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 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. Despite the difficulties it presents in terms of narrowing down the huge selection, it’s always one of my favourite things to do – and a real joy to put together the finished list of recommendations.
I’ve tried to include a broad church of different volumes in my selection. There should be something to meet most budgets and interests. We’ve got a wide selection of genres, photographers and styles here, so there should be something to suit every need.
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 wildlife photographers, historical and archival work and 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 presented here are 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. Happy reading!
Magnum Magnum (2023 edition) Edited by Brigitte Lardinois, Foreword by Olivia Arthur
£125, Thames & Hudson, 728 pages, hardback, ISBN: 9780500545621
A couple of members of Magnum Photos are mentioned elsewhere in this round-up, but for the ultimate of the agency’s enormous and well-regarded collection, then Magnum Magnum is the one to get.
Yes, it’s priced at £125, which is by no means cheap, but at 728 pages and more than 500 pictures, it actually scores highly on the value for money scale (and you are likely to find it cheaper than the RRP anyway).
Magnum Magnum is an epic tome covering the span of the agency’s 75 years, with images being selected by other members, a reflection of the agency’s founding principle of collaboration. It was first published in 2007, and sold a staggering 200,000 copies. This new edition adds in 25 new photographers who have joined the agency in the past 15 years. If you want to learn what does well in both historical and contemporary documentary photography, this is possibly the only book you need this year.
Love Story: New Photography of Love and Intimacy
£20, Hoxton Mini Press, hardback, 224 pages, ISBN: 9781914314353
Featuring the work of more than 23 contemporary photographers, this anthology aims to capture what it is to love and be loved in the modern world.
A range of types of love are considered in this beautiful volume from the ever-wonderful Hoxton Mini Press. There’s first love, lost love, parental love, friendship love and much more besides.
To explore that love, we see a series of compelling portraits that gel together extremely well, with representations across many divides. It’s perhaps fair to assume that not every photograph will stun you visually, but pretty much every story should touch your heart in some way.
Back in my original review (AP 7 March 2023 issue), I predicted that this book would make it into AP’s 2023 Books of the Year list, and unsurprisingly, few have surpassed it in terms of all-round warmth and humanity – and it’s a great price too.
Dark Room by Garry Fabian Miller
£40, Bodleian Library, hardback, 240 pages, ISBN: 9781851246090
I know many of our readers aren’t fans of Fabian Miller’s work – we have the letters to prove it – but Dark Room spoke to me in ways that very few photographic books have over the years.
The abstract photography here certainly won’t be to everybody’s tastes (as if that’s a bad thing), but to sit down and absorb the book, cover-to-cover, is quite an experience that is far more than the sum of its individual parts.
It takes the form of a memoir, charting the photographer’s career from its early days up to the present. Yes, it’s camera-less, it’s OK not to like it, but the fact that this process involves Garry spending hours sitting in complete darkness, and, may poignantly have caused his diagnosis of cancer, is a testament to an artist’s dedication to their craft.
This book accompanied one of my favourite exhibitions of the year – perhaps of the past several years – at the Arnolfini in Bristol, where the scale of the work allowed you to take it in much more than the book could ever hope to. I’d urge you to give it a try if you happen to come across this book – you never know how you might feel at the end of it.
On Divorce: Portraits and voices of separation, a photographic project by Harry Borden
£18, The School of Life Press, hardback, 144 pages, ISBN: 9781915087393
You might not think of divorce as the obvious subject for a photography book, but with Harry Borden’s tender and touching project for The School of Life, you might be surprised to learn just how perfect it is for a photographer like him.
Anybody familiar with the magazine will already recognise Harry’s name from our regular When Harry Met magazine series, as well as from other projects that we’ve featured in the past. A successful portrait and advertising photographer for many years, his distinctive style with celebrities and other well-known figures has given him many years of experience of getting to know a story to help him with personal projects like this.
That said, the portraits here are about as far-removed from the glamour and glitz of a celebrity portrait as you can get, but, of course, are all the more real for it. A subject close to his own heart, through a compelling series of portraits we learn that divorce, although often painful, doesn’t necessarily have to be a disaster. A wise lesson for us all and certainly an intriguing prospect for a photography book.
Portrait of Humanity Volume 5
£25, Hoxton Mini Press, hardback, 320 pages, ISBN: 9781914314346
The latest volume of the fantastic Portrait of Humanity, produced in collaboration with the British Journal of Photography, brings together more than 200 portraits by photographers from across the globe.
I always find that each one of these portraits is a reflection of both the sitter and the photographer – as all good photographic portrait collaborations probably should be. Each one also comes with a small story to give you some background about who it is you’re looking at.
If you like portraiture as much as I do, then it’s always a treat to receive the latest of the Portrait of Humanity books – and don’t forget that there’s also a Portrait of Britain book too for a more inwards look at our own nation.
The small size of this book keeps it affordable for the variety of portraits you get included, but still displays them beautifully – it would make a great present (Christmas or otherwise) for other photographers in your life.
Kiss It! by Abbie Trayler Smith
£40, GOST Books, hardback, 112 pages, ISBN: 9781910401958
This extraordinary documentary project shows us the value of a long-term collaboration between photographer and subject. It also shows us that looking at what you know – or what you’ve experienced yourself – brings an added dimension to a project that you might not otherwise benefit from.
Kiss It! follows the life of Shannon, a young woman living with obesity who the photographer Abbie Trayler-Smith has worked with for 12 years, spanning Shannon’s teenage years to her young adulthood. It forms part of the photographer’s even longer-term project, ‘The Big O’, which looks at obesity in school-age children and young adults.
Abbie sees herself in Shannon, as she experienced the same issues herself as an adolescent. This is also a topic that is affecting huge numbers of the British population – around one in four people in the UK are thought to be affected by it, so it’s something that probably resonates with many.
Full of joy, warmth and celebration, the project encourages us to examine our own prejudices and for that reason alone, I wanted to include it in my books of the year. It’s also technically excellent, and beautifully laid out and curated too.
The New Big 5: A Global Photography Project for Endangered Wildlife by Graeme Green
£62.50, Earth Aware Editions, 272 pages, hardback, ISBN: 9781647228705
This is another compendium of amazing wildlife photography, which also aims to shine a light on the problems that the world’s natural population is facing. Authored by regular AP contributor Graeme Green and featuring the work of 146 fantastic wildlife photographers, the book highlights the threats facing wildlife. Big names here include Steve McCurry, Paul Nicklen, David Lloyd, Art Wolfe, Beverley Joubert and more – as well as Graeme’s own work.
The original ‘Big 5’ is a term coined by colonial-era hunters in Africa for the most prized animals to shoot and kill: elephant, rhino, leopard, Cape buffalo and lion. Around ten years ago, while on assignment in Botswana, Graeme had the idea to flip this miserable term on its head and create a New Big 5 of wildlife photography – shooting with a camera rather than a gun.
To select the new big 5, Graeme put it to a public vote. Overall the winners came out as elephant, polar bear, gorilla, lion and tiger. You’ll find pictures of all of these animals – and many more – in this beautifully put together book.
Water by Ian Berry
£45, GOST Books, hardback, 180 pages, ISBN: 9781910401927
The legendary photojournalist, Magnum member, and subscriber to AP magazine, Ian Berry, published a sublime book this year – and it easily makes it into our list of best books, and not just of this year either.
Comprising 93 black & white images over 180 pages, and more than 15 years in the making, it displays all the credentials that you’d expect from someone invited to join the prestige agency by none other than Henri Cartier-Bresson himself.
He told Peter Dench earlier in the year, ‘I have gradually become aware through the years of my gathering images that something extraordinary was happening to our world – this year has shown above all others that the planet is struggling. There is too much water in some places, too little in others.’
The book, funded through a kickstarter, is a real labour of love, with maximal input from Ian Berry himself, and is not only a visual treat but an important one too.
Book of the Road by Daniel Meadows
£45, Bluecoat Press, Flexibound hardcover, 220 pages, ISBN: 9781908457783
Fifty years ago, renowned British documentary photographer Daniel Meadows set off in his free photographic omnibus and captured a portrait of our nation that is still widely considered to be a masterpiece of documentary photography.
Aged just 21 at the time, Daniel travelled over 10,000 miles in a double-decker bus mapping the length and breadth of England, photographing a total of 958 people and offering a free print to each of his subjects.
The characters he encountered along the way – or at least some of them – are featured in this half-century anniversary of the famous project, which has been styled and shaped to emulate the old AA Book of the Road. A wonderful project, a wonderful read, and the perfect choice for anybody interested in the history of British documentary photography when it was perhaps at its peak.
Reclaim the Street: Street Photography’s Moment
£50, Thames and Hudson, hardback, 320 pages, ISBN: 9780500545379
Street photography is one of those genres that is hard to define precisely, but this book shows off the fantastic breadth and depth of those actually out there pounding the streets to do the work.
Curated by street photography stalwart Matt Stuart, and edited by Stuart McLaren – another big name in the field – the book attempts to put the spotlight on different facets of the genre in an engaging and well- thought-through collection.
It took Matt nearly four years of ‘almost-constant’ work to put the impressive tome together, and the love that has gone into every chapter really does shine through. As a thoroughly modern sweep of contemporary street photography, you shouldn’t expect all the classic, traditional or big names in this volume – and the book is all the better for that.
Haven’t we already digested enough of that work over the past half a century? Here we see things, names and places we might not have seen before, and for that reason, it’s easily one of the best books on street photography I’ve come across before. Equally, however, don’t worry about missing out on some of the ‘obvious’ things you might ordinarily assume to be in a book like this – there are those too. In short, there’s something for everyone here and for those looking to engage with this tricky genre, it’s hard to find something better.
Best of the rest featured in AP throughout 2023
Colourmania: Photographing the World in Autochrome by Caitlin Langford
This is a must-buy for lovers of early photography. Put together with access to the V&A’s autochromes collection, it provides a stunning look at the early 20th century in colour.
Julia Margaret Cameron: Arresting Beauty
Another delight for early-photography aficionados. Julia’s photographs broke conventions at the time, and give us a glimpse of what it was to be a strong, determined woman artist at the time too. This is a great introduction to her work if you’re not already familiar.
A Country Kind of Silence by Ian Howorth
Ian Howarth has an eye for spotting the beautiful in the mundane, and this collection of his work is a great example of how you can find subjects no matter where you point your camera. Full of small moments you might otherwise overlook.
David Hurn: Photographs 1955-2020
An opportunity for David Hurn to look back over his 65-year archive is also a fantastic treat for the reader. There are lesser-seen photographs, better-known works and a demonstration of the breadth and depth of this Magnum and documentary legend.
Evelyn Hofer: Dublin
Seen as part of her most important body of work, this book takes a look at the renowned documentary photographer Evelyn Hofer’s Dublin images. Largely consisting of portraits shot in 1965-66, the pictures within show off exactly what made Hofer a master of her craft, with an intense and respectful engagement with her subjects that few can replicate.
Shooters by Julia Boggio
I don’t think I’ve ever recommended a novel on our books pages before – and perhaps I never will again. However, for something a little bit different, how about a fiction book about the thrills and spills of being a wedding photographer? An ideal beach read, it’s also a good romp to see you through the dark winter nights, too.
California Dreamers by Sally Davies
We loved Sally’s 2021 New Yorkers project, so it was great to see a follow-up this year in the shape of California Dreamers, which looks at the characterful inhabitants of this vast state. Portraits taken in people’s homes aim to reveal as much – if not more – about their character as their physical appearances, and it works extremely well.
Breathing Space: Iranian Women Photographers by Anahita Ghabaian Etehadieh
This book highlights the work of 23 women photographers from Iran. A great look at photography from a non-Western perspective, it has been curated by the founder of the Silk Road Gallery in Tehran, Iran’s first gallery dedicated to contemporary photography.
Remembering Leopards by Wildlife Photographers United
The eighth book in the ‘Remembering’ series, this is another example of how photography can help the plight of wildlife around the world. Here we have 80 stunning colour images taken by some of the biggest names in wildlife photography today.
More great books…
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.
Looking Out From Within by Julia Fullerton-Batten
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.
Vivian Maier Developed: The Untold Story of the Photographer Nanny by Ann Marks
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.
Another Country by Gerry Badger
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.
Flora Photographica: The Flower in Contemporary Photography by William A.Ewing and Danaé Panchaud
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.
Face Time: A History of the Photographic Portrait by Phillip Prodger
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.
A World History of Women Photographers by Luce Lebart and Marie Robert
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.
Apollo Remastered by Andy Saunders
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 Armstrong 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.
The Book of Veles by Jonas Bendikssen
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.
Omar Victor Diop by Omar Victor Diop
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.
The Photograph That Changed My Life by Zelda Cheatle
Curated by AP regular Zelda Cheatle, more than 50 acclaimed photographers, musicians, filmmakers, and collectors describe their life-changing encounters with a single photograph.
Fox: Neighbour, Villain, Icon
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.
Modern Forms: An Expanded Subjective Atlas of 20th Century Architecture by Nicholas Grospierre
This celebrated tour of modernist architecture has been expanded to include the whole globe. A must-see for architectural photography fans.
The Mennonites by Larry Towell
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.
The Mindful Photographer by Sophie Howarth
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.
Light on the Riviera: Photography of the Cote d’Azur
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.