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My Ten Favourite Photo Books

Photo Credit: Ernst Haas

I get huge amounts of inspiration from looking at other photographers work, particularly the old masters. I think a lot of the power of the work of the older photographers is how their work still looks and feels original. That’s no mean feat in this day and age where styles and projects are emulated almost as soon as they are developed. No creative medium has gone through such rapid change, going from a time 50 years ago when very few people owned cameras, to now when probably everyone owns at least one camera (their phone plus…).

And one reason that I like to look at these photographers is to remind me that what they have done is expressed a vision that is completely unique to them. It’s nothing you or I would have done in that time, at that place. Their style is an expression of who they are – just as your style is an expression of who you are. Creativity is not a competition, nor something you emulate. If you want to create something new then you have to focus on being yourself – it’s that thought that I find so intensely liberating and it makes me want to go out and take photos….

My advice then is – don’t think about how far there is to go to creating something unique, work instead on removing your preconceptions of what your photography should be. Focus your attention (and your camera) on what is exciting and interesting to you. It is only then that you will have the chance to create a distinctive style and photos that people have never seen before.

Here is my (ever changing) list of old and new photo books that have made an impact on my life, and help remind me of the beauty of the photographic life.

10. Magnum – Contact Sheets

A very brave and impressive collection by the world’s elite photojournalists.  Brave because it shows all the images the photographer took, without an edit (though the book is curated).  A wonderful look at the work of some of photography’s greatest talents.

9.   Robert Frank – The Americans

A seminal book. This body of work exposed many aspects of life in America that were at the time unseen in the contemporary journalism of the time.

8.   Bill Brandt – Nudes

Every time I open Nudes I think what a master Brandt was at capturing the human form. He removes the context of the body in many of his photos, and uses the form as another interesting object, with interesting lines, shapes and textures. Light is also a subject of equal importance in his photos and he is a master at combining light and subject.  If you have ever tried shooting nudes you will know it’s not easy – creating an interesting photo that doesn’t resemble a sleazy snapshot is tough, let alone a beautiful one like Brandt. This master makes it look effortless.

7.   Ansel Adams – The Print

This is the book that started it all for me (technically speaking.) Along with his other books The Negative and The Camera.  I must have read them all dozens and dozens of times.  Nerd-out and get the set – it looks great on a bookshelf!

6.   Diane Arbus – Monograph

Regardless of how you feel about the elusive and ‘freakish’ subjects she sought out – Arbus made me realize that portraits can be so much more than what they taught in school.  Her fearlessness and compassion for her subjects moved me greatly- and taught me that the connection between a photographer and their subject is as, or perhaps even more, importance than the background or pose.  It’s how she got such great emotions and honesty to show through in her subjects – because they connected with her and they trusted her.

Her portraits were very much on my mind when I was coming up with a concept on how to shoot my Homeless World Cup project. My aim in that project was to reveal some of the emotions and journey that the players had gone through in my portraits.

There is a wonderful film about Diane Arbus made by her daughter on our Interviews with Photographers page, which shows more of her approach.

5. William Eggleston’s Guide

Some photographers can’t stand Egglestone, which I can understand but I love a lot of his work. He was one of the photographers who started the ‘beauty-in-the-mundane’ theme, of which we sometimes now have a bit too much. He also elevated the opinion of colour photography, although it often still doesn’t come close in some people’s eyes to the prestige of black and white photography.

The subjective mundaness of this book I instantly appreciated.  It opened my eyes and suddenly I was seeing Eggleston everywhere I looked (I was 16 a the time).  Personally expansive to my vision of the world.

4. Alex Webb – Istanbul

A recent favourite. This book is the definition of a photo project of perfect execution.  His use of colour, his intelligence and his compassion for his subject are the best. Period.

3.   Elliot Erwitt – Personal Exposures

I love Erwitt.  Once in a while he becomes my absolute favourite photographer.  This is a great book (although my copy was stolen years ago, must replace).  He has a very clear and refreshing vision of the world and is, I think, one of the greatest ‘see-ers’ of all time.

There is a funny interview with Erwitt on our Interviews with Photographers page.

2.    Ernst Haas – The Creation

Haas was the first photographers work that I sought out at a very young age.  I saw a photo of his in a newspaper and went to the library that day to find more images.  This was the only book of his in the library(small town USA) and it is still the biggest influence in my life.  He has a similar obsession with colour that I do, and one thing I particularly love is how you can feel the colour in his work. A difficult thing to do. Pure perfection to me.

1.     Jonas Bendikson – Satellites

My new favourite photography book.  Totally blew me away.  I thought I was really good with colour….wow.  There is always more to learn.  It also makes me realize the importance of constantly having a project to shoot and always pushing yourself to create something that new.