What are your favourite photography books and why?
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What are your favourite photography books and why?
To improve as a photographer, all of our masters believe in the importance of studying the work of other great photographers:
“It’s important to have books around, to have the literature of photography available to you. Not so much that you could copy or steal from these artists, but that you could find in their work the same impulses that you have.” – Joel Meyerowitz
“What you’re really looking for, from books, is inspiration and inspiration can be a really major driving force.” – Albert Watson
“One of the most important learning tools in photography is looking at great photography books” - Steve McCurry
"I became a scholar in almost every picture that Eamonn McCabe had taken whether it be of Mohamed Ali or Jack Nicklaus." - David Yarrow
Looking at photography books provides valuable insight into the author’s ideas, process and techniques, allowing us to build a library of concepts, compositions and styles to inform our own work. What are the best photography books that you've read and why? Have your say below.
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Thanks for another very interesting topic which makes this forum more and more useful everyday.
When it comes to studying photography and trying to develop your own approach to it, I think there are two main streams to follow: one on the foundations and technical side of photography and the other on composition, styles and conveying an image with the purpose of communicating something. On that second stream, the three books that really helped me advance as a photographer were:
- Ways of Seeing, by John Berger, published by the BBC and Penguin Books - particularly interesting for understanding how we have been educating our minds through the centuries to interpret an image and therefore what you should look for when trying to communicate a specific message.
- Photo Icons: The story behind the pictures, by Hans-Michael Koetzle, published by Taschen - a comprehensive coverage of the main masters of all times and how they have developed their most famous images.
- Camera Work, by Alfred Stieglitz, also published by Taschen - a deep dive into landscape photography's roots. I must confess I could only appreciate it after reading the first two, as I was more familiarized with some of the concepts around how you build an image and the technical challenges faced by Stieglitz.
My first choice is “From my land to the planet” by Sebastiao Salgado. After seeing his Genesis exhibition a few years ago I was hooked. Not only is the man a superb photographer he cares deeply about the planet and spends his life using his photographic skills helping highlight the appalling working conditions of some individuals and the damage we are inflicting on planet earth. My second choice is “Unreasonable behaviour “ by Don McCullin. A brilliant war photographer, Unreasonable Behaviour, tells the story of his life and why he chose this path. A fantastic read.
I have purchased a fair number books recently. I came across a lady called Jane Brown. I discovered she took a photograph of Henri Cartier Bresson in 1957. I purchased her book called A Lifetime of Looking.
This book is simply stunning. Jane Brown captures the authentic essence of British life and celebrities in all there expressive vulnerability.
I am currently studying the images of Gordon Parks, “The Making of an Argument” and his gorgeous images of the time he spent with Muhammad Ali from his book “Ali”.
“The Making of an Argument” is a very powerful photo essay from 1947/48 where Gordon Parks is on assignment for Life Magazine. He managed to gain the trust of gang leader Leonard “Red” Jackson. Gordon Parks documented his time with this gang leader and life on the streets of Harlem. It taught me that great photography and journalism is all about STORY, PREMISE and EMOTIONAL CONTENT.
I’m mostly a colour photographer but I’ve always been drawn to black and white and monochrome photography. My favourite books are:
Robert Capa Photographs by Aperture Foundation - Capa was a war photographer covering the Spanish Civil War, WW2 and the 1950’s in Indochina.
Lump the dog who ate a Picasso by David Douglas-Duncan - he was best known for his war photography, but he also photographed Picasso many times over a number of years. You see a more intimate and playful side to Picasso.
Margaret Bourke White: Moments of History, by Oliva Mario Rubio - She did industrial, war and portrait photography. This book covers her work from the 1930’s-50’s.
Yusuf Karsh: A biography, by Malcolm Rogers - My favourite portrait photographer. He seems to capture the essence of the sitter.
Saorsa, by Ian Lawson - Photographs of the Outer Hebrides in Scotland, looking at the people, the land and the textiles they produce.
My Favorite book series is Ansel Adam's basic photo 1-5 Camera and lens. The Negative. The Print. Natural light photography. Artificial -Light
I reread these all the time. thanks for this forum. Stay Safe
I really enjoyed the book "Looking at Photographs - 100 Pictures from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art" by John Szarkowski
So many! Photo books are my secret vice...Currently looking at a couple of Bill Brandt collections - the more I look at his work the more extraordinary I realise it was. I love the mid century NY colourists - Saul Leiter’s Early Colour, or Ernst Haas Color Correction. But also slightly less well known photographers like Jeff Jacobsen’s The Last Roll, great abstract eye. And on a different tack I just got a copy of Lillian Bassman’s Women - fashion photography from the 50s but amazingly abstract and innovative. Then there’s Todd Hido, Alec Soth, Sally Mann ....I’ll stop now!
The shelves of my photo book library are stuffed and threatening to topple, but one book I repeatedly pull out for inspiration is Personal by Vincent Peters. I'm kind of obsessed by his style.
I also love UFO by Albert Watson for his style. 🙂
Another vote for Lillian Bassman's Women (also Bassman's Lingerie).
A book of images that never fail to startle me with their beauty is Senza Parole by Marc LaGrange.
Bystander a history of street photography by Colin Westerbeck & Joel Meyerowitz is a must read. It covers an incredible array of talent, from the unknowns of the late 19th century to the acknowledged masters of the 20th, such as Atget, Stieglitz, Strand,, Walker Evans, Cartier-Bresson, Brassai, Kertesz, Frank, Arbus, Winogrand, and Levitt to name just a few. The story is told through images and an in depth look at the photographers who made them.
This is timely! At first I thought of the massive photo book collection I’m working on but I also enjoy biographies. I just finished the latest one on Avedon (our friend Joel M pops up a couple times) and now I’m re-reading the bio of Robert Frank! Both legends in their own right!
Photography in the 50s-70’s (specifically in NYC) was an amazing time do reading about the times anc context in which some amazing work was created only increases my appreciation of it.
Just finished reading The Heart of the Photograph by Daniel duChemin. It makes you think about what and where you are going with the images you are creating. Includes some very strong images by Daniel.
It also illustrates how as visual artists we struggle to explain and examine our art in words. If we were skilled wordsmiths we would be novelists and not photographers.
For technical foundations-
Zakia -Perception and Photography
Saltzer - A Zone System for All Formats
For philosophical aspects -
John Loengard - Pictures Under Discussion
Robin Kelsey - Photography and the Art of Chance (currently reading)
To be awed and inspired -
Meyerowitz - Cape Light
Jan Staller - Frontier New York
Wynn Bullock - Aperture Monograph.
To get inspired I always come back to:
Early Color by Saul Leiter
Modern Color by Fred Herzog and
Uncommon Places by Stephen Shore
and to improve my b/w photography the two volumes of Bruce Barnbaum are always at hand:
The art of photography and
The essence of photography
My favorite book is the americans by Robert Frank and I own an early edition.
My preferred book is RÉTROSPECTION by Meyerowitz.
The attached picture is just the biggest part of my photography library, I'm a sort of sick for photography books and it's really hard for me to choose only a few among them, however I'll try to do such exercise hoping that many of the books I own, will forgive me.
Selecting text books on photography, I'd select the followings:
- Susan Sontag, On photography
- Roland Barthes, La camera chiara
- John Berger, ways of seeing
Some Seminal Books with photographs:
- Ugo Mulas, La fotografia
- William Klein - New York
- Edward Steicken, The family of man
- Robert Frank, The Americans
- Trent Parke, Minutes to midnight
- Richard Avedon, In the American West
- Sebastiao Salgado - Africa
- Charles Harbutt, Departures and arrivals
and many others ..
I have had two true passions in life (aside from family), music and photography. I'm literally surrounded in my office by CDs, vinyl records and photography books. My music collection is almost complete as far as my taste goes, so these days I discover new photography books. Currently, Arthur Meyerson's The Journey sits between myself and the computer screen. Along with the stunning images, Meyerson's text is a standout as he reveals his perspective on his photographic journey. If you like Ernst Haas's work you'll like Meyerson's as Meyerson was a friend and studied under Haas.
I've also recently been fortunate enough to pick up a copy of Tania Franco Klien's Positive Disintegration, which is a superb presentation of her work. As a book, Positive Disintegration is a work of art unto itself. Another up and coming photographer, Joshua K Jackson's debut Sleepless in SOHO is a wonderful study in the colours and images of London's SOHO nightlife. I keep popping back to this book for inspiration, to bad it doesn't rain in Los Angeles. Joshua is worth looking into if you're a fan of Saul Leiter.
One final group of books I'd like to mention are those of Ralph Gibson. Gibson is a master at curating his images in book format. The simplicity of his work flows together in a harmonious style as you move from page to page. Each image complements the next, causing you to reflect further upon the images as they are being presented.
Without question, The Photographer's Eye, by John Szarkowski. The former critic, and director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, breaks down the fundamental aspects of what goes in to making a great photograph. From past to present practices, he identifies five essential issues that help create a lexicon for the thinking photographer.
Louis Stettner titled 'Travelling Light'. Without doubt my favourite book. It's fantastic for those who especially love B&W street photography. This book, linked to an exhibit of his works in San Franciso at SFMOMA from Oct 2108 to mid 2019, provides a great mix of photos (all black and white) and many informative articles by the man: he writes well IMO. I love his moody, grainy photos which include many taken in the street. To quote the SF exhibit which I visited back then (remember trips overseas? sigh) "Over the course of his eight-decade career, Louis Stettner created a singular approach to photographing everyday life. Born in Brooklyn in 1922, Stettner began working as a photographer in the 1930s and served in the U.S. Army in World War II before moving to Paris in 1947. There, he studied at the Institut des Hautes Études Cinématographiques, became friends with the influential photographer Brassaï, and developed a unique point of view that melded the boldness of American street photography with the softer humanism more characteristic of his Paris contemporaries. For the rest of his life, he traveled between New York and Paris — his “two loves,” as he called them — constantly finding new inspiration in that geographical duality. From thoughtful images of rush-hour commuters to tranquil observations of daily routines, this thematic retrospective displays the remarkable breadth of Stettner’s work."
Some really lovely suggestions here, really grateful for the new thread and for the replies above (although this is going to cost me money...)
I will add a couple:
Jeanloup Sieff, published by Taschen is a beautiful collection of his work, really varied including portraits, fashion, people, etc and organised by decade
Magnum Contact Sheets - very well known, certainly one I keep coming back to
Larry Fink on Composition and Improvisation (I may have mentioned on another thread)
I love discovering new books, so look forward to seeing this thread grow. For fellow book lovers, it's worth looking at Biblioscapes.com which has been put together recently by a photographer cataloguing his photobook collection, no connection to it just a lovely collection of some well know and lesser known publications.
Best - Daniel
Harry Callahan: The Photographer at Work
W. Eugene Smith-Minimata
Bruce Davidson-Subway and East 100th St
Gary Winogrand-Figments from the Real World
Sally Mann-Immediate Family
Robert Frank-The Americans
The Art of Frederick Sommer
Robert Doisneau-Three Seconds from Eternity
I want to say thanks to you. I have bookmark your site for future updates.
Uhhh such a tough question. I think one of the first books I had purchased was ' The family of Man' which introduced me to some amazing photographers and work. From that day onwards I have been purchasing photography books constantly. The Americans was a very important book to me personally which was what lead me to the style of photography I pursue on the streets. It was different to Henri Cartier Bresson. It was rough, rugged, and faster than the work found in Decisive moment ( still an amazing book which I own and learned a lot from ). I fear if I was to start mentioning all the books I took something from I'd never stop talking.
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I agree with Daniel that "Magnum contact sheets" is the book to have as it gives you such a large source of inspiration through the eyes of incredible photographers (Depardon, Cartier Bresson, Burri, List, Erwitt, Riboud, koudelka, Kalvar, Scianna, Curry, but actually all the Magnum photographers in this book); a must-have/read book.
But also books from Isabel Munoz, Sergio Larrain, Dorothea Lange and a special word to Shomei Tomatsu with his astonishing image of Hateruma island (a cloud over the sea).
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