Themed Book Lists

15 Books on Photography

From Steichen to Sontag

May 7, 2014

Photographers have long influenced the work and thinking of designers. This selection of 15 books have been chosen or written by our contributing designers and design writers, including Seymour Chwast, Jasper Morrison, Maira Kalman, and Rudy VanderLans. See all 65 photography books chosen by contributors as well as all photography books written by contributors. Also see these recently published and backlist photography books.

Annie Leibovitz: Photographs 1970–1990 Annie Leibovitz

Two decades of photographs by Annie Leibovitz, primarily portraits of celebrities and newsmakers, many shot for Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair, and including buzzworthy and sometimes iconic portraits of everybody cool from Liberace to Bruce Springsteen, Ron Kovic to Donald Trump, Dan Rather to Hunter Thompson, the Champ to Greg Louganis, Andy Warhol to Mark Morris, Clint Eastwood to Christopher Walken and many more. The cover features Leibovit’s famous portrait of John and Yoko in which Yoko wears the pants while John goes fetal.


Avedon: Photographs, 1947–1977 Richard Avedon

Avedon’s Harper’s Bazaar photographs of couture worn by the likes of Brigitte Bardot and Audrey Hepburn. The book (now out of print) was produced for a 1978 Avedon exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and contains an essay by novelist Harold Brodkey.

The Decisive Moment Henri Cartier-Bresson

Published in French as Images à la sauvette, the book includes a portfolio of 126 photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908–2004)—widely considered the father of modern photojournalism—and a cover drawn by Henri Matisse. The term "the decisive moment," used in Cartier-Bresson's preface, is now synonymous with the photographer: “There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment.“ (1952 edition out of print; reprinted by Steidl, 2015.)

The Dutch Photobook Frits Gierstberg Editor
Rik Suermondt Editor
Book design by Joost Grootens

From the Publisher. The Dutch photobook is internationally recognized for its innovative and collaborative approach between photographers, printers, and designers. Dutch graphic designers have long worked at the forefront of their discipline, often crossing existing boundaries and exploring new territories—qualities that have become an integral part of contemporary Dutch photobook culture.

The current photobook publishing boom in The Netherlands springs from a long-standing tradition of excellence. This tradition precedes World War II, but the aftermath of the war marked a period of particularly close collaboration between photographers and designers. Their contributions led to such unique photography books as Ed van der Elsken’s Love on the Left Bank (1956) and Chili September by Koen Wessing (1973). Innovations such as the photo novel and the company photobook bloomed in the 1950s and 60s. Later, other genres emerged as part of the publishing landscape, including conceptual and documentary works.

The Dutch Photobook features selections from approximately 100 historic, contemporary, and self-published photobook projects, including landmarks such as Hollandse taferelen by Hans Aarsman (1989), The Table of Power by Jacqueline Hassink (1996), Why Mister Why by Geert van Kesteren (2006), and Empty Bottles by Wassink Lundgren (2007).

Dutch photo historians Frits Gierstberg and Rik Suermondt contribute several texts on the history of the genre, the collaborative efforts between photographers and designers, and their inspiration and influences, to complement the special, high quality reproductions of photobooks. Award-winning designer Joost Grootens contributes unique charts and diagrams that bring all of these elements together, forming a visually unique map of the Dutch photobook.

Also see The Latin American Photobook (2011).

The Family of Man Edward Steichen Creator

A photographic exhibition of 503 pictures from 68 countries created for the Museum of Modern Art by Edward Steichen.

Girls Standing on Lawns Illustrations by Maira Kalman
Text by Daniel Handler

From the Publisher. Girls Standing on Lawns is a unique collaboration between renowned artist and bestselling children’s book author Maira Kalman and New York Times best-selling writer Daniel Handler, better known as Lemony Snicket. This clever book contains 40 vintage photographs from the collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, more than a dozen original paintings by Kalman inspired by the photographs, and brief, lyrical texts by Handler. Poetic and thought-provoking, Girls Standing on Lawns is a meditation on memories, childhood, nostalgia, home, family, and the act of seeing. The gorgeous visual material sets the stage for what Handler succinctly describes as “a photograph, a painting, a sentence, a pose.” Girls, women, families, and even pets from days gone by grace the pages, looking out at us, enticing readers to imagine these people, their lives—and where they have gone.

Industrial Landscapes Bernd Becher
Hilla Becher

From the Publisher. Bernd and Hilla Becher have profoundly influenced the international photography world over the past several decades. Their unique genre, which falls somewhere between topological documentation and conceptual art, is in line with the aesthetics of such early-20th-century masters of German photography as Karl Blossfeldt, Germaine Krull, Albert Renger-Patzsch, and August Sander.

Industrial Landscapes introduces a new aspect to the Bechers' photography, one that will surprise connoisseurs of their work. Whereas their previously published works concentrated on isolated industrial objects, they now show huge industrial sites amid their natural surroundings. They move away from the objective, severe image to present slightly more narrative, interpretive images of the industrial environment as a whole. Although the photographs in Industrial Landscapes were taken over the past forty years, they are published here for the first time.

The industrial structures shown include a wide range of coal mines, iron ore mines, steel mills, power stations with cooling towers, lime kilns, grain elevators, and so on. They represent industrial regions in Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and the United States (Alabama, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania).


Instant: The Story of Polaroid Christopher Bonanos

From the Publisher. “Pictures in a minute!” In the 1950s, ’60s, and '70s, Polaroid was the hottest technology company on Earth. They were an innovation machine that cranked out one irresistible product after another. It was even the company after which Steve Jobs is said to have modeled Apple, and the comparison is true. Jobs’s hero, Edwin Land, Polaroid's visionary founder, turned his 1937 garage startup into a billion-dollar pop-culture phenomenon. Instant: The Story of Polaroid, a richly illustrated, behind-the-scenes look at the company, tells the tale of Land's extraordinary and beloved invention. From the introduction of Polaroid's first instant camera in 1948 to its meteoric rise and dramatic collapse into bankruptcy in the 2000s, Instant is both a cautionary tale about tech companies that lose their edge and a remarkable story of American ingenuity. Written in a breezy, accessible tone by New York magazine senior editor Chris Bonanos, this first book-length history of Polaroid also features colorful illustrations from Polaroid's history, including the company's iconic branding and marketing efforts.

Light & Shadow Daido Moriyama

Work of the Japanese master of photography Daido Moriyama (b. 1938).

On Photography Susan Sontag

From the Publisher (Penguin reprint, 2008). Susan Sontag’s groundbreaking critique of photography asks forceful questions about the moral and aesthetic issues surrounding this art form. Photographs are everywhere. They have the power to shock, idealize or seduce, they create a sense of nostalgia and act as a memorial, and they can be used as evidence against us or to identify us. In six incisive essays, Sontag examines the ways in which we use these omnipresent images to manufacture a sense of reality and authority in our lives.


Passage Irving Penn

 A collection of Penn's memorable images, including his photo-portraits (of celebrities and ordinary people), still life, and fashion photography, along with his own commentary. This book highlights Penn's imagination, grace, perception, and his ability to erase the line between fashion and art photography. 

Tao of Photography Philippe Gross
S. I. Shapiro

Draws upon Taoist wisdom and photographic artistry to provide insight into creativity, spirituality, and awareness training, with black-and-white photographs, passages from ancient Taoist writings, and practical exercises to explain the fundamentals of Taoist photography.

Why People Photograph Robert Adams

This critically acclaimed work brings a selection of poignant essays by master photographer Robert Adams. In this volume, Adams evinces his firm belief in the importance of art. Photographers “may or may not make a living by photography,” he writes, “but they are alive by it.”

Also see Understanding a Photograph by John Berger (Aperture, 2013).

A World Without Words Jasper Morrison

From the Publisher. What feeds the inspiration of the designer? Observation. In Jasper Morrison’s collection of photographs found in his own collection of books, icons of design history meet up with the unassuming objects of everyday life, and curious findings with the archetypes of modernism. Every picture tells a story and in juxtaposition with its neighbor a new one is also created—without words, in the language of form. Morrison responds to the arbitrariness of form with simplicity and complexity, poetry and humor in a repertoire of compelling designs. A World Without Words is a school of seeing that addresses both designers and consumers who wish to explore the universe of goods.

The book is based on a slide show Morrison assembled in lieu of a lecture he was asked to give in 1988 at the Instituto Europeo in Milan.

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