Amy Davies looks at the best photography books as featured in Amateur Photographer.
Every year there are amazing books published, but here we highlight the best photography publications, with dozens of fantastic tomes to add to your shelf – or your wish list.
It’s a joyful – if tricky – task to go through all of the books featured in the magazine in the past to pick out a set of highlights, but the simple fact that they’ve been in the magazine means we think they’re worth your attention.
We’ve got a wide selection of genres, photographers and styles here, so there should be something to suit every need – and hopefully every budget in these scant times.
Documentary photography, particularly historical and archive photography, has been particularly strong, with a keen sense of nostalgia seeming to do well with book publishers.
There’s also great showings from contemporary artists too, showing that there’s no sign of the medium becoming less favoured even in a primarily digital age.
There’s still something special about having something physical to hold in your hands, the smell of the paper and the weight of a solid book. Even if we do perhaps need reinforced shelving to hold some of our favourites.
The books on the following pages are presented in no particular order. Narrowing it down the selected few was difficult enough, let alone ordering them. Of course, every person’s taste is different so what might appeal to me might not appeal to you. Hopefully, there’s at least a couple here that will tickle your fancy.
This book represents the definitive, full-career retrospective of the life and work of Chris, one of the UK’s most important and influential post-war documentary photographers.
He is best known for his empathetic work photographing working class communities in north-east England aduring the 1970s and 1980s, against a background of shipbuilding and coal mining and the deindustrialisation of those industries. His sustained immersion into the communities he photographed remains without parallel.
Curated by long-time friends Ken Grant and Tracey Marshall-Grant and published to coincide with the first full retrospective of Killip’s life and work at the Photographers’ Gallery, London (on till 19th February) this definitive collection presents images from each of his major series alongside lesser-known works. It includes a foreword by Brett Rogers, in-depth essays by Ken Grant tracing Killip’s life and career, and texts by Gregory Halpern, Amanda Maddox and Lynsey Hanley.
If you have an interest in British documentary photography Chris Killip should be considered an essential addition to your bookshelves.
Although we have probably just about had enough of looking at Covid-inspired pictures, these ones are so masterfully done that we can forgive it.
Many of us carried out lockdown projects, and for professional photographers, trapped inside or close to home with little to occupy themselves, we saw them turn their lenses to the subject surrounding the world.
For Looking Out From Within, the photographer Julia Fullerton-Batten reached out to her neighbours for a set of portraits with a twist. At first glance they might seem like candid captures, they are anything but. Each is a result of a collaboration with the sitter, with home Julia would discuss costumes, props, and poses. The only difference between these and a normal portrait is that the sitters are trapped within their own homes.
Always photographed at twilight, each picture has a slightly surreal effect. It is a good reflection of how we all felt at the time no doubt.
There’s been a lot of interest in Vivian Maier. In the first half of the 2022, we saw a comprehensive new biography of the elusive ‘photographer nanny’, meticulously researched by Ann Marks. Later in 2022, there was also a major retrospective at the MK Gallery in Milton Keynes, accompanied by a book published by Thames & Hudson.
It’s worth picking up both books if you want a detailed look at this street photography master. However, the first gives you more detail about what Vivian was like as a person – or as best can be pieced together from those who knew her and historical records.
The story of this photographer, whose work was discovered and widely shared only after she had died, has held enduring appeal since first coming to public attention in 2009. The pages of both of these books make it easy to see why.
Despite never gaining recognition during her lifetime, Maier was both extremely prolific and razor-like in her abilities to capture a moment before moving on to the next. Her archive is said to include 140,000 images, with many thousands more which were never developed. Estimates suggest only 5% of her captures were processed during her own lifetime.
If you’re a lover of documentary photography, Another Country is an absolute must-buy. It spans the British output to the genre since 1945, and as such includes some of the finest talents to call these shores home.
Indeed, more than 165 photographers are found inside this weighty tome’s pages. This includes Don McCullin, Bill Brandt, Bert Hardy, Nadav Kander, Cold War Steve, Chloe Dewe Matthews, Jane Bown and more.
British photography, or rather, photographers, have come to be respected as some of the finest in the world for documentary photography. The examination of British life and its society is an ongoing and vital project for its artists and photography.
This book, as well as presenting a superb array of photography, also examines themes and observations about the genre as a whole to give us a rich understanding of how it all fits together. You’ll also likely find some hidden masterpieces too that you’ve never come across before.
I said in my introduction that I wouldn’t be able to choose a single book as a winner for Book of 2022. However, for me, as a documentary and archival fan, if pushed, Another Country is exceptional and hard to beat.
Check out Gerry Bradger’s feature delving into how his book explores how photography has shaped British identity.
Released some 30 years after William A Ewing’s original volume, Flora Photographica is a surprising book in many respects.
As you’d expect, yes, it’s about floral photography. What you might not realise it’s just how broadly this subject spans a number of different photographic genres. You’ll find them in landscapes, portraits, documentary, fine art and of course still life photography.
A beautifully put together book, it brings together some of the best contemporary photography from some of the world’s leading practitioners – each tied by a common theme.
Again, this is a book for those who want to delve a little deeper than just looking at nice pictures (not that that is ever a bad thing). You’ll also be treated to essays exploring the meaning behind the photography, as well as essentially a history of the medium itself.
If you’re after something a little bit different, and aren’t quite sure where to start, this book marks an excellent way into exploring the contemporary.
If you’re interested in portrait photography, this is a fascinating book that explores the genre from a range of different viewpoints.
The author, Philip Prodger, is currently a Senior Research Scholar at the Yale Center for British Art and has previously held positions including Head of Photographs at the National Portrait Gallery. In short, this is a chap who really knows his stuff.
He describes portraits as “one of the most difficult undertakings in art”. When I interviewed him earlier this year, he was kind enough to tell me all about why that’s the case – although of course the book goes into far more detail than we could have hoped to reproduce on our pages.
If you’re looking for a book which spans the history of photography this is an excellent example. I’m confident that anybody who reads it will come away learning something new about this appealing yet tricky to master genre.
Bird (New photography of the) by Gemma Padley
Written by former AP Features Editor Gemma Padley, this beautiful little book from the ever-impressive Hoxton Mini Press brings together a fantastic collection of contemporary bird photography.
We’ve got exciting practitioners here including Tim Flach, Neeta Madahar, Joel Sartore, Luke Stephenson and Julia Tatarchenko. But these are not your bog-standard birds in the garden shots. Each one brings something unusual or possibly even unique to the genre and each page is a delight to look at.
If you’re considering a more artistic approach to this common subject, this book is riddled with inspiration and beauty and – as usual with HMP – is extremely affordable.
Surely winning the prize for heaviest book of the year is this fantastic volume celebrating the many female practitioners, some well-known, some less-so, to have contributed to the medium since its invention.
It will come as no surprise to most that many excellent female photographers over the years either been ignored entirely, or possibly might have been ‘lucky’ enough to be reduced to supporting acts for their better-known spouses.
This book aims to put that right, shining a light on an array of brilliant yet perhaps unforgotten, or overlooked, work. Of course, there’s also a good selection of female trailblazers, innovators, entrepreneurs and rule breakers on these pages too.
As Tracy Calder wrote in her piece about the book for AP, ‘the overriding message of the book seems to be that women were here all along, inventing, experimenting, innovating and actively participating in the development of the medium.’ An excellent book for anyone – of any gender – to pick up and educate themselves about what they might have been missing out on.
For half a century, almost every publicly available image of the moon landings was produced from lower-quality copies of the originals stored in a frozen NASA vault in Houston.
Now however, expert image restorer Andy Saunders has worked his way through 35,000 images in a painstaking fashion to bring to these images to life like never before.
You’ll see detailed shots of Buzz Aldrin and Neil Amstrong from the first moon landing (Apollo 11) as well as the the Apollo 13 crew struggling to get their stricken transit back in one piece.
There’s much more than that besides, with images also from missions pre-dating Apollo also featured. Amazingly, this is not a book which has been driven or funded by NASA itself. The agency has an open-source policy, so anyone can access the image scans – but nobody had done so before.
If you’re a space fanatic this is a book which will be manna to you, but even if you’re not, the photography work is simply sublime.
An intriguing exploration of a town in the epicentre for fake news production. Or is it? A project which fooled the photography community and is perhaps a sign of things to come.
Stunning and vibrant, the studio portrait photography of Omar Victor Diop is breathtakingly brilliant. Primarily using himself as a model, this book weaves together the past and present of Black African history.
Curated by AP regular Zelda Cheatle, more than 50 acclaimed photographers, musicians, filmmakers, and collectors describe their life-changing encounters with a single photograph.
An extensive and beautiful collection of urban foxes by night, including photos of them hunting rats, standing on garden walls, sleeping on grassy verges, or sitting at ease while London’s traffic roars by.
This celebrated tour of modernist architecture has been expanded to include the whole globe. A must-see for architectural photography fans.
A new edition of Towell’s masterful documentation of the Mennonite community near his home in Ontario, Canada. A powerful and poignant black and white project that oozes class.
Offered as an antidote to the millions of images created to document every single second of every single day. Encouraging everyone to slow down and experience photography in a different way, this is a lovely book for those looking for a new approach.
Far from a simple travel edition, this book brings together photography from some of the biggest names in photographic history, all drawn to the beauty of the region for different reasons.
Naturally, although we do our best to cover every photography book published, we can’t possibly hope to spot – or indeed – cover everything. So, if there’s something that you feel we’ve missed and you’d like to recommend it to other readers, feel free to let us know via the usual communication methods and we might be able to share further recommendation.