The Best Photography Books as an Inspiration
The best Photography books are timeless preservations of images that won’t wear down in the future. In contrast, Instagram is very fast paced and even quality images are forgotten very quickly.
Then there is also the advantage that Photography Books are able to tell a complete story based on the vision of the photographer. Instead of having a loose collection of images in your “feed” a Documentary Book is very carefully composed to tell a story.
Even though I am just a Street Photographer, trying to capture the best Snapshots of my city, good books are one of the best opportunities for learning how to arrange and edit a project.
Street Photography Books are also one of the best learning materials. Especially when you don’t have the time at your hand to go out and shoot, browsing through your favorite photography books will be one of the best sources of inspiration.
Consuming such high-quality content will also train your eye to recognize aesthetically figures more easily.
You are what you eat and if you want to become a better photographer, consuming more quality images will definitely help you more, than spending the day scrolling through some online feeds.
Following are my favorite all classic Photography books that should give you some insight into the work of the masterminds of Photography.
The Best Street Photography Books
Vivian Maier – Street Photographer | Amazon Link
A good street photographer must be possessed of many talents: an eye for detail, light, and composition; impeccable timing; a populist or humanitarian outlook; and a tireless ability to constantly shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot and never miss a moment. It is hard enough to find these
qualities in trained photographers with the benefit of schooling and mentors and a community of fellow artists and aficionados supporting and rewarding their efforts. It is incredibly rare to find it in someone with no formal training and no network of peers.
Yet Vivian Maier is all of these things, a professional nanny, who from the 1950s until the 1990s took over 100,000 photographs worldwide—from France to New York City to Chicago and dozens of other countries—and yet showed the results to no one. The photos are amazing both for the breadth of the work and for the high quality of the humorous, moving, beautiful, and raw images of all facets of city life in America’s post-war golden age.
Robert Frank – The Americans | Amazon Link
One of the most Classic Photography Books available.
First published in France in 1958, then in the United States in 1959, Robert Frank’s The Americans changed the course of twentieth-century photography. In 83 photographs, Frank looked beneath the surface of American life to reveal a people plagued by racism, ill-served by their politicians and rendered numb by a rapidly expanding culture of consumption. Yet he also found novel areas of beauty in simple, overlooked corners of American life. And it was not just Frank’s subject matter–cars, jukeboxes and even the road itself―that redefined the icons of America; it was also his seemingly intuitive, immediate, off-kilter style, as well as his method of brilliantly linking his photographs together thematically, conceptually, formally and linguistically, that made The Americans so innovative. More of an ode or a poem than a literal document, the book is as powerful and provocative today as it was 56 years ago.
Bruce Gilden – Stern Fotografie | Amazon Link
A documentary artist in the tradition of street photographers such as Weegee, Bruce Gilden has a sharp eye for idiosyncrasy. Unlike many other street photographers, Gilden often used his flash to make his subject aware that they were being photographed and draw them closer to his lens, much in the way that theater lighting draws the audience nearer to the actors on a stage. The resulting intimacy is rare of images largely set in urban locations and public spaces.
Before launching his photographic career, Gilden studied sociology and so was keenly aware of how environments serve to define people. An expressive realist, the Magnum photographer conveys the nuances of each milieu with exquisite integrity. Gilden’s locations range from Coney Island to Haiti to the restricted worlds of Ireland’s horse trading and the yakuza, the families of Japan’s criminal underworld.
Koudelka – Exiles | Amazon Link
About Exiles, Cornell Capa once wrote,Koudelka’s unsentimental, stark, brooding, intensely human imagery reflects his own spirit, the very essence of an exile who is at home wherever his wandering body finds haven in the night.In this newly revised and expanded edition of the 1988 classic, which includes ten new images and a new commentary with Robert Delpire, Koudelka’s work once more forms a powerful document of the spiritual and physical state of exile. The sense of private mystery that fills these photographs—mostly taken during Koudelka’s many years of wandering through Europe and Great Britain since leaving his native Czechoslovakia in 1968—speaks of passion and reserve, of his rage to see. Solitary, moving, deeply felt and strangely disturbing, the images in Exiles suggest alienation, disconnection and love. Exiles evokes some of the most compelling and troubling themes of the twentieth century, while resonating with equal force in this current moment of profound migrations and transience.
Garry Winogrand – Monography | Amazon Link
Widely regarded as one of the most important photographers of the 20th century, Garry Winogrand (1928–1984) did much of his best-known work in Manhattan during the 1960s, becoming an epic chronicler of that tumultuous decade. But Winogrand was also an avid traveler and roamed extensively around the United States, bringing exquisite work out of nearly every region of the country.
This landmark retrospective catalogue looks at the full sweep of Winogrand’s exceptional career. Drawing from his enormous output, which at the time of his death included thousands of rolls of undeveloped film and unpublished contact sheets, the book will serve as the most substantial compendium of Winogrand’s work to date. Lavishly illustrated with both iconic images and photographs that have never been seen before now, and featuring essays by leading scholars of American photography, Garry Winogrand presents a vivid portrait of an artist who unflinchingly captured America’s swings between optimism and upheaval in the postwar era.
Alex Webb – The Suffering of Light | Amazon Link
A definite recommendation for Color Photography Books.
“The Suffering of Light” is the first comprehensive monograph charting the career of acclaimed American photographer Alex Webb. Gathering some of his most iconic images, many of which were taken in the far corners of the earth, this exquisite book brings a fresh perspective to his extensive catalog. Recognized as a pioneer of American color photography since the 1970s, Webb has consistently created photographs characterized by intense color and light. His work, with its richly layered and complex composition, touches on multiple genres, including street photography, photojournalism, and fine art, but as Webb claims, “to me it all is photography. You have to go out and explore the world with a camera.” Webb’s ability to distill gesture, color and contrasting cultural tensions into single, beguiling frames results in evocative images that convey a sense of enigma, irony and humor. Featuring key works alongside previously unpublished photographs, “The Suffering of Light” provides the most thorough examination to date of this modern master’s prolific, 30-year career.
Documentary Photography Books
Robert Capa – Stern Collection | Amazon Link
This stunning collection showcases the father of photojournalism, Robert Capa’s most famous pieces as well as some recently re-discovered images. Born in Budapest in 1913, Capa was an autodidact and a fervently campaigned against war efforts. It was his moving record of the Spanish Civil War that first brought him international fame. He became a war correspondent for Life Magazine and cofounded the illustrious Magnum Photo Agency after moving to the United States in 1939. Capa continued to take stunning shots from the battlefields until his untimely death in 1954 when he suffered a serious injury from a landmine in Vietnam. His fearless chronicles of the Allied landings gained him enormous critical and public acclaim: he remains one of the most iconic and legendary photographers of all time.
Pichler & Marshall – Golden Days before they End | Amazon Link
Viennese photographer Klaus Pichler and writer Clemens Marschall have paired their talents to investigate the characters and atmosphere of Vienna’s neighborhood working-class bars, called Branntweinner. Small drinking places that open early in the morning, these dens as the customers refer to them are places where time seems to have stopped and regulars create tight-knit families. Passing by, you might hear loud laughter, glimpse a fight or even witness a stabbing between friends, all occurring during a daily drinking session. In this intimate photo essay, Pichler’s raw, graphic and dark images of the bar s inhabitants, the daily grind and occasional bar drama and Marschall’s poignant interviews with the owners form a brutal portrait of people with little to live for and familial ties that have long been lost. Pichler has been recognized for his award-winning photo documentaries and Marschall for his writings and publications on contemporary popular culture.
Sebastiao Salgado – Genesis | Amazon Link
“In GENESIS, my camera allowed nature to speak to me. And it was my privilege to listen.” —Sebastião Salgado
On a very fortuitous day in 1970, 26-year-old Sebastião Salgado held a camera for the first time. When he looked through the viewfinder, he experienced a revelation: suddenly life made sense. From that day onward—though it took years of hard work before he had the experience to earn his living as a photographer—the camera became his tool for interacting with the world. Salgado, who “always preferred the chiaroscuro palette of black-and-white images,” shot very little color in his early career before giving it up completely.
Raised on a farm in Brazil, Salgado possessed a deep love and respect for nature; he was also particularly sensitive to the ways in which human beings are affected by their often devastating socio-economic conditions. Of the myriad works Salgado has produced in his acclaimed career, three long-term projects stand out: Workers (1993), documenting the vanishing way of life of manual laborers across the world, Migrations (2000), a tribute to mass migration driven by hunger, natural disasters, environmental degradation and demographic pressure, and this new opus, GENESIS, the result of an epic eight-year expedition to rediscover the mountains, deserts and oceans, the animals and peoples that have so far escaped the imprint of modern society—the land and life of a still-pristine planet. “Some 46% of the planet is still as it was in the time of Genesis,” Salgado reminds us. “We must preserve what exists.” The GENESIS project, along with the Salgados’ Instituto Terra, are dedicated to showing the beauty of our planet, reversing the damage done to it, and preserving it for the future.
Gordon Parks – A Harlem Family Story | Amazon Link
A Harlem Family 1967 honors the legacy and the work of late iconic artist and photojournalist Gordon Parks, who would have turned 100 on November 30, 2012. The exhibition catalogue is co-published by The Studio Museum in Harlem and The Gordon Parks Foundation and features approximately 80 black-and-white photographs of the Fontenelle family, whose lives Gordon Parks documented as part of a 1968 Life magazine photo essay & photography books. A searing portrait of poverty in the United States, the Fontenelle photographs provide a view of Harlem through the narrative of a specific family at a particular moment in time. A Photography Book, as compelling as his movies.
Dorothea Lange – A Life Beyond Limits | Amazon Link
We all know Dorothea Lange’s iconic photos & photography books ―the Migrant Mother holding her child, the shoeless children of the Dust Bowl―but now renowned American historian Linda Gordon brings them to three-dimensional life in this groundbreaking exploration of Lange’s transformation into a documentarist. Using Lange’s life to anchor a moving social history of twentieth-century America, Gordon masterfully re-creates bohemian San Francisco, the Depression, and the Japanese-American internment camps. Accompanied by more than one hundred images―many of them previously unseen and some formerly suppressed―Gordon has written a sparkling, fast-moving story that testifies to her status as one of the most gifted historians of our time. Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; a New York Times Notable Book; New Yorker’s A Year’s Reading; and San Francisco Chronicle Best Photography Books. 128 black-and-white photos.
Eugene Smith – Dream Street | Amazon Link
In 1955, having ended his high-profile career with “Life” magazine, W. Eugene Smith spent a year in Pittsburgh compiling nearly 16,000 photographs. Only a fragment of the work was ever seen, despite Smith’s conviction that it was his greatest set of photographs. Now, in an assemblage of pictures that Smith asserted were the “synthesis of the whole”, we see a portrayal not just of Pittsburgh but also of mid-20th-century America by a master photojournalist.
Mary Ellen Mark – Tiny, Streetwise Revisited | Amazon Link
In 1988, Mary Ellen Mark published a poignant document of a fiercely independent group of homeless and troubled youth living in Seattle as pimps, prostitutes, panhandlers and small-time drug dealers. Critically acclaimed, “Streetwise” introduced us to individuals who were not easily forgotten, including “Tiny” (Erin Blackwell)–a 13-year-old prostitute with dreams of a horse farm, diamonds and furs, and a baby of her own. Since meeting Tiny 30 years ago, Mark has continued to photograph her, creating what has become one of Mark’s most significant and long-term projects. Now 43, Tiny has ten children and her life has unfolded in unexpected ways, which together speak to issues of poverty, class, race and addiction. This significantly expanded iteration of the classic monograph presents the iconic work of the first edition along with Mark’s moving and intimate body of work on Tiny, most of which is previously unpublished. Texts and captions are drawn from conversations between Tiny and Mary Ellen Mark as well as Mark’s husband, the filmmaker Martin Bell, who made the landmark film, “Streetwise.” “Tiny, Streetwise Revisited” provides a powerful education about one of the more complex sides of American life, as well as insight into the unique relationship sustained between artist and subject for over 30 years.Mary Ellen Mark (1940-2015) was a legendary American photographer known for her photojournalism and portraiture. Her work has been widely published in photography books and is included in public collections around the world. In 2014, Mark received the George Eastman House Lifetime Achievement in Photography Award.
Stephen Shore – Uncommon Places | Amazon Link
Originally published in 1982, Stephen Shores legendary Uncommon Places has influenced a generation of photographers & photography books. Among the first artists to take colour beyond the domain of advertising and fashion photography, Shores large-format colour work on the American vernacular landscape stands at the root of what has become a vital photographic tradition over the past thirty years. Uncommon Places: The Complete Works is the definitive collection of this landmark series. An essay by noted critic and curator Stephan Schmidt-Wulffen and a conversation with Shore by fiction writer Lynne Tillman examine his methodology as they elucidate his roots in the pop and conceptual art movements of the late sixties and early seventies. The texts are illustrated with reproductions from Shores earlier series American Surfaces and Amarillo: Tall in Texas.
Magnum – Contact Sheets | Amazon Link
At their best, the pictures of this photography book add to our understanding of the surface event documented and reveal something profound about the people pushing that history forward. ― The Los Angeles Times
Available for the first time in an accessible paperback edition, this groundbreaking book presents a remarkable selection of contact sheets and ancillary material, revealing how the most celebrated Magnum photographers capture and edit the very best shots. Addressing key questions of photographic practice, the book illuminates the creative methods, strategies, and editing processes behind some of the world’s most iconic images.
Featured are 139 contact sheets from sixty- nine photographers, as well as zoom-in details, selected photographs, press cards, notebooks, and spreads from contemporary publications including Life magazine and Picture Post. Further insight into each contact sheet is provided by texts written by the photographers themselves or by experts chosen by the members’ estates. Many of the acknowledged greats of photography are featured, including Henri Cartier- Bresson, Elliott Erwitt, and Inge Morath, as well as such members of Magnum’s latest generation as Jonas Bendiksen, Alessandra Sanguinetti, and Alec Soth. The contact sheets cover over seventy years of history, from Robert Capa’s Normandy landings and the Paris riots of 1968 via Bruno Barbey, to images of Che Geuvara by René Burri, Malcolm X by Eve Arnold, and portraits of classic New Yorkers by Bruce Gilden.
Alex Webb and Rebecca Noris Webb – On Street Photography and the Poetic Image | Amazon Link
In this series of photography books, Aperture Foundation works with the world’s top photographers to distill their creative approaches, teachings, and insights on photography—offering the workshop experience in a book. Its goal is to inspire photographers of all levels who wish to improve their work, as well as readers interested in deepening their understanding of the art of photography. Each volume is introduced by a well-known student of the featured photographer. In this book, internationally acclaimed color photographers Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb, offer their expert insight into street photography and the poetic image. Through words and photographs—their own and others’—they invite the reader into the heart of their artistic processes. They share their thoughts about a wide range of practical and philosophical issues, from questions about seeing and being in the world with a camera, to how to shape a complete body of work in a way that’s both structured and intuitive. Award-winning novelist Teju Cole, a student of the Webbs, provides the introduction.
Joel Meyerowitz: Seeing Things: A Kid’s Guide to Looking at Photographs | Amazon Link
Aimed at children between the ages of eight and twelve, Seeing Things is a wonderful introduction to photography books that asks how photographers transform ordinary things into meaningful moments. In this book, acclaimed and beloved photographer Joel Meyerowitz takes readers on a journey through the power and magic of photography: its abilities to freeze time, tell a story, combine several layers into one frame and record life’s fleeting and beautiful moments. The book features the work of masters such as William Eggleston, Mary Ellen Mark, Helen Levitt and Walker Evans, among many others. Each picture is accompanied by a short commentary, encouraging readers to look closely and use their imagination to understand key ideas in photography such as light, gesture, composition-and, ultimately, how there is wonder all around us when viewed through the lens.
Dan Winters – Road to Seeing | Amazon Link
After beginning his career as a photojournalist for a daily newspaper in southern California, Dan Winters moved to New York to begin a celebrated career that has since led to more than one hundred awards, including the Alfred Eisenstaedt Award for Magazine Photography. An immensely respected portrait photographer, Dan is well known for an impeccable use of light, color, and depth in his evocative images.
In the Photography Book Road to Seeing, Dan shares his journey to becoming a photographer, as well as key moments in his career that have influenced and informed the decisions he has made and the path he has taken. Though this book appeals to the broader photography audience, it speaks primarily to the student of photography—whether enrolled in school or not—and addresses such topics as creating a visual language; the history of photography; the portfolio; street photography; personal projects; his portraiture work; and the need for key characteristics such as perseverance, awareness, curiosity, and reverence.
By relaying both personal experiences and a kind of philosophy on photography, Road to Seeing tells the reader how one photographer carved a path for himself, and in so doing, helps equip the reader to forge his own.
Recommendation of Photography Books
These are just my recommendation of Photography Books the will definitely help you in understanding and becoming a master yourself.
Either out of pure entertainment or to analyze the composition and images carefully, there is a lot to learn, while experiencing the joy of brilliant photography.
The list contains the more popular photography books of the most well-known names. I’d still advise you to search in your local bookstore for some hidden gems. Good Photography doesn’t have to come from the “big names”. There are a lot of unknown photographers out there that deserve to share their projects too.