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A Photographer’s Reading List – Photographer’s Monographs

Monographs are the place to look for inspiration. It’s also a good place to increase your overdraft, as not many of these books are bargains! The list is deliberately random, in keeping with my theory of drawing influences from as broad a range of places as possible.

Random Monographs Collection 1:

“LaChapelle Land”, by David LaChapelle – Bonkers portraits, glamour and beauty stuff. And, yes I do own one of the original Hardback, boxed copies, well done me.
“Star Trak”, by Anton Corbijn. For portraits with impact, find a good lith printer (Mike Spry), a Hasselblad with a standard lens, and lots of famous subjects. Does help if you’re Dutch though.
“Vietnam Inc”, by Philip Jones Griffiths, credited with helping to turn public opinion against the Vietnam war (I find that claim a little far-fetched – it came out in 1971, I suspect the Tet offensive of 1968 might have had a more tangible effect on American public opinion!) Either way, it’s a superb work of photojournalism.
“Poles Apart”, by Galen Rowell, now sadly departed he was a mainstay of National Geographic for ages, and someone who truly lived life at it’s extremes.
“Filming the Impossible”, by Leo Dickinson. Much of what he pioneered has been done since, and we’ve become very inured to “extreme” photography in the past 30-odd years. However – he did it first in many cases (including an ascent of the Eiger by a previously unused route, with camera gear) and his stories of how he achieved all this are very compelling indeed. Plus, he went to my college – hurrah!
“Arnold Newman”, Arnold Newman, sadly passed away last year. He left behind him a legacy of probably the finest environmental portraiture the world has ever seen. His compositions are nothing short of perfection.

Reading List - Photographer's Monographs
A very small selection of my very expensive habit!

Random Monographs Collection 2:

“Cyclops”, by Albert Watson. Kind of like a modern day Irving Penn – has the same dedication and precision to whatever he turns his hand to. Even if you don’t recognise some of the images in the book you’ll have seen his work, as he’s shot more Vogue covers than anyone else in the past 25 years (I think – don’t quote me on that!) And by ‘eck, his lighting really is something.
“Robert Capa”, by Phaidon. A huge monograph covering almost all his work, and although you’ll recognise a few of the more famous ones, there are countless gems that are less well known. The last few pages are particularly heart rending as after covering the Spanish civil war, the Sino-Japanese war, World War II, and Korea, you’re forced to look at the pictures of a patrol of french infantry advancing along a road in Indochina, knowing that at any minute our Robert is going to step on a mine.
“Paris”, by Robert Doisneau. Him of “Kiss by the Hotel de Ville”. Beautiful reportage/documentary/photojournalism/candids, delete as appropriate. Should only be read whilst listening to Miles Davis and smoking a Gauloise.
“The Americans”, by Robert Frank. Some of the best “moments” in photographic history, and still a template for any wannabe documentary/reportage photographer.
“Motel Fetish”, by Chas Ray Krider. Slight change of direction to sultry ladies in cheap motel rooms. I absolutely love the narrative that’s going on in many of these images. Very few photographers, with the possible exception of Helmut Newton, have ever managed to convey both intimacy and voyeurism at exactly the same time. Since this is one of the key tenets of photography I rather like this book. And I’m a sucker for ladies in sexy gear in hotel rooms, how sadly predictable of me.
“Physiognomy”, by Mark Seliger. A staple of Rolling Stone for much of the 90’s, Mark’s work sums up everything that’s great about American culture – larger than life, exuberant and exquisitely produced and executed. I know he’s got a whole crew of people working for him to build sets. light things, fetch props and so on, but I can’t help feeling a little jealous now and then.

Random Monographs Collection 3:

“Jonvelle”, Jean-Francois Jonvelle. Lovely French ladies, lounging around in their pants. And sometimes not even their pants. Has a similar intimacy/voyeurism feel to Motel Fetish, but without the performance of the latter – these feel more natural. There was a sequel a few years later, imaginatively titled: “Jonvelle(s)”, though I’ve never bought it as it’s essentially more of the same.
“McCullin”, by Don McCullin. Probably the definitive collection of his work, though other monographs of his go into more depth in certain areas. Should be read in conjunction with his autobiography, “Unreasonable Behaviour”, required reading for anyone who thinks that going off to photograph war, conflict and suffering is in any way “cool”.
“Tory Story”, by David Modell. Incisive and sympathetic portrait of the Tory party from 1993 to 2001. Beautiful photographs, though it’s very hard not to gloat at images of Tories humiliated or suffering, after all they did spend 18 years f**king this country up the arse.
“It’s Nothing Personal”, by John Stoddart. Some very striking stuff in here.
“Australians”, Polly Borland. Very strong portraiture indeed. Didn’t realise so many Australians had infiltrated our culture, to quite such a degree.
“Famed” by Michael Birt. The British version of Arnold Newman – more understated, but still very beautifully put together.
“The Last Sitting”, by Bert Stern. Famous for being the last images of Marilyn Monroe ever taken, and for the fact that she defaced them, none of this detracts from the work, which is a superb and intimate portrait of an icon.

Random Monographs Collection 4:

Glasgow, by Raymond Depardon. Simply the most beautifully bleak imagery you’ll ever come across.
Workers by Sebastio Salgado. This was the first proper photography exhibition I ever saw, and it made a HUGE impression on me. The book is very nearly as impressive, and I’m only saying that because nothing quite comes close to seeing this imagery as huge prints.
Philip Lorca DiCorcia, some of the most engaging environmental portraits ever made. In my humble opinion 😉
Uncommon Places, by Stephen Shore. Almost works as a companion work to “The Americans”, and not just because it’s in colour.

General Inspiration/Collections:

This section covers all the books that comprise the work of more than one photographer. Following my ethos of drawing influences from as wide a cross-section as possible, books like these are particularly good – in inspiration terms they offer more “value for money”.
The Graphis Photo annuals are always a good read, though quite expensive. They comprise a “best of” from commercial/advertising photography around the world, and as such function as a shop front for photographers. A few copies of these, coupled with the requisite AoP awards books (see below) will equip you with all the info on who’s doing what at the top level of photography right now.
The annual Association of Photographer’s Awards books are an essential – not just as inspiration, as you’ll find the very cream of the crop here, but as an important resource for assistants/students looking to gain an insight into who’s working at the top level of the industry. The link goes to the 18th awards (2001) as they are often out of print. The AoP themselves are a good place to look for older ones, as is Ebay – the same could be said for the Graphis books.
Sportscape, by Paul Wombell. A fascinating journey through sports photography in it’s various guises down the ages.
Images of Rock & Roll, by Rolling Stone. A superb collection of music photography from the 60’s to the 90’s – everything from scintillating live shots to elaborate studio set-ups.
“Kate” – basically a collection of shots of Kate Moss published in the late 90’s. She might be a coked-up nutter, but she has worked with some of the best photographers of the recent decade. Seems to be very expensive on Amazon, so might be another job for Ebay.
Images of the 20th Century, by Getty Images (link goes to 1990’s – there’s one for every decade). Although Getty are now the MacDonalds of the image library world, that does mean they have access to an enormous archive, and they put it to good use in these compilations. Each decade covers areas such as, news, daily life, culture, sport and so on, and they’re a bargain at a fiver each. I dread to think how little the photographer’s are getting for the use of their images.
In case you’ve never come across any, pretty much everything Taschen publish is good, and whilst their special editions are insanely expensive, a bit of browsing unearths a lot of stuff that’s incredibly good value! They can also often be picked up at discount book stores, where their value is even better!


This post forms part of my suggested reading list for photographers. Other posts in the series are:

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