Jan 152015
 

The Photographer’s Library

The Photo Book

PHAIDON PRESS

 

The Photography Book by Phaidon Press © Phaidon Press

The Photography Book by Phaidon Press © Phaidon Press

Starting a Photography Library

One of the many joys of being at home in New York City is not photography, but reading.  Inspiration comes from many places, but books have been more influential than any other medium.  I have been collecting art and photography books since childhood.  Every photographer, whether novice or master, should cultivate their own library of books.  Part inspiration and part reference, books have a lasting impact that smart photographers never underestimate.

William Klein and Nick Knight, photojournalism and fashion side by side. © Phaidon Press

William Klein and Nick Knight, photojournalism and fashion side by side. © Phaidon Press

The Internet created the illusion that everything is available online.  This is a far cry from the truth.  Archivists are consistently unearthing images that have not seen the light of day for decades.  While there are billions of images online, the number of quality pictures remains very small.  And almost any picture that shows up in a “Newest Camera Review” would be better used as a piece of toilet paper, if we could only figure out how to export the image to its native format, junk.

Part the reason for this is that the Internet promotes single, sensational images.  But many of the great photographs of the last century do not fit that mold.  They are quiet, underrated pictures just waiting to inspire you, if they only knew how to get in front of your eyes.  There are images you want to see, but are not sure how to search for them.

Cristina De Middel in "The Photobook." © Phaidon Press

Cristina De Middel in “The Photobook.” © Phaidon Press

A few years ago I started taking an informal survey with anyone I met.  The question was: “Where do you look at images on a regular basis?”

The answers varied from websites and forums to media outlets and image posting sites, but one answer I rarely got was: “I look at books.”

The book contains a range of aesthetics.  Stephen Shore might not be for everyone, but it is worth knowing as a touchstone for early color art photography.  © Phaidon Press

The book contains a range of aesthetics. Stephen Shore might not be for everyone, but it is worth knowing as a touchstone for early color art photography. © Phaidon Press

When I return from a season of travel, my eyes need a break.  They need a rest from the viewfinder.  One of the things I look forward to is sitting on the sofa with my hardcover books, slowly flipping pages with some music in the background (and coffee, tea, a glass of wine or scotch.)

Vivien Maier became an instant cult classic.  It will be curious to see if her work still holds interest in a decade.  © Phaidon Press

Vivien Maier became an instant cult classic. It will be curious to see if her work still holds interest in a decade. © Phaidon Press

Novels and newspapers might be in danger of extinction, but good quality photography books will always have an audience.  Where do you start?

A great approach to building a library is to find a book that contains a compilation of images spanning the last century which covers multiple styles and genres.  This way it becomes easier to understand how the medium evolved over time and how different people have pushed the boundaries along the way.

Photographer and film maker Alex Prager shows us that we don't all need a single job title.  © Phaidon Press

Photographer and film maker Alex Prager shows us that we don’t all need a single job title. © Phaidon Press

Phaidon Press created “The Photo Book” as a publication that has no end.  Every few years, it is updated, revised, and tailored once again to include a few new faces and make the entire history of photography digestible in a book that comfortably fits on your lap.  Their aim is not to create a Bible in any way, rather it is more like an ever evolving strand of DNA, that unravels only to create deeper interest.

The book is laid out alphabetically which creates some interesting pairings.  Certainly work you would be unlikely see next to each other.  © Phaidon Press

The book is laid out alphabetically which creates some interesting pairings. Certainly work you would be unlikely see next to each other. © Phaidon Press

The photographers inside of the book come from all aspects of the photojournalism, art, fashion, and exploration worlds.  There is bound to be at least fifty photographers you absolutely love, but had never heard of before.

The Photography Book, 2nd Edition.  © Phaidon Press

The Photography Book, 2nd Edition. © Phaidon Press

With these new names you can head back to the Internet, Amazon, or better yet your favorite book store for a copy of their books.  This is the beauty of books…the discovery.  Locked between those two covers exists a multitude of worlds that will stay with you for a lifetime.  And whether you are looking for a break from the glowing screen or want a little something to do with that new bottle of Sagratino, a well made photo book will give you hours of pleasure and never needs charging.

Discover “The Photo Book” by Phaidon Press for yourself.

Enjoy-Adam Marelli 

 

  10 Responses to “The Photographer’s Library: How to start your own”

  1. I love this post, Adam. I’ve been cultivating a photo book library myself, mostly over the last 3 years, but I’m proud to say a few of them go back about a decade or so. However, I don’t think I look at them often enough because I forget they’re there, just a few feet away on the bookshelf. It’s good to see posts like this, 1) as a reminder to look at my photo books more often, and 2) to encourage and enlighten others to the existence of these books. They really are a treasure. I can get any novel as an e-book and read it on my Kindle, but having a physical, printed book on your lap is an entirely different experience.

    • Hi Joey,

      Glad to hear your collection is well underway. Im really surprised at how many photographers do not collect books or prints…but we will deal with prints in another article.

      I find that Saturday mornings are a great time to look at books. Could be residual tendencies of reading newspaper comics as a kid, but I love how it starts a weekend.

      Enjoy this one…

      Best-Adam

  2. Adam, I love this post!! I have been collecting art and photography books for 35 years. I revisit them periodically. What amazes me is the changed opinion I have for some and not for others. HCB, Minor White, Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham (if for no other reason than longevity), Saul Leiter and Chuck Close remain favorites. There is no substitute for a book and it’s images, as well as the text it contains, to inspire. Sometimes it is just a piece of an image and sometimes just the light itself……nevermind Rembrandt, Caravaggio, and so on. pb

    • Hi Penny,

      Its amazing to discover which ones have “lasting power” and which ones just fade into the background.

      The ones you named would make a solid collection. Nice to see a painter on the list too.

      Best-Adam

  3. Dear Adam,

    many thanks for the note, I bought this book.
    Very nice overview and many beautiful pictures.
    Great inspiration!
    Even my library about photography is growing.

    Many greetings
    Georgie

    • Dear Georgie,

      Hopefully the book is keeping you good company and you are nursing that injury back to health. : ) Hope you are doing better and glad that the library is growing.

      See you in Matera.

      best-Adam

  4. Hi Adam,

    yes this book is very good company and now a have plenty of time to read and get inspired.
    My favourite is Harry Gruyaert, great work.
    I look forward to Matera :-)

    Many Greetings
    Georgie

    • Hi Georgie,

      Harry has some great work, very under rated. Glad you are studying his images.

      Matera will be just around the corner. I just spoke with the city last week and they are
      looking forward to our arrival.

      Best-AM

  5. I completely agree with your post Adam. I only got my first photography books a couple of months ago, but I can attest that it is totally different from looking at a screen. From the smell of the ink on paper, to the type of printing actually used, to the actual weight of the book when holding it, the experience is worlds apart. On top of that, the fact that a book exists, implicitly requires that either the author of the photographs or another person, well versed on the work of the author(s), have done valuable work of organizing the photos and presenting them in a systemmatic, undestandable manner. That, along with the actual text that photo books usually have enables a much more profound understanding of the photographers work and background.

    I might start trying the glass of wine, for the full experience

    • Hi Manuel,

      Very happy to hear you are diving into the world of photography books. Creating your own library has been a rite of passage for many great thinkers and artists since they started making books. It can be incredibly transformative and useful to have the books at hand.

      Digital photography has seemed to make many people content with a picture on a back lit screen, but owning prints and books is much more fulfilling. Im amazed at how the digital version of things has been seen as a replacement. Good luck drinking digital wine is what I would say.

      Enjoy your real bottles and real books. Let me know when you move into the world of prints. It just gets more interesting the deeper you get.

      Best-AM

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