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The Photobook: A History v.1 and 2 by Martin Parr and Gerry Badger are both quite fascinating, and in-print.

Here's an interesting photo book desert island exercise: Without planning or rules, go to your bookshelves and spend under 10 minutes pulling out your 10 desert island books. No putting stuff back. Just a quick pull until you have 10.



Two most influented authors for me was two Chech photographers:
first Josef Sudek, second Jan Saudek. Probably because of they were available in Soviet times in my country (Estonia), but they are worth of looking at anyway. I cant find exact books online, for Sudek I found one, what is pretty steep in price, and thread in Leica forum, links posted below. For Saudek there is online gallery at least, but almost every book about their works are worth of every penny spent.


It has always seemed to me that the point of creating a list of the "best" or "most important" books/movies/albums/operas/etc. isn't really for the list to be RIGHT. Whether the list is right or not (in the absolute sense) is almost entirely beside the point, provided the list isn't so off-base that it isn't credible. Instead, the point is to (i) encourage discussion and debate among the intended audience as to whether the choices and rankings are right - thereby increasing interest in the subject matter, and (ii) give novices a place to get started.

By these criteria, it would be worthwhile to put up a list of books currently available new on Amazon and then sit back and let us all tell you why you're wrong!


I have the Sander 7 volumes (it's in another co,untry right now, but I don't remember that many separate volumes). I have no complaints about the reproduction quality. The set looks very much like the MIT Press editions of the Bechers' work ( of which I only have a few) and those are clean, well-presented and nice.

On the new "perfected" version of "The Americans," I'd really love to hear some comparison of this with the previous editions, as I am not sure how much of the hype about recropping, choosing new negatives, and the whole "Project Frank" will really make a difference to me. I have the 1970s Grossmann edition -- I like it, but is it considered a dog, one of the ones they didn't consult the author about...? Aahh, the demands of connoisseurship!



I hate to add to your toils; but the idea of an ongoing list of important books/reprints currently available and affordable would be a real asset that your readers could and would use. I cannot tell you how many books I have added to my collection since I started reading T.O.P. but I would put it north of 30. All have been and are enjoyed. I currently have The Americans and Helen Levitt's monograph on order through Amazon.

I love photo books and have collected them for 40 years. I have no idea of their worth in dollars but they are priceless for me in two ways, as collections of photos and as inspiration. I recently added Lee Friedlander's Sticks and Stones to my sagging Friedlander shelf and have been energized once again to photograph in black and white.

Consider an ongoing list of your current favorites with additions by readers and contributors. I believe that Geoff Wittig recommended the Helen Levitt.

Jim Weekes

The early editions of Aperture are a great resource IMHO as well as the books you list above. The reproduction quality was very good indeed.

"If I can get around to it, I'll try to put together a short list of obvious buys that are readily available right now."

Dear Michael,
I sincerely hope that you'll find time to compile such a list.

Thank you.

Larry Burrows
Werner Bischof

my personal favorite is Minor White's "Mirrors Messages Manifestations"

This is the first book of photographic book that is a work of art in and of itself - in my opinion.

I think the world of photographic publishing is so immense that there is no possibility of covering it comprehensively with a personal collection unless you are wealthy and are willing to house a library sized collection.

Consider, for example, what we know of international photography. I have one book by an Italian photograper (the great Giacomelli). I have one book by an African photographer - that's a whole continent with one representative. I have books by only four Latin American photographers. And yet I've collected hundreds of monographs.

So I think there are a few keys to building a satisfying personal collection.

1. If you like it, buy it - it usually won't be available long, and you can always give up eating out a few times if you need to.

2. Don't insist on a photographer having a "body of work" in book form - as Mike said, someone like Robert Frank is well represented by one book. I have dozens of books by photographers who seem to have produced one excellent book, but who don't have an extended body of work publically available.

3. Don't insist on the photogher having fame - or even on their being modestly well known. For many of the "one book" photographers I love, I've never heard of them except for their one book. Even inside the photography community there are probably less than 200 photographers who would be considered famous. I think the American classical photography canon (Weston, Adams, Steiglitz, Evens, etc.) is closer to 20 than 200.

4. Buy outside your comfort zone from time to time. In many cases you have to live for awhile with work that's outside your comfort zone before it speaks to you. And if you finally decide that it was outside your comfort zone because it's crap - then it was just a book. I've bought a number of books that I finally decided were clinkers - so I just discarded them. There is another whole essay on how to intelligently buy outside your comfort zone.

5. Photography is happening now - don't believe that you have to collect monographs on the historical canon before you start collecting current work. The unobtainable classics of 2060 may be available right now.

6. America is not the universe - you can find great delights in photographers from other cultures.

Excellent advice all around. It just makes sense to build a book collection based on what resonates with you personally, even if you're aiming to cover all the bases. For instance, I was vaguely aware of Emmet Gowin's highly regarded photographs of friends and family. But my tastes run more to landscapes, and I find his "Changing the Earth" a beautifully printed, solemn take on the post-human landscape, sort of like Robert Adams with implied sarcasm. It just fits my library better than his more typical work.

Edward S. Curtis's iconic Native American images warrant a spot in most libraries, at least those of American photography. A more recent volume with text by Chris Cardoza is "Sacred Legacy" (Simon & Schuster, 2000), still widely available. But Curtis's photographs were printed as photogravures in his landmark 1907 - 1930 multi-volume work, and as platinum prints for exhibition. Both those print forms are characterized by a long, delicate tonal scale rather than sparkling contrast. Most reproductions are overly dramatic. The best fidelity to Curtis's original version can be found in "Edward Curtis: The Master Prints" (Arena Editions, 2001). This was the catalog to an exhibition of platinum prints originally mounted in 1906 by Curtis himself, purchased as a set by an admirer, then forgotten in storage at the Peabody Museum in Salem, MA for 70 years. I've seen the original prints, and this book faithfully reproduces them. The thoughtful accompanying text locates Curtis firmly in the mainstream of pictorialism for his romanticized images of the Native Americans.

Somewhere up near the top of the list has to be any (all) of the Biil Brandt books. The English at Home. A Night in London. Camera in London. Literary London. Perspective of Nudes.
Or the Collection : Shadow of Light.
In a completely different photographic genre, Sam Haskins "Cowboy Kate" should get a mention somewhere on the list.

I think it would be good if there was a monthly post or so highlighting a half-dozen or so photobooks that are coming out that month plus a list of release dates for the future.

It would be nice to find information like that all in one place, and it would make it easier to discover books that a person might not notice otherwise. TOP already does a great job of highlighting books from time to time so it would be a logical next step.

Andres mentioned Josef Sudek above. There's an Aperture monograph that's currently available that is a pretty good overview of his life and work. I think he deserves a spot in any collection.


You have really done great work recently with your essays, thanks for chipping away at this impossible task... great food for thought. Thanks also to the commentators and their contributions, I plan to reference this post frequently.

Ohhh, a place of importance awarded in your post to the book i hold dearest to my heart, David Douglas Duncan's 'War Without Heroes'..i would like to share how i managed to own this extraordinary book. I happened to wander into a second-hand book store here in Costa Rica, owned by a real piece of crap Gringo (trust me). I browsed the shelves a bit and found this book. I had never heard of it or Duncan and, being very much a peace-nik i had no interest in war photography whatsoever. But as i turned the pages i became curiously very emotional and the Viet Nam war became as real and vivid as if i was standing in some rice paddy right alongside these marines. These could have been the guys i grew up with in NJ, the guys who got the low lottery numbers, the ones who couldn't beat the draft. My heart was pounding and tears were in my eyes as i asked the P.O.C. Gringo the price of the book. He told me some outrageous dollar amount and laughed at my dismay. He smugly informed me that the book was worth a lot of money on the internet and take it or leave it. I left it sadly behind.

A few months later i went back to visit "my marines"..i turned every single page, touching carefully the faces, the filthy hands, the artillery and once again asked the price and once again was informed that the asking price hadn't budged and wasn't about to. I argued, i implored, i reasoned, i did everything but stomp my feet and have a tantrum. The P.O.C. Gringo wouldn't budge. Again i left my book behind.

Fast forward about a year or so later and i was writing an e-mail to a friend who had been a Photojournalist in Viet Nam and suddenly in the middle of the e-mail i decided i could not live without this book. I never finished the e-mail, just drove as fast as i could to the book store. The book wasn't there. I searched. No 'War Without Heroes'. I asked for it and the P.O.C. Gringo pulled it out from under a counter, it's dust jacket showing a greater degree of wear then before but i didn't care. i got him down $25 and forked over the blood money. The book was mine, it was something like destiny. I felt like i had acquired a precious jewel and i revere the contents today as much as i did the first time i saw it. Good thing i acted when i did because a few weeks later the store was shuttered, the P.O.C. Gringo gone.

Another year or so later i happened to be in another book store owned by yet another Gringo but this time a good guy. I mentioned the P.O.C. guy and the good guy snarled and practically spit on the ground at the mention of the name. I told him the story of 'War Without Heroes' and he said "YOU'RE the one who bought that book?" That guy brags all over Costa Rica about how he took you for everything you were worth. I just laughed and shook my head..."No, I said, that book is priceless. It was Duncan's labor of love and respect for these soldiers and i consider it an honor to have liberated it from the wrong hands."

Thanks for the mention of this treasure and overall a fascinating read. I love photo books and really appreciate all the great reviews and recommendations in this blog.


An interesting post, as ever, but you seem to have veered off into concentrating on books on, about, or by individual photographers. Surely there are collections and conspectuses worth considering? For instance, I look through John Szarkowski's "The Photographer's Eye" every few months, just to refresh my mind and my eye.



I'm still on my journey to the East and not qualified to comment on the makings of a teaching or reference collection of photographic books.

Last weekend I picked up a copy of Portraits by Steve McCurry. I have never seen a body of color portraits with greater power and impact. I find myself looking the the images over and over. For some reason these images really speak to me.


I would like to add to your list: Any book by Wright Morris, an underappreciated photographer and writer.

You can also find concise recommendations in a 1992 essay on building a photography library called "Building a Library of Photographic Books" by none other than Mike Johnston, printed in "The Empirical Photographer". I imagine the availability of some of the recommendations may have changed :)

I've had good luck with a couple of Mike's recommendations to date, including "The Photographers Eye" and Plowden's "Vanishing Point".

Re: Emmet Gowin -- not to diminish the importance and goodness of the 1976 book, but the 1990 book that accompanied the Philadelphia Museum of Art exhibition (also simply called Photographs) is a treasure in my opinion. It's out of print but still can be found for reasonable prices in either soft or hard cover. Though it's a "greatest hits" type of book (spanning the time from Virginia through his more Sommer-esque stuff and Petra and Changing the Earth), it's exquisitely sequenced and the repro is beautiful. A real gem.

Does everyone here know about It is a blog dedicated exclusively to discussion of photobooks, run by the erudite Mr. Whiskets.



Hi Mike,

Thanks for the thoughtful and educational response. I had a query similar to Paul’s as well. You might be interested to note that a scanned version of Henri Cartier-Bresson's The Decisive Moment is available online at Not great, but at least you can look at it anytime you want for free. I, for one, would appreciate that “short list of obvious buys that are readily available right now”.


To Will Sadler's post -

Great link.

I followed the link to and then on to Mr Whiskets' book exchange and started running down the list of book titles and more and more it became clear that most had a haiku poetic obscure romantic evocative title, as though they had to or they just wouldn't cut it as a book of photographs.

Where did they pick up on the idea that this is the way to name a photograph book? Is it them, is it the publishers? Is it something they are lost in?

Because once I know that such and such a book is called "Lone Meadow Closing Far" or some such title, then I think - boy! is this person wrapped up in what they are doing and boy am I less than likely to want to step out on a gangplank with them into their personal vision.

It makes me think they all wanted to write stories or poems, but couldn't, so they wrote photographs.

Anyone feel likewise, or am I just in a grouchy mood?

I think a list of books that are readily available might be a better idea than 25 books that you probably can't find.

On my list would definitely be
Irving Penn-Platinum Prints
John Cohen-There Is No Eye
Danny Lyons-The Bike Riders
Richard Avedon-The American West

Two less well known and a bit harder to find:
Albert Watson-Maroc
Linda Butler-Yangtzee Remembered

I think lists like this are important because I've met a lot of photographers who don't have a basic idea who some major touchstones of photography are. That's fine, I suppose, but I think your basic photographic education should include knowing Irving Penn backwards and forwards, and quite a few others, just like you know f-stops and shutter speeds and photoshop.

Thank you so much for all the effort you have put into my request. This is the best online photography website without any utter doubt.Thanks to you Mike firstly with your monthly articles in BW photography, then your marvelous posts on the Sunday Photographer and finally your TOP blog I have managed through the years to get a pretty solid and educated knowledge on photography. Something which would have been virtually impossible where I currently live. Once again, cheers Mike

re Christopher Lane's post re The Decisive Moment on line:

Every time I revisit that site, I get a kick out of the fact that Mr. Cherpitel photographed the entire book, two pages at a time; and on good old Ilford FP4, no less.

Note: In Chris's link to the Cartier-Bresson book, above, the period has gotten trapped in the hyperlink, breaking it. Copy and paste, without the period, of course, and it works fine, Great discussion.


In a bizarre coincidence, the same day I read this post, I found a copy of David Douglas Duncan's War Without Heroes at a local used bookstore. I stop there fairly often, and I always watch for Duncan when I'm browsing the photo book section in any store, but this is the first time I've ever seen it anywhere.

I bought it, of course, and had a pleasant time last night browsing through it. Thanks for the article - it gave me some ideas for other photographers to watch out for.

If this topic generates another related one, I'd like to see the compiled list presented as a syllabus for a series of photography courses, actual or hypothetical.

I had an hour to kill yesterday between appointments. Dropped in to the local library and there it was - The Book of 101 Books. Checked that out, along with an HCB DVD.

Someone above mentioned Jan Saudek. I stopped in at the Saudek museum in Prague because I was familiar with the photograph of his that was used for the cover of Soul Asylum's album Grave Dancer's Union. There is a large retrospective book of his work that is fairly easy to find in the states. It's utterly gigantic, available at big chain bookstores, and can be obtained cheaply. Mine was about $30.

Just a few that have influenced me greatly:

1) Edward Weston's Daybooks
2) Mark Klett "Revealing Territories"
3) David Douglas Duncan's "Yankee Nomad" (the book that made me a photographer when I first saw it in 1967)
4)Mary Ellen Mark's compiled work

"These days, it's more important than ever to buy what you want when you can get it. Good luck finding the 50th Anniversary edition of American Photographs I just mentioned now—it's out of print and scarce."

Add here the "blog" effect. Just by having an influential blogger like you mentioning a title, it is almost guaranteed that it will go out-of stock in a matter of weeks, or even days.

A book that is well worth the time to study is Pictures on a Page: Photo-Journalism, Graphics and Picture Editing - Pictures on a Page by Harry Evans

One key difference is that this book is about how to use photographs, more than just creating them!

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