Photo books have long enjoyed distinguished status. Even in an increasingly digitized world, the tactility of a monograph, cannot be matched.
Storytelling, large-format landscapes, studio portraiture, or dynamic 35mm compositions, photography is a diverse and fascinating medium that encompasses all manner of imagery, and thus, when it comes to photo books the choices are similarly varied. From long-time classics to more recent releases, we’ve selected our top 10 photo books, which we believe, will continue to stand the test of time; serve as inspiration, and enhance any collection.
1. Henri Cartier Bresson – The Decisive Moment
Few, if any, photographers have impacted the medium in the manner of Henri Cartier-Bresson, the father of photojournalism and founder of the prestigious Magnum Agency. He is widely regarded as the most influential photographer of the 20th century, and to this day, his remarkable oeuvre continues to delight and inspire in equal measure. Named after his elusive theory of perception, The Decisive Moment, was first published in 1952, with a collage cover by Henri Matisse. Recently reissued by Steidl, it assembles his most compelling early work, which helped shape the very landscape of contemporary photography. It is a fitting tribute to one of photography’s most pivotal figures, and remains, without doubt, one of the essential photo books ever published.
– The Decisive Moment is published by Steidl
2. Nan Goldin – The ballad of sexual dependency
Nan Goldin’s debut photo book is nothing short of a masterpiece. Titled after a song in Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera, Goldin casts friends, family, and lovers as central characters, capturing them with trademark candor as they navigate the complex terrain of intimacy in the 1980s. In bedrooms, bars, and brothels in the various cities where she lived after leaving home at 14 namely, Provincetown, Boston, New York, Berlin, and Mexico, Goldin captures the nuances of life for what she calls her ‘tribe, in the distinct, captivating, visual language for which she is now renowned and which had such a dramatic impact on the medium thenceforth.
– The ballad of sexual dependency is published by Aperture
3. Steve McCurry – The Unguarded Moment
One of photography’s most important contemporary figures, Steve McCurry has spent the last 4 and a half decades creating a truly remarkable oeuvre that encompasses some of the most iconic images of our time. First published in 2009, The Unguarded Moment collates some of McCurry’s most memorable works, candid depictions of quotidian life captured over the course of three decades in locations across the globe and serves as a fitting testament to the perceptivity, skill, and artistry for which he is renowned.
– The Unguarded Moment is published by Phaidon
4. Peter Lindbergh: A Different Vision on Fashion Photography
Released in 2016, A Different Vision on Fashion Photography collates four decades of compelling work from a pioneering fashion photographer, Peter Lindbergh. Few practitioners have shaped the genre in the manner of the German, renowned for his iconic, naturalistic portraiture, that permeates with cinematic intensity. Featuring over three hundred images, (many previously unseen), this retrospective pays tribute to the gaze of one of photography’s living masters, whose extraordinary oeuvre laid the pathway for generations of notable fashion photographers.
– A Different Vision on Fashion Photography is published by Taschen
5. Robert Frank – The Americans
Arguably no other book has impacted photography like Robert Frank’s landmark 1959 debut, The Americans. Comprising over 80 monochrome images captured during a series of road trips across the united states, gritty, forthright, and absorbing, the book portrays a cross-section of US society, capturing both iconography, and the realities of life for many living in the country during the period. Controversial at the time of its release, due to its unflinching critique of the ‘American Dream’, its impact would be unprecedented, serving both as an essential touchstone of the time and as a framework for photographic storytelling thenceforth.
– The Americans is Published by Steidl
6. Alessandra Sanguinetti- The Adventures of Guille and Belinda and the Enigmatic Meaning of Their Dreams
The Adventures of Guille and Belinda and the Enigmatic Meaning of Their Dreams is the first installment of a wonderful trilogy in which American photographer Alessandra Sanguinetti spent two decades documenting the lives of a pair of cousins from rural Argentina, and their journey through childhood and youth, to womanhood. Sanguinetti originally visited the remote farm in Pampas, Argentina where the pair lived, for her series Sixth Day. However, she quickly became charmed by the two young girls who followed her everywhere, fascinated by this foreign stranger with a camera. She began photographing them as they went about their daily lives – blending fantasy with reality; the mundane with the make-believe – against the rugged backdrop of their remote family farm. Poetic, intimate, and deeply moving, Sanguinetti has captured beautifully, the personalities of this charismatic duo: their hopes, dreams, and, most pertinent, the profound bond they share with one another.
– The Adventures of Guille and Belinda is published by Nazraeli Press
7. Ansel Adams – Yosemite and the Range of Light
Arguably the most critical landscape photographer of all time, Ansel Adams was a master and visionary whose large format, black and white images, eloquently conveyed the awe-inspiring natural beauty of the United States. Published in 1979, his most iconic monograph, centers on Yosemite, the location that inspired his photographic journey, and with which he is synonymous. During a family vacation in 1916, it was here that a teenage Adams was gifted an Eastman Kodak Brownie box camera by his father, sparking a passion that would engender some of the most iconic and influential imagery ever captured, which transformed the genre of landscape photography thenceforth.
– Yosemite and the Range of Light is published by Bulfinch
8. Richard Avedon – In the American West
Richard Avedon may be synonymous with the world of fashion and indeed, his influence on the genre of fashion photography is barely rivaled, yet the American photographer’s most memorable images are those depicting everyday people in the much-transcribed western region of the US. The culmination of a series of journeys across twenty-one different states, (made over the course of five years), In The American West, avoids the iconography and wide open landscapes often associated with the region. Instead, Avedon constructed a deeply absorbing portrait through its denizens, capturing them with the trademark perceptivity, skill, and artistry for which he is renowned.
– In The American West is published by Abrams Books
9. Stephen Shore – Uncommon Places
A hugely influential figure in the American color movement of the 70s and 80s, alongside the likes of Joel Meyerowitz and William Eggleston, Shore, like these aforementioned contemporaries, possessed the rare ability to transcribe seemingly ordinary scenes into deeply compelling images, demonstrated beautifully in his seminal photo book, Uncommon Places. Traveling across his homeland, Shore sought and found beauty in the most mundane, capturing everyday scenes, (using a large format camera), with extraordinary skill, and a masterful eye for light and color. First released in 1982, the book alongside the likes of Cape Light by Joel Meyerowitz, helped lead to the eventual acceptance of color photography (as well as the acceptance of photography as an art form), demonstrating its extraordinary potential, and in the process, galvanizing a generation of photographers to take to the road.
– Uncommon Places is published by Aperture
10. Saul Leiter – Early Color
One of the most important practitioners of the post-war period, photographer Saul Leiter was an early pioneer of color, who spent his life capturing moments of quotidian life on the streets surrounding his Manhattan home. Though during his career, he achieved relative success in commercial settings working on assignments for renowned fashion publications such as Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar, it wasn’t until the latter stages of his life that he would begin to gain the recognition that he so thoroughly deserved. It was thanks, in significant part, to Early Color, the 2006 book, which presented his early color work captured during the 40s, 50s, and 60ss, (long before chromaticity would achieve widespread acceptance), to the public for the first time. Moments of everyday life, seen through Leiter’s lens, become partially abstract, painting-like compositions that collectively artistry of one of photography’s most masterful and enigmatic figures, whose poetic visual language continues to influence and inspire photographers today.
– Early Color is published by Steidl
Choosing the best 10 photobooks ever published is a nigh-on impossible task, and thus, it should be noted that the list we’ve compiled is subjective, and by no means exhaustive. However, collectively the 10 books we’ve selected encompass a broad spectrum of styles and genres and we believe, showcase photography at its very best.
All images © their respective owners