The best books on the poetry in documentary photographs

Who am I?

I’ve been a documentary photographer for the past 50 years and my work has been featured in major magazines in the United States and Europe including The New York Times Magazine, Life, Fortune, Geo, Time & Newsweek, and others. I have six books in print, including JAZZ with Wynton Marsalis & Nonfiction Photographs with filmmaker Errol Morris. I love teaching photography and co-founded the Essex Photographic Workshop in 1975. My work is in many collections, including The Peabody Essex Museum, The Worcester Art Museum, Polaroid Collection, Agfa Corporation, Participant Productions, Bose Corporation, Bibliotheque Nacionale, France. Solo exhibitions of my work include the Walker Art Center, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and the Burden Gallery.


I wrote...

Stones In the Road: Photographs of Peru

By Nubar Alexanian,

Book cover of Stones In the Road: Photographs of Peru

What is my book about?

I’ve been a documentary photographer for fifty years. I’ve been in love with Peru for a long time, since 1974 when I first visited there. Peru took hold of me and wouldn’t let go. I travelled across the entire country with a view camera taking photographs of Inca ruins and dramatic landscapes. They were beautiful. But there was so much missing in them. In the end, I felt unchallenged by this early work. Taking beautiful pictures of things that are beautiful is too easy.  

Beginning in 1978 and for the next eleven years, Peru became my sacred place to work. I accepted no assignments there and made 9 more trips, one that was 5 months long on a Fulbright Scholarship. Stones In the Road is the result of these efforts. 

The books I picked & why

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Landscape

By Paul Caponigro,

Book cover of Landscape

Why this book?

I have loved this book of black & white photographs for nearly 5 decades and still look at it often. It’s like a book of poetry, meant to be lived with rather than simply looked at one or twice. What I like is how quiet these images are while at the same time being incredibly compelling. I see something new in these images almost every time I look at them.  What could be better in a book of photographs? What I’ve learned is that photographs embrace poetry more naturally than narrative storytelling. Yes—it's a picture of a parsnip—but is that an eye in the middle of it looking back at me? 

Landscape

By Paul Caponigro,

Why should I read it?

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


The Last Roll

By Jeff Jacobson,

Book cover of The Last Roll

Why this book?

I own five signed copies of this book which I loan out to young photographers. The lesson in this book of documentary photographs is the irrelevance of information and the importance of emotion. In this way, Jeff’s work redefines photography by expanding the very notion of what a documentary photograph is….and can be. In 2004 Jeff was diagnosed with lymphoma. Soon afterwards Kodak discontinued the production of Kodachrome, the film his entire visual vocabulary was based on and now was gone forever. What do you do when confronted with physical and creative mortality? The Last Roll, by Jeff Jacobson, is an amazing response to this question. 

The Last Roll

By Jeff Jacobson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Last Roll as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"A few days before Christmas, 2004, I was diagnosed with lymphoma," writes Jeff Jacobson in his preface to The Last Roll. The NY Times LENS Blog described Jacobson as "pushing the visual boundaries of photojournalism" in this work providing a first-person depiction of a cancer patient's changing perspectives on life, death, art, and the world at-large.

A former Magnum photographer known for his quirky style, Jeff Jacobson was one of the first art photographers to use color film exclusively. For his 1991 book My Fellow Americans he traveled the country, capturing the look and mood of a decade. Over time,…


Growing Up Female: A Personal Photojournal

By Abigail Heyman,

Book cover of Growing Up Female: A Personal Photojournal

Why this book?

When my wife and I met in 1975, one of the things we had in common was that we both owned a copy of Growing Up Female. And the bindings on both copies were pretty worn out. This is a deeply personal journal of compelling photographs and eloquent text about women—from a feminist’s point of view.  What I love about this book is how deeply moving it is and how well it demonstrates a narrative approach to taking, editing, and sequencing first-person photographs. Not to mention that this book sold 25,000 copies (unheard of for books of photography) and had a significant impact on the view of a woman’s place in our culture.  

Growing Up Female: A Personal Photojournal

By Abigail Heyman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Growing Up Female as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Growing up female;: A personal photojournal Hardcover by Abigail Heyman (Author)


Exiles

By Josef Koudelka,

Book cover of Exiles

Why this book?

There’s an image of a large white horse standing above a man who’s kneeling in front of him, gesturing toward the horse’s face with one hand. He is having a conversation with this horse, trying to convince him of something. It’s one of the most beautiful photographs ever! On another page is a fully feathered chicken being dried out, hanging upside down from a clothesline in what appears to be a field of wheat.  It’s astonishing how beautiful this image is. Josef Koudelka is one of the great masters of photography who has taught us all how to see the mystery and awe in places we walk by every day. Through his work, Koudelka has shown me the breadth and depth that photography embraces.

Exiles

By Josef Koudelka,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

About Exiles, Cornell Capa once wrote, Koudelka's unsentimental, stark, brooding, intensely human imagery reflect his own spirit, the very essence of an exile who is at home wherever his wandering body finds haven in the night. In this newly revised and expanded edition of the 1988 classic, which includes ten new images, Koudelka's work once more forms a powerful document of the spiritual and physical state of exile. The sense of private mystery that fills these photographs mostly taken during Koudelkas many years of wandering through Europe since leaving his native Czechoslovakia in 1968 speaks of passion and reserve, of…


Luminance

By Linda Connor,

Book cover of Luminance

Why this book?

This book cemented my commitment to being a photographer. The images are stunning jewels frozen in silver from ancient places in countries like India, Ireland, Egypt, & Tibet. Printed beautifully in warm black and white tones along with inspiring quotes, every image speaks to me: slow down, pay attention to what you see and feel. And focus on the light and the shadow.

Luminance

By Linda Connor,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The third in the "LUX" series of fine art photography monographs by the Center for Photographic Arts.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in fine art photography, poetry, and World War 1?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about fine art photography, poetry, and World War 1.

Fine Art Photography Explore 14 books about fine art photography
Poetry Explore 267 books about poetry
World War 1 Explore 625 books about World War 1

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Annie Leibovitz, On Photography, and How Photography Became Contemporary Art if you like this list.