The best novels featuring pioneering and trailblazing photographers

Jane Davis Author Of I Stopped Time
By Jane Davis

Who am I?

Photography has been a passion throughout my life. I remember so clearly my first experience of the dark room: the dim red light, the chemical smell of the developing solution, and a ghost-like image gradually coming into focus. In my novel I Stopped Time I wanted to pay tribute to the pioneers of photography, but would I be able to bring that same depth of clarity to the written word? It was an incredibly proud moment when one reviewer wrote, "This book voiced everything I’ve held inside of me as a photographer."


I wrote...

I Stopped Time

By Jane Davis,

Book cover of I Stopped Time

What is my book about?

What if the villain of your childhood turned out to be someone really rather extraordinary?

In my novel, I Stopped Time, reclusive ex-politician, Sir James Hastings, takes a delivery. He hasn’t placed an order for anything, but the boxes keep on coming. They contain his mother’s legacy: the photographs she took over the course of almost a century. At first, Sir James wants nothing to do with them. This was the woman who abandoned him as a child. But gradually he comes to see the world through his mother’s eyes. And he realises that she wasn’t the villain of his childhood – far from it.

The books I picked & why

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In the Blink of an Eye

By Ali Bacon,

Book cover of In the Blink of an Eye

Why this book?

My first choice (and my favourite of the selection) introduces us to two of the pioneers of photography. Not only did In the Blink of an Eye teach me about the link between Robert Adamson and William Henry Fox Talbot (inventor of the calotype process), but I realised that I had stayed at one of the novel’s key settings – Rock House, on the slopes of Edinburgh’s Carlton Hill. 

In 1843, the artist David Octavius Hill was tasked with painting the portraits of 400 ministers of Scotland’s Free Church, a commission so daunting it seemed almost impossible. It would take years to capture the likenesses of so many men. Only when Hill met Robert Adamson, a pioneering photographer, did a solution present itself. 

Bacon doesn’t only give us Hill and Adamson, but brings to life some of the women whose names have been forgotten by history to life: names that include Jessie Mann, who is now acknowledged as the first Scottish female photographer. And because Hill, a respected artist, saw the enormous potential of photography, he was instrumental in changing opinion about photography. It, too, could be an art form! 

In the Blink of an Eye

By Ali Bacon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In the Blink of an Eye as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In1843, Edinburgh artist, David Octavius Hill, is commissioned to paint the portraits of 400 ministers who have broken away from the Church of Scotland. Only when he meets Robert Adamson, an early master of the new and fickle art of photography, does this daunting task begin to look feasible.

Hill is soon bewitched by the art of light and shade. He and Adamson become the darlings of Edinburgh society, immortalising people and places with their subtle and artistic images. In the Blink of an Eye is a re-imagining of Hill’s life in the words of those who were beguiled by…


The Age of Light

By Whitney Scharer,

Book cover of The Age of Light

Why this book?

I have always had a fascination with Lee Miller, but would have been too much in awe of her to attempt a fictionalised version of her life. And yet debut novelist Whitney Scharer did just that, triggering a bidding war in the publishing world.

The focus of the novel is one episode in the life of an extraordinary woman. Scharer parachutes us straight into bohemian Paris, 1929. Lee Miller has abandoned a successful career as a model at New York’s Vogue to pursue a dream. She doesn’t want to be in front of the camera any longer, she wants to be behind it. And she’s identified a man she thinks can help her – the charismatic and egotistical Man Ray. There’s just one problem. May Ray doesn’t take on students. He’s about to meet the one woman capable of changing his mind.  

As they work side by side in Man Ray’s studio, more than one kind of chemistry is at play, but when two forceful personalities collide, sparks fly!

The Age of Light

By Whitney Scharer,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Age of Light as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Scharer captures the thrill of artistic creation and the swirling hedonism of Paris's beautiful people.' The Times

Model. Muse. Lover. Artist.

'I'd rather take a picture than be one,' Lee Miller declares, as she arrives in Paris one cool day in 1929. Lee has left behind her life in New York and a successful modelling career at Vogue to pursue her dream of becoming a photographer. She soon catches the eye of renowned Surrealist artist Man Ray and convinces him to hire her as his assistant. Man is an egotistical, charismatic force, and as Lee becomes both his muse and…


Sweet Caress

By William Boyd,

Book cover of Sweet Caress

Why this book?

I loved the ambitious concept behind William Boyd’s novel. Take seventy-five ‘found photos’ and construct a life around them.

At the age of seventy, Amory Clay is reflecting on her long photographic career, which took her from London, where she photographed the smart set, to Berlin where she captured its nightlife. Like Lee Miller, Amory Clay transitioned from New York fashion shoots to photojournalism, reporting on war-torn Normandy, and, much later, in the Vietnam war. Now, she’s about to embark on a personal mission—to track down her daughter, Blythe.

Boyd seamlessly weaves fact with fiction. This was one of those books that had me Googling the names of characters, thinking that there must be two photographers I had overlooked, only to conclude that they were fictional. (I shan’t give the game away and tell you which!)

Sweet Caress

By William Boyd,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sweet Caress as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE TOP TEN SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER Amory Clay's first memory is of her father doing a handstand - but it is his absences that she chiefly remembers. Her Uncle Greville, a photographer, gives her both the affection she needs and a camera, which unleashes a passion that irrevocably shapes her future. She begins an apprenticeship with him in London, photographing socialites for magazines. But Amory is hungry for more and her search for life, love and artistic expression will take her to the demi-monde of 1920s Berlin, New York in the 1930s, the Blackshirt riots in London, and France during…


Still Life with Bread Crumbs

By Anna Quindlen,

Book cover of Still Life with Bread Crumbs

Why this book?

What the author does brilliantly is to depict the random nature of artistic success. Twenty years ago, on the morning after a dinner party, struggling photographer, Rebecca Winter, acted on a whim. She photographed the scene that confronted her when she entered the kitchen. The Still Life with Bread Crumbs of the book’s title captured the public’s imagination and went on to win a major award, making Rebecca an unwitting women’s champion. 

Fast forward to the present day. We see Rebecca as a 60-year-old divorcee. Now that offers of work have dried up and seeing no other solution to her financial predicament, she exchanges her New York apartment for a cabin in the back of beyond.

Exploring the woods surrounding the cabin, Rebecca stumbles across a series of mysterious white crosses with accompanying pieces of memorabilia: a small trophy, the plaster cast of a handprint. Thinking of the objects only in terms of composition, framing, and light, she fails to ask herself, is there a story behind these miniature shrines?

Still Life with Bread Crumbs

By Anna Quindlen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Still Life with Bread Crumbs as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

A superb love story from Anna Quindlen, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Rise and Shine, Blessings, and A Short Guide to a Happy Life
 
Still Life with Bread Crumbs begins with an imagined gunshot and ends with a new tin roof. Between the two is a wry and knowing portrait of Rebecca Winter, a photographer whose work made her an unlikely heroine for many women. Her career is now descendent, her bank balance shaky, and she has fled the city for the middle of nowhere. There she discovers, in a tree stand with…


The Bohemians

By Jasmin Darznik,

Book cover of The Bohemians

Why this book?

Dorothea Lange went on to achieve fame as a documentary photographer during the Great Depression, but this book takes us back to the 1920s and her arrival in San Francisco. Working as a photographer’s assistant, Dorothea has scrimped in order to save her earnings, in the hope of establishing her own studio. But within an hour of getting off the bus, she falls victim to a pickpocket who takes every penny. 

With only wits and talent to survive on, like the residents who rebuilt the city after the great earthquake, Dorothea too must find a way. Soon she meets Caroline Lee, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, who is her introduction to Monkey Block, the artists’ colony at the beating heart of the bohemian city. Until she makes her name, studio portraits must be her bread and butter until, with Caroline at her side as an assistant, Dorothea opens her first studio. But this is an age of prejudice. Dorothea must decide: what is she willing to sacrifice in order to achieve success in a man’s world?

And when she meets and later marries the famous painter Maynard Dixon, will she be able to persuade him that she is as serious about her own career as he is about his?

The Bohemians

By Jasmin Darznik,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Bohemians as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A dazzling novel of one of America’s most celebrated photographers, Dorothea Lange, exploring the wild years in San Francisco that awakened her career-defining grit, compassion, and daring.

“Jasmin Darznik expertly delivers an intriguing glimpse into the woman behind those unforgettable photographs of the Great Depression, and their impact on humanity.”—Susan Meissner, bestselling author of The Nature of Fragile Things

In this novel of the glittering and gritty Jazz Age, a young aspiring photographer named Dorothea Lange arrives in San Francisco in 1918. As a newcomer—and naïve one at that—Dorothea is grateful for the fast friendship of Caroline Lee, a vivacious,…


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