Five Books Every Photographer Should Own

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Here are five amazing books that you should definitely consider adding to your photo library. Each of the photographers represented is an icon whose work has helped to inspire and shape countless photographers, both amateurs and professionals alike. It doesn’t matter what kind of photographs you make, these are the visionaries that paved the way, and their photographs are still providing insight, inspiration and vision to help us all to make better images.

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Cartier-Bresson - Photographer

Henri Cartier-Bresson – Photographer
Henri Cartier-Bresson and Yves Bonnefoy 

Henri Cartier-Bresson (August 22, 1908 – August 3, 2004) is perhaps the greatest photographer of the twentieth century. In a career spanning over sixty years, he has used his camera as an impassive and neutral third eye to capture the vagaries of human behaviour and to produce some of the most memorable and compelling photographs ever published.

 

Avedon - At Work in the American West

Avedon At Work in the American West
Laura Wilson with a foreward by Larry McMurtry

Internationally acclaimed for his portraits of powerful and accomplished people and women of great beauty, Richard Avedon was one of the twentieth century’s greatest photographers–but perhaps not the most obvious choice to create a portrait of ordinary people of the American West. Yet in 1979, the Amon Carter Museum of Fort Worth, Texas, daringly commissioned him to do just that.

The resulting 1985 exhibition and book, In the American West, was a milestone in American photography and Avedon’s most important body of work. His unflinching portraits of oilfield and slaughterhouse workers, miners, waitresses, drifters, mental patients, teenagers, and others captured the unknown and often-ignored people who work at hard, uncelebrated jobs. Making no apologies for shattering stereotypes of the West and Westerners, Avedon said, “I’m looking for a new definition of a photographic portrait. I’m looking for people who are surprising–heartbreaking–or beautiful in a terrifying way. Beauty that might scare you to death until you acknowledge it as part of yourself.”

 

Kertesz

Andre Kertesz
Michel Frizot and Annie-Laure Wanaverbecq

André Kertész (1894–1985) is one of the most original and celebrated of photographers of the 20th century. He was a founder of the modernist photography that originated in the European avant-garde movements of the 1920s, and although his lifelong unwillingness to compromise his independence and his creation of “photographic poetry” made him an almost marginal figure for most of his life, his influence on the development of photography, particularly photojournalism, during the middle years of the century was profound.

This comprehensive book accompanies a major retrospective exhibition of Kertész’s work at Paris’s Jeu de Paume Museum (also visiting several other European venues including Winterthur, Berlin, and Budapest). The text is organized around the three main periods of Kertész’s seventy-year-long career: Budapest, 1914–25; Paris, 1925–36; and New York, 1936–85. Each section of the text includes an illustrated historical analysis, a portfolio of works, and notes on particular elements of Kertész’s style and practice. Many rare vintage and period prints produced under the photographer’s control are reproduced to highest standards in this beautiful book, reflecting the visual quality of this exceptional body of compelling and poetic images.

 

Irving Penn - Small Tracks

Irving Penn – Small Trades
Virginia Heckert and Anne Lacoste

Photographer Irving Penn (b. 1917) is renowned for his innovative contributions to portrait, still life, and fashion photography, and a career that has spanned more than six decades at Vogue magazine.  In 1950, Vogue assigned Penn to photograph workers in Paris, and thus his monumental work The Small Trades began.  Created in 1950 and 1951 in Paris, London, and New York, The Small Trades consists of portraits of skilled tradespeople dressed in their work clothes and carrying the tools of their respective trades. Capturing the humble coal heaver and the crisply dressed waiter with equal directness, Penn’s arresting portraits also underscore fascinating cultural differences.

The Small Trades was Penn’s most extensive body of work, and he returned to it over many decades, producing ever more exacting prints. Two hundred-six unique images from the series are flawlessly reproduced in this book.  In addition, the introductory essay describes the history and context of The Small Trades series and its importance to Penn’s career and the history of photography.  An interview with Edmonde Charles-Roux, the chief editor for French Vogue from 1952 to 1966, who assisted Penn on the assignment in Paris, provides fascinating insights of the Paris sittings.

 

William Eggleston's Guide

William Eggleston’s Guide
John Szarkowski and William Eggleston

William Eggleston’s Guide was the first one-man show of color photographs ever presented at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Museum’s first publication of color photography. The reception was divided and passionate. The book and show unabashedly forced the art world to deal with color photography, a medium scarcely taken seriously at the time, and with the vernacular content of a body of photographs that could have been but definitely weren’t some average American’s Instamatic pictures from the family album. These photographs heralded a new mastery of the use of color as an integral element of photographic composition. Bound in a textured cover inset with a photograph of a tricycle and stamped with yearbook-style gold lettering, the Guide contained 48 images edited down from 375 shot between 1969 and 1971 and displayed a deceptively casual, actually super-refined look at the surrounding world. Here are people, landscapes, and odd little moments in and around Eggleston’s hometown of Memphis–an anonymous woman in a loudly patterned dress and cat’s eye glasses sitting, left leg slightly raised, on an equally loud outdoor sofa; a coal-fired barbecue shooting up flames, framed by a shiny silver tricycle, the curves of a gleaming black car fender, and someone’s torso; a tiny, gray-haired lady in a faded, flowered housecoat, standing expectant, and dwarfed in the huge dark doorway of a mint-green room whose only visible furniture is a shaded lamp on an end table. For this edition of William Eggleston’s Guide, The Museum of Modern Art has made new color separations from the original 35 mm slides, producing a facsimile edition in which the color will be freshly responsive to the photographer’s intentions.

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