Best Photobooks of the Year 2014
Our annual selection of the year's best photography books
What makes a photo book great? “It has to embody originality and, ultimately, be a thing of beauty, a work of art,” wrote rare-book dealer Andrew Roth in his seminal collection, The Book of 101 Books, more than a decade ago. We concur. The following 54 books meet that test. These volumes also reflect current trends in photography—the evolution of the snapshot aesthetic, the manipulation of images, the storyteller’s art, the ubiquity of social media—which have emerged in the bound book without diminishing it. The photograph and the printing press were made for each other.
by Martin Schoeller | teNeues | $125
Shooting for publications including The New Yorker and Rolling Stone, Schoeller made a name for himself with his tightly drawn face shots of famous subjects, so sharp and close-up that you can often see the pores in their skin and the sadness in their eyes. These were showcased in the 2005 book Close Up, which Schoeller followed up in 2012 with Identical, examining the minute differences in the faces of identical twins. Yet all along, the photographer was creating atmospheric portraits with uncommon wit and verve, as seen in this 280-page retrospective. While somber head shots are sprinkled in the mix, Schoeller more often takes a page from the stylebook of Annie Leibovitz (whom he assisted for years): Get celebs to do crazy things. From the head of chef April Bloomfield served up on a platter to actor Jason Segal scooting to town with his pet puppet (opening the gallery above), these pictures are deft, fun, and funny. —Jack Crager
More on Martin Schoeller’s portraits from American Photo.
Kurt Cobain: The Last Session
by Jesse Frohman | Thames & Hudson | $45
Little did Frohman know, when hired to shoot Nirvana for the London Observer in 1993, that the leader of the band would self-destruct within months. These 100-plus images reflect Cobain’s complexity: defiance, charisma, playfulness, and sullen anger all bound up in a shaggy persona lurking behind those goofy oval sunglasses.
Everything: The Black and White Monograph
by Christopher Makos | Glitterati | $85
A denizen of Andy Warhol’s Factory in the 1970s and ’80s, Makos hobnobbed with Liz and Mick, Bowie and Basquiat; his glam photos from the period mix casual chic with élan. He also captures cool slices of mundanity (for jet-setters, that is). Lots of cute dogs and ponies, too.
by Rankin | teNeues | $125
Combining work from the glossies he cofounded—Dazed & Confused and Another Magazine—with celeb portraits from his Rankin Live! project, our trendspotter blends up famous faces, electric colors, irreverence, and British wit.
More on Rankin‘s work from American Photo.
Fashion Photography Next
by Magdalene Keaney | Thames & Hudson | $45
This is a dazzling overview of where fashion imagery is headed: far beyond the bounds of normalcy and into the fecund imaginings of Laetitia Hotte, Eric Madigan Heck, Saga Sig, and more than 30 other visionaries.
by Susanna Brown | Rizzoli | $75
Horst’s brilliant oeuvre gets lavish treatment here, with sections on fashion, nature, nudes, and editorial shoots, plus entire chapters on muses Marlene Dietrich and Carmen Dell’Orefice. For statuesque glamour, nobody did it better.
Negative: Me, Blondie, and the Advent of Punk
by Chris Stein | Rizzoli | $55
As cofounder of Blondie and partner of Deborah Harry, Stein was the group’s shutterbug, documenting their rise from underground punk rockers to global new-wave stars. Here are candid views of Harry with unruly company—from Iggy Pop and Joey Ramone to Joan Jett and Chrissie Hynde.
by Jonathan Kane | Reel Art Press | $95
Kane’s portraits of rockers from Dylan to Joplin have an artistic panache that links them with his bold fashion imagery: the look of an illustrator with a camera. This tribute showcases the visions of a restless spirit that sadly ended in suicide in 1995.
by Elliott Erwitt | teNeues | $95
The unifying thread of this vast black-and-white collection is the female presence in each and every frame—along with Erwitt’s trusty humor and graceful eye. Otherwise it’s all over the map, blending eroticism, politics, still-life imagery, and social commentary into a wondrous mélange. —J.C.
Read our interview with Erwitt from May 2014.
by Danny Clinch | Abrams | $50
Clinch was there: in prison with Metallica, at the blackboard with Kanye West, in the studio with Eminem, on the road with Lucinda Williams, backstage with Ben Harper, near a couch with Beck and John Lee Hooker—you get the idea. There’s no mystery to why stars love him: He makes everyone look cool, and his access allows him to capture tender moments. Clinch is called “my patron saint of new rock dreams” in the book’s foreword, by a dreamer named Springsteen. —Matthew Ismael Ruiz
by Deborah Feingold | Damiani | $30
Feingold’s anthology brings together 40 years of her intimate, often improvisational portraits of music icons. Early images of James Brown and Prince blend with more recent color portraits of Keith Richards, Tina Turner, and Madonna. Feingold’s gift is capturing her famous subjects at total ease, presenting them as people above all else. —Jeanette D. Moses
Read our interview with Feingold from September 2014.
by Glen E. Friedman | Rizzoli | $55
Friedman has been shooting counterculture scenes since he was a teenager in the mid-1970s, capturing the golden eras of skateboarding, punk rock, and hip-hop with an emphasis on raw energy and attitude. Here shots of skateboard legends such as Tony Alva and Tony Hawk sit alongside photos of early Black Flag and Bad Brains shows as well as portrait shoots with Public Enemy and the Beastie Boys. Friedman offers up an intimate history from the top of the pool and the edge of the stage. —J.D.M.
Read our interview with Friedman from September 2014.
Lakes and Reservoirs
by Matthew Brandt | Damiani/Yossi Milo | $75
Though hardly a brand-new topic, the question ‘What is a photograph?’ regenerated sparks in 2014, underpinning a major ICP exhibition and catalog. At the center of this discussion is Matthew Brandt, who just brought out his own stunning monograph of experimental imagery. Brandt has taken Los Angeles–based conceptualism in the lineage of photo-driven artists like John Baldessari, Robert Heinecken, and James Welling back to the land for this series: He makes photographs of bodies of water throughout the western United States, then soaks the C-prints in liquid specimens collected from the sites depicted. The result is a psychedelic blend of lovely, surreal chromatic aberrations. —Lindsay Comstock
More on Matthew Brandt from American Photo.
Minor White: Manifestations of the Spirit
text by Paul Martineau | Getty | $40
White left a rich legacy as a teacher, editor, poet, and critic, but it’s his mid-century photographs that transcend time. Here we get a full view of a complex artist who revered formal elements of light and shadow while subverting common thought about subject matter, extolling spirituality in art while grappling with his own sexual identity.
Robert Heinecken: Object Matter
edited by Eva Respini | The Museum of Modern Art | $50
This book salutes a self-described “paraphotographer” who experimented with found imagery—via such processes as gelatin-silver prints, collage, and photo-sculpture—and explored topics including mass media’s visual impact and the depiction of the female form.
by Jo Ann Callis | Aperture | $65
A student of Heinecken at UCLA, Callis offers a female counterpoint to his work: She teases us with sexuality through provocative poses, skin altered by lipstick and binding, relics of fetishes, and another’s roving hands.
Erwin Olaf: Volume II
text by Francis Hodgson | Aperture | $65
In a follow-up to Olaf’s first monograph, he showcases his stunningly dramatic portraiture, lush visions of the nude form, and depictions of innocence tinged with suggestion.
by Kathy Ryan | Aperture | $30
This collection of iPhone photos—which Ryan snapped in and around her workplace at The New York Times and then posted to Instagram—examine the play of light and shadow inside and outside the office building. Other images artfully home in on the accoutrements of work: sticky notes, computer monitors, X-acto knives, and of course, people. Ryan writes that she’s not a photographer; we’re not buying it. —Meg Ryan
Read our profile on Kathy Ryan from July 2014.
The Ninety Nine and The Nine
by Katy Grannan | Fraenkel Gallery | $65
Grannan’s portraits of the homeless and destitute show how capitalism, addiction, and illness leave many behind. Yet this collection also offers insight into the lives of people on the fringe of society (above) and the beauty lurking within weathered bodies.
by Richard Renaldi | Aperture | $45
Renaldi pairs disparate people—in terms of culture, religion, and dress—and implores them to embrace one another. We see how a forced interaction can break down boundaries created by stereotypes and subcultures.
Asylum of the Birds
by Roger Ballen | Thames & Hudson | $60
In Ballen’s bizarre world, birds, drawings, body parts, dolls, and natural ephemera all figure in the mix, which blurs the lines between good and evil and reality and dreams.
Read our interview with Ballen from March 2014.
Eden and After
by Nan Goldin | Phaidon | $100
Goldin brings her visual style of intimacy and candor to the worlds of children and child rearing—in all their innocence and complexity. She depicts pregnant women in the glow of expectancy, live-action scenes of childbirth, breast-feeding rituals, and the high jinks of unpredictable kids with unabashed frankness and joie de vivre. —L.C.
What is a Photograph?
by Carol Squiers et al | International Center of Photography | $50
This exhibition catalog surveys contemporary artists including Mariah Robertson (featured in the gallery above), Eileen Quinlan, James Welling, and Matthew Brandt, whose experimentation moves beyond mere aesthetics. These works expand and recontextualize our perception of what we call photography: contemplating the banality in everyday objects, commenting on the increasing ubiquity of the image, using alternative processes to transform the medium, and sometimes blurring the boundary between the image and other media to manipulate the picture plane.
Disco Night Sept 11
by Peter Van Agtmael | Red Hook Editions | $55
This book’s ironic (and rather misleading) title derives from a roadside sign in the cover shot, alluding to the blithe disconnect of many Americans during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, Magnum photographer Van Agtmael documents the U.S. wars of the aughts in striking depth and detail. His text veers from diaristic entries to firsthand accounts by his subjects; it accents vivid imagery on the battlefront and in the barracks. He also covers key events in the U.S. homeland—such as the recovery of Texan Bobby Henline (featured in the gallery above), who survived an IED blast in Iraq and, at the urging of his therapist in the burn ward, briefly performed stand-up comedy back home. —J.C.
The Sochi Project
by Rob Hornstra | Aperture | $80
Over five years, photographer Hornstra and writer Arnold van Bruggen traced the construction of the Olympic Village for the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia—a subtropical beach town—and the environmental havoc it wreaked.
by Brian Finke | Powerhouse | $35
Spurred by a childhood friend’s new vocation, Finke brings his crisp visual style to the world of federal law-enforcement officers throughout the U.S., capturing them in both crime-busting action and quieter, revealing portraits.
by Liza Manola | Assouline | $250
In intensely colorful imagery, Manola reveals glimpses of Ethiopian society and landscape scenes that have remained unchanged for millennia, what she calls “their harsh reality, their dignity, and the moving communion of their souls.”
by Marc Ohrem-Leclef | Damiani | $50
To prep for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games, officials in Brazil ordered the destruction of large swaths of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, which more than a million people call home. This book documents the displaced residents and their defiance, symbolized in emergency flames raised like anti-Olympic torches (featured in the gallery above).
Photographer’s Paradise: Turbulent America 1960–1990
by Jean-Pierre Laffont | Glitterati | $95
Starting in 1964, French expatriate Laffont dogged the big stories that came to define modern America—from anti-war and anti-establishment chaos to the battles over gay rights, immigration reform, and other social issues that still vex the nation. In images more about the streets than politics, he fearlessly shot with an outsider’s fascination, making this handsome volume a highly personal testament to our country’s difficult growth. —Russell Hart
by An-My Lê | Aperture | $90
An-My Lê depicts U.S. servicemen and women in training operations throughout the globe, from Antarctica to Ghana to Indonesia. Backdropped by scenery that’s by turns gorgeous and inhospitable, her intimate portraits lend a sense of warmth to an otherwise harsh world.
text by Sarah Greenough et al | Metropolitan Museum of Art | $85
Winogrand’s contact sheets suggest his street photography was a scattershot art, with frames quickly snapped and gems found in the rough. But this tome—like the wildly popular traveling show it accompanies—proves that those gems are many, evidence of Winogrand’s gift for making seemingly mundane moments into visual poetry.
Malformed: Forgotten Brains of the Texas State Mental Hospital
by Adam Voorhes | Powerhouse | $40
A purveyor of scientific phenomena, Voorhes offers the year’s strangest book: a survey of damaged and/or diseased brains preserved in jars stored away at the University of Texas. Artfully shot, it’s as morbidly engrossing as a highway wreck and, thanks to Alex Hannaford’s text, psychologically fascinating as well.
The Seventh Dog
by Danny Lyon | Phaidon | $125
The title refers to the number of dogs Lyon has companioned—this book sums up his 72 years, beginning with recent images and working backwards. It’s a marvelous mess of snapshots, formal photos, diaristic montages, and ephemera-laced evocations of Lyon’s long, strange trip.
Presidential Candidate George Weah Holds Massive Rally in Liberia
by Chris Hondros | Powerhouse | $45
Before his death in 2011 in Libya at age 41, Hondros was a daring and prolific war photojournalist, but what shines through here is his humanity: He portrays glimpses of heroism amid chaos (as in the Liberian scene in the gallery above) and hope among ruins, with a storyteller’s gift for yarn.
Trading to Extinction
by Patrick Brown | Dewi Lewis | $58
For more than a decade, Brown and reporter Ben Davies have traced the illegal wildlife trade in Asia. They’ve been from the hunting grounds of poachers to the backstreets, where endangered species are traded like drugs to fuel a black market for rhino horn, tiger bone, and other black-magic hooey. With surprising access, they reveal hidden horrors.
Read our interview with Brown from March 2012.
Wanderlust: 60 Years of Images
by Thomas Hoepker | teNeues | $95
As a longtime member and erstwhile president of Magnum, Hoepker has seen it all over the decades, and this 300-plus-page volume conveys his journalistic reach—from gruesome wars to avant garde art—and empathetic eye. —J.C.
Read our interview with Hoepker from Sept. 2014
by Lewis Blackwell | Abrams | $60
Many recent photo books about our environment spotlight the ill effects of humankind through disturbing shots of glacial decay, clearcutting, toxic waste, or other evidence of man-made havoc. But this set of images and writings about the world’s rainforests makes a powerful case against deforestation by showing the fabric of the natural world: the intricate patterns, resourceful use of sunlight, dynamic relationships, and existential wisdom within the flora and fauna inhabiting these unbroken ecosystems. “We need to recognize that our lives are a part of a greater living community on Earth,” Blackwell writes, “the vast wonder of which rainforests represent with their extraordinary diversity, richness, and mystery.” —L.C.
edited by Wyatt Gallery | Daylight | $40
After superstorm Sandy struck the Eastern seaboard, social media became a hub of the relief effort. This striking book collects iPhone images of the storm from 20 pro shooters who leveraged their Instagram networks for the donation of time and money to the cause. The book’s proceeds go toward continued relief.
The Good Life: Palm Springs
by Nancy Baron | Kehrer | $50
Through Baron’s lens, this California desert enclave brims with eye-popping hues, lush vistas, oddball retirees, and vintage cars, evoking nostalgia and otherworldliness at the same time.
by Olaf Heine | teNeues | $125
Heine’s Brazil is a series of paradoxes—shiny, futuristic cityscapes shadowed by grubby shantytowns, glam models offset by tattooed dope dealers—with varied elements entwined like a double helix.
text by Elias Redstone | Phaidon | $80
With work by artists not often associated with architectural subjects, this compilation is a unique look at manmade space, line, and sky-scraping form.
by Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao | Aperture | $95
Liao creates digital panoramas that offer a fantastic and larger-than-life view of the city that never sleeps.
Read more on Liao from American Photo.
Earth is my Witness
by Art Wolfe | Earth Aware Editions | $95
Wolfe’s opus is a conservationist manifesto, reflecting the vast diversity of nature and humankind throughout the world—with few signs of modern society—in a glorious wash of colorful imagery.
Read our interview with Art Wolfe on Pop Photo.
Spineless: Portraits of Marine Invertebrates
by Susan Middleton | Abrams | $50
This book celebrates the brilliant designs of aquatic creatures who have evolved to protect themselves from outsiders in unique ways; the photos (as below) exquisitely convey a dynamic world largely unknown to the human eye.
Melting Away: Our Endangered Polar Regions
by Camille Seaman | Princeton | $55
As monolithic structures carved by light and shadow, the melting polar icebergs Seaman shows us (left) jut out from the landscape, both a showcase of grandeur and a compelling call to action.
by Mike Osborne | Daylight | $50
In the former military town of Wendover, straddling Nevada and Utah, Floating Island is a massive remnant of what was an archipelago when the area was underwater. Osborne documents the land and those drawn to the salty dry oasis.
Landmark: the Fields of Landscape Photography
by William Ewing | Thames & Hudson | $65
This survey is a poetic study of the way landscape imagery is shaped by human designs and scars on the land. —L.C.
An American Odyssey: Photos from the Detroit Photographic Company, 1888–1924
by Marc Walter & Sabine Arqué | Taschen | $200
At 15.7 pounds and 600 pages, this is the heftiest and most pored-over book on our coffee table. (Granted, it’s not as big as Taschen’s $2,500 tome, Annie Leibovitz: Sumo, but it’s a tenth of the price and arguably more fun.) These images are postcard relics from the private collection of Marc Walter, many made with early photolithographic processes—the nation’s first widely seen color photography. At the book’s 24×16-inch spread size, black-and-white images are tack sharp; while some hand-tinted color shots get grainy blown up that big, they’re dazzling nonetheless. And the nationwide swath of scenery is breathtaking, shot when the West was Wild (as in the Mount Lowe Railway scene on the final slide in the gallery above) and the times were woolly. —J.C.
The Photobook: A History, vol. III
by Martin Parr et al | Phaidon | $100
The third and final part of this book series about books ranges from post-war propoganda to self-published gems. The survey shows the complex randomness of modern life, while the text and photo editing seek to make sense of it.
by McLaren et al | Thames & Hudson | $60
Drawing on scrapbooks and notebooks of nearly 50 photographers, this set shows how great minds don’t always think alike.
The Open Road: Photography and the American Road Trip
by David Campany | Aperture | $65
Here is a collection of photo series by a bevy of artists—including Robert Frank, William Eggleston, Stephen Shore, and Alec Soth—whose explorations of Americana each reflect life on the road.
Striking Resemblance: The Changing Art of Portraiture
by Donna Gustafson et al | Prestel | $50
This portraiture study dates back to the 1700s but stresses modern photography.
Photography: The Definitive Visual History
by Tom Ang | DK | $50
Equal parts history book, how-to manual, and visual showcase, this sorts through the medium’s twists and turns from its dawn through the digital age. Wider than it is deep, it’s fascinating nonetheless.
by Sara Cwynar | Blonde Art Books | $35
A blend of found images, ephemera, and photographs by the artist serves as an A-to-Z compendium of pop-art icons. —J.C.