Favorite Photography Books
by S&L Staff
Several photo books stood out in 2018. We have gathered some of the best-reviewed and most rewarded books of the year. We hope the breadth of artistry and perspectives inspire you as much as they do us.
1) Sun Gardens: Cyanotypes by Anna Atkins
Publisher’s description: Anna Atkins (1799–1871) came of age in Victorian England, a particularly fertile environment for learning and scientific discovery. Guided by her father, a prominent scientist, Atkins was inspired by William Henry Fox Talbot to take up photography and was friends with Sir John Herschel, who invented the cyanotype photographic process in 1842. The next year, Atkins began making cyanotypes in an effort to illustrate and distribute information about her herbarium. The result was Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions, the first book to be illustrated with photographs. A decade later, she and her friend Anne Dixon expanded their visual inquiry to flowering plants, feathers, and other subjects. This volume is a revised and expanded edition of a long out-of-print monograph that first secured Atkins’s place in the history of photography. It draws upon years of careful research and sets Atkins and her work in the proper context. Supplementary texts shed new light on her productions and on the cyanotype process, which is still used by artists today. The photographs themselves—ethereal, deeply hued, and wonderfully intricate—are brought to life with exquisite reproductions that are certain to win Atkins a new generation of followers.
2)Deana Lawson: An Aperture Monograph by Deana Lawson
Publisher’s description: Deana Lawson is one of the most compelling photographers of her generation. Over the last ten years, she has created a visionary language to describe identities through intimate portraiture and striking accounts of ceremonies and rituals. Using medium- and large-format cameras, Lawson works with models she meets in the United States and on travels in the Caribbean and Africa to construct arresting, highly structured, and deliberately theatrical scenes animated by an exquisite range of color and attention to surprising details: bedding and furniture in domestic interiors or lush plants in Edenic gardens. The body—often nude—is central. Throughout her work, which invites comparison to the photography of Diane Arbus, Jeff Wall, and Carrie Mae Weems, Lawson seeks to portray the personal and the powerful. Deana Lawson: An Aperture Monograph features forty beautifully reproduced photographs, an essay by the acclaimed writer Zadie Smith, and an expansive conversation with the artist Arthur Jafa.
3) Anne Brigman: A Visionary in Modern Photography by Ann M. Wolfe, Susan Ehrens, Alexander Nemerov, Kathleen Pyne, Heather Waldroup
Publisher’s description: A much-anticipated look at one of the first feminist artists, best known for her iconic landscape photographs made in the early 1900s depicting female nudes outdoors in rugged Northern California.
This monumental publication rediscovers and celebrates the work of Anne Brigman, whose photography was considered radical for its time. For Brigman to objectify her own nude body as the subject of her photographs at the turn of the 20th century was groundbreaking; to do so outdoors in a near-desolate wilderness setting was revolutionary. Brigman’s significance spanned both coasts: in Northern California, where she lived, she was known as a poet, a critic, and a member of the Pictorialist photography movement. On the East Coast, her work was promoted by Alfred Stieglitz, who elected her as a fellow of the prestigious Photo-Secession.
4) Blackout by Hitoshi Fugo
“Blackout reveals itself slowly. All is in balance in this restrained and elegant photobook that occupies a fluid space between representation and abstraction.” – Russet Lederman, 10x10 Photobooks
Publisher’s description: In theatre, the word blackout refers to the moment in which the stage lights are extinguished to indicate the passage of time. Almost entirely shot in India, the pictures in this series tread a fine line between light and shadow, life and death. As human moments alternate with raw matter and the patterns of nature, BLACKOUT invites us to question the power of photography and its relationship with the ever-changing flow of time.
Hitoshi Fugo is a graduate of the photography programme at Nihon University and was mentored by Eikoh Hosoe. He is mostly known for his conceptual 'On the Circle,' and 'Flying Frying Pan' series, both of which are available as books. He has exhibited at Kushiro Art Museum, Hokkaido, AKAAKA Gallery, Tokyo, Shanghai Museum, Shanghai, Miyako Yoshinaga Gallery, New York, Okayama Prefectural Museum of Art, Okayama City, Photo Gallery International, Tokyo, and Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Tokyo.
5) John Gossage: Looking Up Ben James, A Fable by John Gossage
It is spring 2008 and my friend, photographer and book collector John Gossage is coming to the UK. We have planned to embark upon a minor road trip together. All John requests is that I drive and that we visit some 'typical Parr seaside locations'. No problem. --Martin Parr
Publisher’s description: Martin Parr and John Gossage's British coastal trip covered spots like Georgian Clifton (Bristol), Severn Bridge (Wales) and Caerau, the mining village near Cardiff where photographer Robert Frank had made his famous report and met the miner Ben James in 1953. The road took them further north to reach Porthmadog and Blaenau Ffestiniog in North Wales, ending in Liverpool, Morecambe and smaller towns in the Lake District. The outcome are shots of street scenes, backyards, gardens, sceneries and very few people on the way, silent testimonies of small, unexpected details of everyday life in a world that is not visited by many, let alone photographed. As Parr concludes in his introductory text: "I am amazed that the collective vision of this volume is so familiar, but entirely alien. It restores my faith in photography to know that a mature and original photographer like John Gossage can see the things I just did not notice."
6) Upstate Girls by Brenda Ann Kenneally
Publisher’s description: Welcome to Troy, New York. The land where mastodon roamed, the Mohicans lived, and the Dutch settled in the seventeenth century. Troy grew from a small trading post into a jewel of the Industrial Revolution. Horseshoes, rail ties, and detachable shirt collars were made there and the middle class boomed, making Troy the fourth wealthiest city per capita in the country. Then, the factories closed, the middle class disappeared, and the downtown fell into disrepair. Troy is the home of Uncle Sam, the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the Rensselaer County Jail, the photographer Brenda Ann Kenneally, and the small group of young women, their children, lovers, and families who Kenneally has been photographing for over a decade.
Before Kenneally left Troy, her life looked a lot like the lives of these girls. With passion and profound empathy she has chronicled three generations¾their love and heartbreak; their births and deaths; their struggles with poverty, with education, and with each other; and their joy.
7) On Abortion by Laia Abril
Publisher’s description: On Abortion is the first part of Laia Abril’s new long-term project, A History of Misogyny. The work was first exhibited at Les Rencontres in Arles in 2016 and awarded the Prix de la Photo Madame Figaro and the Fotopress Grant. Abril documents and conceptualizes the dangers and damage caused by women’s lack of legal, safe and free access to abortion. She draws on the past to highlight the long, continuing erosion of women’s reproductive rights through to the present-day, weaving together questions of ethics and morality, to reveal a staggering series of social triggers, stigmas, and taboos around abortion that have been largely invisible until now.
8) Gordon Parks: The New Tide: Early Work 1940–1950
"Gordon Parks: The New Tide grew from an extensive dialogue between the National Gallery of Art and the Gordon Parks Foundation. Established in 2007 to preserve and promote his work and legacy, the Foundation has systematically made it possible to study his life and art through collaborations with museums," said Peter W. Kunhardt, Jr., executive director, the Gordon Parks Foundation. "As this exhibition shows, his photographs from the 1940s are the foundation of his storied career and vision. For Parks, creativity brought with it a fuller, more poignant understanding of humanity that is now our responsibility to share.
9) The American Fraternity: An Illustrated Ritual Manual By Andrew Moisey
Publisher’s description: The American Fraternity is a mysterious photo and ritual book that lifts the veil on America’s oldest and most influential male tradition. The text comes from a decaying ritual manual from a prominent college fraternity. Seventy-five percent of modern U.S. presidents, senators, justices, and executives have taken arcane oaths of allegiance like the ones it contains. Six decades of red ceremonial wax stain it like blood. It is filled with dark power.
10) Liberty Theater by Rosalind Fox Solomon
Publisher’s description: Liberty Theater is a vivid exploration of race, class and segregation in the American South. The book takes its title from the only cinema in Chattanooga, Tennessee that was open to people of colour in the early 1960s. Spanning the 1970s–1990s, the project began on the lawns of the Scottsboro Courthouse in Alabama where, in an historic case of injustice, seven young men of colour were falsely accused of rape and sentenced to jail for the better part of their lives. The courthouse served as a haunting backdrop to a monthly market at which Fox Solomon found a cacophonous performance of cultural ideologies and fantasies. In her acutely symbolic book, we find KKK badges, muskets, fake wigs, church attire and china dolls among preachers, landowners, and labourers.
Journeying from Alabama to Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and South Carolina, Fox Solomon continued to build a body of photographs which, as Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa writes in his essay, ‘moves with effervescent grace from rebel musket to trophy wife, from linoleum square to yard sale, from clown to church to carnival, tracing a circuitous route through seven Stand Your Ground states’
11) The Land in Between by Ursula Schulz-Dornburg
Publisher’s description: Ursula Schulz-Dornburg’s The Land in Between presents the complex bond between landscape and human civilization, exploring the construction of power though the built environment and its inevitable impermanence. By looking back at areas of past historical or political importance her images highlight how conflict, destruction, time and decay transforms the landscape.
Many of Schulz-Dornburg’s projects derive from a relatively confined geographic location, encompassing ancient civilizations alongside areas of modern strategic importance. Historically referred to as both a gateway and a cross roads, or the ‘land in-between’, the area was often defined not by its content but by what lies on either side, between Europe and Asia, east and west, old and new. Over a thirty-year period, Schulz-Dornburg travelled to this region, visiting Armenia, Georgia, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Documenting ruins of the now abandoned Ottoman railway project in Saudi Arabia, decaying Soviet era bus stops in Armenia, and temporary marsh dwellings in Mesopotamia. Most recently, in 2010, she travelled to Syria to photograph the ancient city of Palmyra. Her images now form some of the last visual documentation of the area prior to its recent destruction.
12) The Castle by Richard Mosse
Publisher’s description: Richard Mosse has spent the past few years documenting the ongoing refugee and migration crisis, repurposing military-grade camera technology to confront how governments and societies perceive refugees. His latest book The Castle is a meticulous record of refugee camps located across mass migration routes from the Middle East and Central Asia into the European Union via Turkey. Using a thermal video camera intended for long-range border enforcement, Mosse films the camps from high elevations to draw attention to the ways in which each interrelates with, or is divorced from, adjacent citizen infrastructure. His source footage is then broken down into hundreds of individual frames, which are digitally overlapped in a grid formation to create composite heat maps.
Truncating time and space, Mosse’s images speak to the lived experience of refugees indefinitely awaiting asylum and trapped in a Byzantine state of limbo. The book is divided into 28 sites, each presenting an annotated sequence of close-up images that fold out into a panoramic heat map. Within this format, Mosse underscores the provisional architecture of the camps and the ways in which each camp is variously marginalised, concealed, regulated, militarized, integrated, and/or dispersed. His images point to the glaring disconnect between the brisk free trade of globalized capitalism and the dehumanizing erosion of international refugee law in European nation-states. Named after Kafka’s 1926 novel, The Castle prompts questions about the ‘visibility’ of refugees and the erosion of their human rights.
13) Vivian Maier: The Color Work by Colin Westerbeck
Publisher’s description: The first definitive monograph of color photographs by American street photographer Vivian Maier. Photographer Vivian Maier’s allure endures even though many details of her life continue to remain a mystery. Her story—the secretive nanny-photographer who became a pioneer photographer—has only been pieced together from the thousands of images she made and the handful of facts that have surfaced about her life. Vivian Maier: The Color Work is the largest and most highly curated published collection of Maier’s full-color photographs to date.
With a foreword by world-renowned photographer Joel Meyerowitz and text by curator Colin Westerbeck, this definitive volume sheds light on the nature of Maier’s color images, examining them within the context of her black-and-white work as well as the images of street photographers with whom she clearly had kinship, like Eugene Atget and Lee Friedlander. With more than 150 color photographs, most of which have never been published in book form, this collection of images deepens our understanding of Maier, as its immediacy demonstrates how keen she was to record and present her interpretation of the world around her.
14) Of Love & War By Lynsey Addario
Publisher’s description: From the Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist and New York Times bestselling author, a stunning and personally curated selection of her work across the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa
Pulitzer Prize–winning photojournalist and MacArthur Fellow Lynsey Addario has spent the last two decades bearing witness to the world’s most urgent humanitarian and human rights crises. Traveling to the most dangerous and remote corners to document crucial moments such as Afghanistan under the Taliban immediately before and after the 9/11 attacks, Iraq following the US-led invasion and dismantlement of Saddam Hussein’s government, and western Sudan in the aftermath of the genocide in Darfur, she has captured through her photographs visual testimony not only of war and injustice but also of humanity, dignity, and resilience.
In this compelling collection of more than two hundred photographs, Addario’s commitment to exposing the devastating consequences of human conflict is on full display. Her subjects include the lives of female members of the military, as well as the trauma and abuse inflicted on women in male-dominated societies.
15) Dawoud Bey: Seeing Deeply by Dawoud Bey
Publisher’s description: Recipient of a 2017 MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” Dawoud Bey has created a body of photography that masterfully portrays the contemporary American experience on its own terms and in all of its diversity.
Dawoud Bey: Seeing Deeply offers a forty-year retrospective of the celebrated photographer’s work, from his early street photography in Harlem to his current images of Harlem gentrification. Photographs from all of Bey’s major projects are presented in chronological sequence, allowing viewers to see how the collective body of portraits and recent landscapes create an unparalleled historical representation of various communities in the United States. Leading curators and critics—Sarah Lewis, Deborah Willis, David Travis, Hilton Als, Jacqueline Terrassa, Rebecca Walker, Maurice Berger, and Leigh Raiford—introduce each series of images. Revealing Bey as the natural heir of such renowned photographers as Roy DeCarava, Walker Evans, Gordon Parks, and James Van Der Zee, Dawoud Bey: Seeing Deeplydemonstrates how one man’s search for community can produce a stunning portrait of our common humanity.
16) Saul Leiter: In My Room by Saul Leiter
Publisher’s description: The fruit of fantastic recent discoveries from Saul Leiter’s vast archive, In My Room provides an in-depth study of the nude, through intimate photographs of the women Leiter knew. Showing deeply personal interior spaces, often illuminated by the lush natural light of the artist’s studio in New York City’s East Village, these black-and-white images reveal a unique type of collaboration between Leiter and his subjects.
In the 1970s Leiter planned to make a book of nudes, but the project was never realized in his lifetime. Now, we get a first-time look at this body of work, which was begun on Leiter’s arrival in New York in 1946 and honed over the next two decades. Leiter, who was also a painter, allows abstract elements into the photographs and often shows the influence of his favorite artists, including Bonnard, Vuillard and Matisse.
Leiter, who painted and took pictures prolifically up to his death, worked in relative obscurity until he entered his eighties. He preferred to be left alone, and resisted any type of explanation or analysis of his work. With In My Room, Leiter ushers viewers into his private world while retaining his strong sense of mystery.
17) Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness By Zanele Muholi
“These feel like images you might have dreamed, both of the kind that slip away and the ones you manage to keep tenuously in your grasp, slippery, otherworldly. . . . Before our eyes, Zanele Muholi transforms into a mother, a domestic worker, an Afrofuturist, an oracle. It’s fiction and it is not.”―Yrsa Daley-Ward, The New York Times Book Review
Publisher’s description: Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness is the long-awaited monograph from one of the most powerful visual activists of our time. The book features over ninety of Muholi’s evocative self-portraits, each image drafted from material props in Muholi’s immediate environment. A powerfully arresting collection of work, Muholi’s radical statements of identity, race, and resistance are a direct response to contemporary and historical racisms. As Muholi states, “I am producing this photographic document to encourage individuals in my community to be brave enough to occupy spaces―brave enough to create without fear of being vilified. . . . To teach people about our history, to rethink what history is all about, to reclaim it for ourselves―to encourage people to use artistic tools such as cameras as weapons to fight back.”
18) Jo Ann Walters: Wood River Blue Pool by Jo Ann Walters
Publisher’s Description: Wood River Blue Pool is the first monograph by Jo Ann Walters (born 1952). Photographing along the Mississippi River in the mid-1980s, Walters found herself drawn to the white working-class women and girls she encountered. The ensuing portraits, made between 1985 and 2015, in towns from Minnesota to Mississippi, populate this extraordinary book. The portraits of women, girls and families in Wood River Blue Pool were made in and around the artist’s hometown of Alton, and similar milieu stretching from Minnesota to Mississippi. Centered in the late 1980s and 1990s, but sprawling from 1984 to 2016, these astonishingly intimate and allegorically laden images attempt to “break through an ancient and nearly impenetrable surface of vanity and to seek out the small cracks, the holes and whorled places that hold our pain, our sadness and our beauty.” A remarkable essay by Laura Wexler places Walters’ photographs in dramatic dialogue with the history of racist violence that undergirds the social landscape of these subjects’ lives.
19) Undocumented: Immigration and the Militarization of the United States-Mexico Border By John Moore
Publisher’s description: With every effort to be an all-encompassing document of the subject of immigration along our southern border, Undocumented features: essays and photos from Central America and Mexico; The Journey North; The Border; Securing the Frontier; Life in a Divided Nation; Detained and Deported. Undocumented also features several portrait series, including undocumented migrants, prisoners in immigration jails, and new American citizens.
Since 2010 Getty Images special correspondent John Moore has been laser-focused on the issue of immigration to the United States. He is unmatched in the field for his comprehensive photography of undocumented immigration and the militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border. This complex, multi-layered, and amazingly controversial narrative has taken Moore from Central America through Mexico, along every mile of the U.S. southern border, the northern border and immigrant communities in between. Moore’s exclusive access to immigrants on all points of their journey, ICE agents, Border Patrol agents, the USCIS and dozens of NGOs here and abroad sets his photographs apart from all other work on the controversial subject.
20) Roy DeCarava and Langston Hughes: The Sweet Flypaper of Life
Publisher’s description: The Sweet Flypaper of Life is a “poem” about ordinary people, about teenagers around a jukebox, about children at an open fire hydrant, about riding the subway alone at night, about picket lines and artist work spaces. This renowned, life-affirming collaboration between artist Roy DeCarava and writer Langston Hughes honors in words and pictures what the authors saw, knew, and felt deeply about life in their city.
Hughes’s heart-warming description of Harlem in the late 1940s and early 1950s is seen through the eyes of one grandmother, Sister Mary Bradley. As she guides the reader through the lives of those around her, we imagine the babies born, families in struggle, children yet flourishing. We experience the sights and sounds of Harlem as seen through her learned and worldly eyes, expressed here through Hughes’s poetic prose. As she states, “I done got my feet caught in the sweet flypaper of life and I’ll be dogged if I want to get loose.” DeCarava’s photographs lay open a world of sense and feeling that begins with his perception and vision. The ruminations go beyond the limit of simple observation and contend with deeper meanings to reveal these individuals as subjects worthy of art. While Hughes states “We’ve had so many books about how bad life is, maybe it’s time to have one showing how good it is,” the photographs bring us back to this lively dialogue and a complex reality, to a resolution that stands with the optimism of the photographic medium and the certainty of DeCarava’s artistic moment.
In 1952 DeCarava became the first African American photographer to win a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship. The one-year grant enabled DeCarava to focus full time on the photography he had been creating since the mid-1940s and to complete a project that would eventually result in The Sweet Flypaper of Life, a moving, photo-poetic work in the urban setting of Harlem. DeCarava compiled a set of images from which Hughes chose 141 and adeptly supplied a fictive narration, reflecting on life in that city-within-a-city. First published in 1955, the book, widely considered a classic of photographic visual literature, was reprinted by public demand several times. This fourth printing, the Heritage Edition, is the first authorized English-language edition since 1983 and includes an afterword by Sherry Turner DeCarava tracing the history and ongoing importance of this book.