Photobook favourites: from Avedon to Penn

Photobooks are an ever evolving art form and a constant source of inspiration, whether rediscovering old favourites in new ways, discovering contemporary photographers work for the very first time, or engaging in debates about the history and future of this medium.

This month, the Hong Kong International Photo Festival asked me to contribute a list of my top ten photobooks for this year’s festival. I found it very hard to limit myself to only ten titles, but here is my list of much-loved photographic companions.

Brooklyn Gang Bruce Davidson
Publisher / Edition: First published 1959, reprinted by Twin Palms, 2008

One of the first in-depth photographic documents of post-war American youth culture, and Davidson’s first photographic project, the photographs which form Brooklyn Gang remain as raw and captivating today as when they first published; an unquestioned landmark in documentary photography.

Cecil Beaton: The New York Years Donald Albrecht
Publisher / Edition : Museum of the City of New York / Skira Rizzoli, 2011

This major survey of Cecil Beaton’s life in New York, spans from his 1930s work for Condé Nast’s Vogue, to his life as celebrity photographer in the 1960s, depicting the key cultural figures of the early Pop art era. A gem of a book, combining many of Beaton’s best photographic portraits, alongside his personal correspondence, sketches and stage designs.

Displaced Visions: Emigré Photographers of the 20th Century Nissan N. Perez
Publisher / Edition : Lund Humphries, 2013

Nissan Perez’s recent study is an exquisite survey of a period in early 20th century photography which affects me deeply. Questioning how key modernist photographers’ status as immigrants affected their artistic vision, the book includes the work of many personal favourites, from André Kertész and Moholy-Nagy, to female pioneers such as Tina Modotti.

Early Colour Saul Leiter
Publisher / Edition : Steidl/Howard Greenberg Gallery, 2006

Subtle, poetic and painterly, Leiter’s photographs are abstract symphonies in composition and colour; which alongside the work of William Eggleston, introduced me to a new way of seeing my surrounding urban environment.

Evidence 1944-1994 Richard Avedon
Publisher / Edition : Random House, 1994

This definitive account of the life and work of Richard Avedon, chronicles his journey from fashion photographer under the mentorship of Harper’s Bazaar’s Alexey Brodovitch, to a master photographer, one who redefined the genre of modern photographic portraiture.

Moments Preserved Irving Penn
Publisher / Edition : Simon & Schuster, 1960

Penn’s first independently published photobook remains a landmark collection. A survey of fashion, still-life, portrait and documentary photographs, made during his first seventeen years on assignment for Vogue, Penn also directed the book’s design. The introduction by Vogue’s art director Alexander Liberman also meditates on the importance of the photobook within a photographer’s artistic vision.

One Hundred Photographs: A Collection Bruce Bernard
Publisher / Edition : Phaidon Press, 2002

In this book, the late Bruce Bernard, one of Britain’s most important picture editors, curated a beautifully eclectic and personal collection of images dating from the 1840s to 1990s. Bernard guides the viewer to discover the work of anonymous or lesser-known photographers, alongside celebrated studies by photographers from Diane Arbus to Weegee.

Self-portrait Man Ray
Publisher / Edition: Little Brown & Company, 1999

First published in 1963, this edition is the best edition of Man Ray’s memoirs, heavily illustrated with key works in his iconography, both as an artist across all genres, and subject of photographic portraits. The reader delights in Man Ray’s own words, as he describes how he became one of the most significant artists of the Dada and Surrealist movements. The book in itself, is an excellent example of Man Ray’s skillful control of his own myth-making.

The Art of Lee Miller Mark Haworth Booth
Publisher / Edition: Yale University Press, 2007

Fashion, portrait and war photographer, model and muse, Miller is one of the 20th century’s most important and enduring women photographers. There are many books I would wish to recommend on Miller, one of my favourite photographers, but Mark Haworth Booth’s book published in the centenary year of her birth, is an essential survey of her life and career.

William Eggleston
Publisher / Edition: Thames & Hudson / Fondation Cartier, 2002

This catalogue to a retrospective exhibition staged at the Southbank Centre in 2002, is one of my most treasured photobooks. Long recognized as a pioneer of colour photography, Eggleston continues to influence a generation of photographers. The collected photographs that form this book are testament to Eggleston’s sublime control and use of colour, and his skill in capturing the beauty found in the banal and everyday.

2 thoughts on “Photobook favourites: from Avedon to Penn

  1. Really great selection here and all now wishlisted! Two of my desert island photo books would be Satellites by Jonas Bendiksen and Winterreise by Luc Delahaye. Both very similar but complimentary at the same time. Thanks for sharing your list.

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