By Jeff Ladd
(Note: This continues our series on "Great Photo Books You Can Buy New." For links to the other posts, see below. —MJ)
Any time someone is asked to make a list of recommendations, their personal biases will show in one way or another. When asked to make such a list I usually approach the task with the "desert island" scenario in mind, but that can be very predictable, as my desert island would have a library of the usual suspects working in the documentary traditions. So this isn’t a "best of" list but a "these are damn good books worth your attention" list. Check them out of the library first.
With having to name only a few, the major problem for me is being able to show diversity. Mine is basically a list of white men and two white women—but these are my choices and I stand by them. You will also notice that the photographers are working straight—as in, no digital trickery or composites. That is my other bias; I like to see photographers actually working out in the world and shaping smart and compelling photographs in the camera. I chose these books because I have owned them for a while and all continue to inform me in one way or another in terms of my pursuit of photography and, in some cases, in terms of book craft. In short, they do not get very dusty from neglect. Many are not the best books of these particular artists, the main criteria of this list being availability, yet I would add that they all are finely crafted books.
So, I will take it for granted that Robert Frank’s The Americans and the Diane Arbus Aperture monograph are already on your shelf and they are in need of new company (because that Jim Nachtwey book is so depressing for them to be left alone with). If Arbus and Frank aren’t on your shelf, yet you own Vice magazine's The Vice Photo Book, then my list probably isn’t for you. I can say for sure that within the more than 1700 photos in the books listed below you will not find one picture of a dick in a hotdog bun. Cheers. I listed them in order of weight, not preference.
August Sander: People of the 20th Century (7 volume set) (Abrams)
Henri Cartier-Bresson, Scrapbook (Thames and Hudson)
William Eggleston, Los Alamos (SCALO)
David Goldblatt Photographs (Contrasto)
Taryn Simon, An Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar (Steidl)
Stephen Shore, American Surfaces (Phaidon)
Jacob Holdt, United States 1970–1975 (Steidl & Folkwang Museum)
Klaus Staeck, Pornografie (Steidl)
Tim Davis, My Life in Politics (Aperture)
Michael Schmidt, U-NI-TY (SCALO)*
Robert Adams, The New West (Aperture)
Larry Clark, Tulsa (Grove)
Nan Goldin, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency (Aperture)
Jeff Ladd is the proprietor of the website 5B4, certainly the best independent photography book review site on the web at this time. Well worth bookmarking. And though not all his 5B4 readers seem to know it, Jeff is also a gifted photographer himself. My thanks to him for adding his voice to our lists.
*These two, although recently available, are not actually still available new. —Ed.
Previous postings in our book series
Most recent at the top:
Great Photo Books You Can Buy New—Part III: New Books
We All Love Photography Now, It's Official! by Martin Parr (Great Photo Books You Can Buy New, Part II)
Mike's Great Empirical Milwaukee Bookstore Walkabout
Great Photo Books You Can Buy New—Part I: Reissues
The 10 to 25 Books