12. "The Camera" by Ansel Adams - This classic book offers insights into the technical aspects of photography, from exposure to printing. Adams was a renowned photographer who produced iconic images and helped nurture photography through his technical mastery. The Camera is a time-honored handbook that teaches photographers how to harness the camera's artistic potential. It covers visualization, image management, the Zone System, and camera components such as lenses, shutters, and light meters. The book is illustrated with photographs and line drawings and belongs on every serious photographer's bookshelf.
13. In 1986, Martin Parr's “The Last Resort” was published and exhibited, receiving mixed reviews. While some saw it as a groundbreaking achievement in British color photography, others viewed it as an aberration. Today, it is considered a classic and has transformed documentary photography in Britain, placing Parr among the world's leading photographers.
14. "The Americans: 50th Anniversary Edition" by Robert Frank - This updated edition of Frank's classic book features previously unseen photographs and offers new insights into his work.
15. "Avedon Fashion 1944-2000" by Richard Avedon is a comprehensive volume of Richard Avedon's fashion photography. The book showcases his contributions to Vogue, Egoiste, The New Yorker and Harper's Bazaar. The images represent collaborations with significant models, stylists, and designers. The book also includes critical essays by Carol Squiers and Vince Aletti, as well as an appreciation by photo-historian Philippe Garner.
16. "The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings" by KayLynn Deveney - Deveney moved next door to an 85-year-old man named Albert Hastings. Deveney documented the small rituals and routines of Hastings' life through photographs and handwritten text. The project evolved into a poignant and profound chronicle of aging, living alone, and the small things that make up our daily lives. The book includes seventy-five photographs of Hastings in his surroundings, all annotated in his own hand, along with illustrations such as poems written by Hastings, his clock drawings, and his personal family photographs.
17. "Street Photography Now" by Sophie Howarth and Stephen McLaren features 46 contemporary street photographers, including famous names like Bruce Gilden, Martin Parr, and Alex Webb, as well as emerging photographers from around the world. The book includes thought-provoking essays, conversations with leading street photographers, a select bibliography, and a resource section for aspiring street photographers.
18. "The Best of LensCulture: Volume 1" presents an overview of 161 contemporary photographers from around the world, celebrating excellence in all genres of photography. It features both established and emerging talents and showcases their work in exhibitions and shows at international photo festivals. The book aims to answer the question of who is practicing photography with fluency in our image-saturated world today.
19. "The World Atlas of Street Photography" by Jackie Higgins is a reference book that showcases over 100 established and emerging contemporary photographers from around the world. It features classic documentary street photography, urban landscapes, staged performances, sculptures, and more. The book takes a human-centered perspective, showcasing the personal understanding of our environment by artists.
20. "Humans of New York" by Brandon Stanton is a book that showcases five years of storytelling by photographer Brandon Stanton on the streets of New York City. Stanton stopped, photographed, and interviewed over ten thousand strangers, sharing their stories on his blog, "Humans of New York". The book features deeper interviews that exhibit the intimate storytelling that the blog is famous for. The stories range from whimsical to heartbreaking and have attracted a global following of over 30 million people on social media.
21. "The Bikeriders" by Danny Lyon was first published in 1968 and has been out of print for ten years. It explores the stories and personalities of the Chicago Outlaws Motorcycle Club through original photographs and interviews by Lyon, who was a member of the gang from 1963 to 1967. Lyon's work offers a gritty yet humane perspective on individuals on the outskirts of society, and is a touchstone publication of 1960s counterculture.
22. "Instant: The Story of Polaroid" by Christopher Bonanos - Instant photography was popularized by Polaroid in the 1960s and '70s. Edwin Land, the company's founder, led Polaroid from a small garage start-up to a billion-dollar phenomenon. The book "Instant" tells the story of Polaroid's invention, its rise in popularity, and its decline into bankruptcy in the '90s. The book also serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of companies losing their creative edge.
23. "Eyes Wide Open! 100 Years of Leica Photography" edited by Hans-Michael Koetzle - Oskar Barnack created the first compact camera for 35mm standard cinema film in 1914, which later became known as the Leica in 1925. This camera brought a paradigm shift in photography. A book with 800 images showcases the artistic and cultural history of the Leica from the 1920s to present day. It includes essays by international authors on the technical genesis of the Leica, its influence on photojournalism, and its significance for avant-garde currents in art photography. The book also contains unpublished documents from the archives of Leica Camera AG.
24. "The New Black Vanguard: Photography Between Art and Fashion" by Antwaun Sargent explores the increasing presence of Black figures in fashion and art. The book features portfolios from 15 contemporary Black photographers, including Tyler Mitchell and Nadine Ijewere, and discusses the role of the Black body in the market, the intersection of art, fashion, and culture in image construction, and the historical barriers that have limited Black photographers' participation in these industries. Through conversations and images, the book charts the history of inclusion and exclusion in the creation of the commercial Black image while proposing a reenvisioned future.
25. "Exiles" by Josef Koudelka - This is an updated version of a 1988 classic, featuring ten new images and commentary by Robert Delpire. Koudelka's photographs, taken during his years of wandering through Europe and Great Britain since leaving Czechoslovakia in 1968, capture the spiritual and physical state of exile. The images are deeply felt, solitary and disturbing, evoking themes of alienation, disconnection, and love. They resonate with current migrations and transience.
We hope this list inspires you to pick up one (or more!) of these books and explore the world of photography with fresh eyes and renewed excitement. Happy reading!
What books do you suggest?