Top 10 Most Important, But Still Affordable, Photography Books of All Time

I put quite a bit of thought into this list when someone on a photography forum I frequent posed the question, "what photography books would you recommend either inspirational or technical?"  Long ago I resigned myself to the fact that I am something of a thread killer and so, when I posted the following list to be ignored by my fellow posters who were recommending books on LAB Color and RAW processing, it was not a new experience but I didn't want my list to fall completely off the map.  That's why I've saved the list to my photoblog. I'd love to know which books you would include in your own similar list and, if you strongly agree or disagree with any of my choices.

Why the 'affordable' moniker? Because books like HCB's "The Decisive Moment" should obviously be included, but getting a copy for less than $2000 is difficult.  The following is my own personal list created today - tomorrow it might be completely different.  I've a nagging feeling I've missed someone more deserving; if you have an opinion who, please leave a comment.  In no order of importance they are:

  1. William Eggelston's Guide by William Eggleston - Why? Because it was the catalog for the first ever color photography exhibit at MoMA. It's hard to appreciate the controversy it created in it's day (Ansel Adams hated it so much he wrote to the museum's board) but this work not only legitimized color work but it heralded a new snapshot aesthetic that is still hugely influential today.  

  2. Robert Frank: The Americans by Robert Frank - If Jack Kerouac writes the forward you know this is something special.  Frank was as much an influential part of the beat generation as Kerouac.

  3. The Ballad of Sexual Dependency by Nan Goldin - The book that established the visual journal form.

  4. Immediate Family by Sally Mann - I had a hard time deciding between this book and "At Twelve" but this one had a bigger effect on photographic culture I think. Started a huge discussion about photography ethics.

  5. Alfred Stieglitz: Photographs and Writings (Alfred Stieglitz)  by Alfred Stieglitz - As the father of modern photography Stieglitz has to be represented  even though the definitive Stieglitz book has yet to be produced.

  6. Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph  by Diane Arbus - Although the book that accompanied the Revelations exhibit a couple of years ago is probably a better book this is the book that was released immediately after her death catapulting Arbus to Edith Piaf comparisons and stardom.  Her portrait style is still very influential today.

  7. Crosstown  by Helen Levitt - The most perfect photography monograph I've come across.  Great work from a great, under-appreciated, street photographer.

  8. Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs by Ansel Adams - trying not to let my own prejudice influence this list I guess I have to give Ansel Adams a slot. I like this book more for the writings and explanation than for the photographs.

  9. On Photography by Susan Sontag - not a book of photographs but a book of 6 essays.  If you think about photography and the act and responsibility of taking pictures this is a must read.

  10. Martin Parr by Val Williams and Martin Parr - I don't think Parr's influence on modern art photography can be overstated - this retrospective really shows his scope and range.

Posted on Thursday, 31 August 2006 | Editorial