The best photojournalism books

1 authors have picked their favorite books about photojournalism and why they recommend each book.

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One Billion Journeys

By Wang Fuchun,

Book cover of One Billion Journeys: A Documentary that Spans 40 Years

Spontaneous photojournalism has not been a feature of the People’s Republic as the state-run media prefers rigid control of any media message. One of the most distinguished early practitioners of documentary photography to challenge this dull approach was Wang Fuchun. His book on life on the long-distance trains that trundled across the country delighted and informed first his compatriots and then the world. Most of the journeys he witnessed were in the age before mass tourism and are a far cry from the world-beating high-speed trains of the 21st century. It feels like ancient history but steam-powered locomotives were still produced in China until the 1990s, the last country to give up the coal-burning dinosaurs.


Who am I?

I first went as a student to Beijing in 1984 with a camera and a suitcase of film but not much of a plan. I found myself in a country whose young people were suddenly empowered to put their skills to use rather than let state planning order every aspect of their lives. My academic studies rapidly evolved into a vocation to photograph the changes around me. There was a demand for this: one of my first assignments being for Life magazine and then a slew of US and European publications eager to expand their coverage of all that was reshaping China and in turn the world. I chose street-level life as the most relatable to an international audience and in recent years also for Chinese eager to see how this era began.


I wrote...

The Door Opened: 1980s China: Photography: Adrian Bradshaw

By Adrian Bradshaw,

Book cover of The Door Opened: 1980s China: Photography: Adrian Bradshaw

What is my book about?

British photojournalist Adrian Bradshaw came to Beijing in 1984 to study Mandarin just as everyday life was in flux. He would go on to spend three decades living in, experiencing, and recording the transformation of the reform and opening-up era. The youth whose energy and optimism seized the moment with experimentation and invention back in the first decade of the new era built the foundations of an outward-looking, successful, and confident China today. Bradshaw would stay longer than any other overseas photojournalist, bringing an empathy and understanding to his subjects that is rare.

In his twenties in the 1980s, Bradshaw was in the company of the young people who drove the reform era and built many of the features of 21st Century China: the artists, farmers, entrepreneurs, and industrialists whose enthusiasm and positivity made things happen. This energy that made history is still bursting forth.

Visions of China

By Marc Riboud,

Book cover of Visions of China: Photographs, 1957-1980

A gentle observer of a nation undergoing transformation. Riboud witnessed a wide range of people from the top leaders mingling with Western diplomats to steelworkers, farmers, and students. At a time when most foreign visitor's access was highly restricted and choreographed scenes of socialist paradise were the norm he somehow managed to capture the energy and spontaneity of his subjects. By singling out individuals who were not reacting to his presence he allows their dignity to shine through. His compositions invariably elegant and technically beyond reproach nevertheless are full of life, particularly his earlier work.


Who am I?

I first went as a student to Beijing in 1984 with a camera and a suitcase of film but not much of a plan. I found myself in a country whose young people were suddenly empowered to put their skills to use rather than let state planning order every aspect of their lives. My academic studies rapidly evolved into a vocation to photograph the changes around me. There was a demand for this: one of my first assignments being for Life magazine and then a slew of US and European publications eager to expand their coverage of all that was reshaping China and in turn the world. I chose street-level life as the most relatable to an international audience and in recent years also for Chinese eager to see how this era began.


I wrote...

The Door Opened: 1980s China: Photography: Adrian Bradshaw

By Adrian Bradshaw,

Book cover of The Door Opened: 1980s China: Photography: Adrian Bradshaw

What is my book about?

British photojournalist Adrian Bradshaw came to Beijing in 1984 to study Mandarin just as everyday life was in flux. He would go on to spend three decades living in, experiencing, and recording the transformation of the reform and opening-up era. The youth whose energy and optimism seized the moment with experimentation and invention back in the first decade of the new era built the foundations of an outward-looking, successful, and confident China today. Bradshaw would stay longer than any other overseas photojournalist, bringing an empathy and understanding to his subjects that is rare.

In his twenties in the 1980s, Bradshaw was in the company of the young people who drove the reform era and built many of the features of 21st Century China: the artists, farmers, entrepreneurs, and industrialists whose enthusiasm and positivity made things happen. This energy that made history is still bursting forth.

From One China to the Other

By Henri Cartier-Bresson,

Book cover of From One China to the Other

The grandmaster of 20th Century photojournalism long had a fascination with China and was fortunate to get access to the country both pre and post-revolution. These times were chaotic and characterised by social upheaval yet Cartier-Bresson finds order and meaning through close observation and attention to geometric form until the ‘decisive moment’ is reached. Civil war, political turbulence, and an undercurrent of violence were the prevailing themes of this period yet the Frenchman’s sensitivity to the humanity and strength of his subjects is what lingers in the mind long after closing the cover.


Who am I?

I first went as a student to Beijing in 1984 with a camera and a suitcase of film but not much of a plan. I found myself in a country whose young people were suddenly empowered to put their skills to use rather than let state planning order every aspect of their lives. My academic studies rapidly evolved into a vocation to photograph the changes around me. There was a demand for this: one of my first assignments being for Life magazine and then a slew of US and European publications eager to expand their coverage of all that was reshaping China and in turn the world. I chose street-level life as the most relatable to an international audience and in recent years also for Chinese eager to see how this era began.


I wrote...

The Door Opened: 1980s China: Photography: Adrian Bradshaw

By Adrian Bradshaw,

Book cover of The Door Opened: 1980s China: Photography: Adrian Bradshaw

What is my book about?

British photojournalist Adrian Bradshaw came to Beijing in 1984 to study Mandarin just as everyday life was in flux. He would go on to spend three decades living in, experiencing, and recording the transformation of the reform and opening-up era. The youth whose energy and optimism seized the moment with experimentation and invention back in the first decade of the new era built the foundations of an outward-looking, successful, and confident China today. Bradshaw would stay longer than any other overseas photojournalist, bringing an empathy and understanding to his subjects that is rare.

In his twenties in the 1980s, Bradshaw was in the company of the young people who drove the reform era and built many of the features of 21st Century China: the artists, farmers, entrepreneurs, and industrialists whose enthusiasm and positivity made things happen. This energy that made history is still bursting forth.

China after Mao

By Liu Heung Shing,

Book cover of China after Mao: Seek Truth From Facts

After the gradual normalisation of relations between China and the US and the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976, a small number of western journalists were allowed to open bureaus in Beijing. Access was limited and travel difficult but one talented Chinese American photojournalist really pushed the boundaries in showing the rest of the world what the long inaccessible country was like. His tenacity and eye for the telling detail were an inspiration for me to take up the challenge to devote my career to covering the historic era of change in due course. Such was Liu’s ability to cover more than his hosts were quite ready to show ethnic Chinese foreign journalists found it near impossible to gain accreditation for many years afterwards.


Who am I?

I first went as a student to Beijing in 1984 with a camera and a suitcase of film but not much of a plan. I found myself in a country whose young people were suddenly empowered to put their skills to use rather than let state planning order every aspect of their lives. My academic studies rapidly evolved into a vocation to photograph the changes around me. There was a demand for this: one of my first assignments being for Life magazine and then a slew of US and European publications eager to expand their coverage of all that was reshaping China and in turn the world. I chose street-level life as the most relatable to an international audience and in recent years also for Chinese eager to see how this era began.


I wrote...

The Door Opened: 1980s China: Photography: Adrian Bradshaw

By Adrian Bradshaw,

Book cover of The Door Opened: 1980s China: Photography: Adrian Bradshaw

What is my book about?

British photojournalist Adrian Bradshaw came to Beijing in 1984 to study Mandarin just as everyday life was in flux. He would go on to spend three decades living in, experiencing, and recording the transformation of the reform and opening-up era. The youth whose energy and optimism seized the moment with experimentation and invention back in the first decade of the new era built the foundations of an outward-looking, successful, and confident China today. Bradshaw would stay longer than any other overseas photojournalist, bringing an empathy and understanding to his subjects that is rare.

In his twenties in the 1980s, Bradshaw was in the company of the young people who drove the reform era and built many of the features of 21st Century China: the artists, farmers, entrepreneurs, and industrialists whose enthusiasm and positivity made things happen. This energy that made history is still bursting forth.

Humanism in China

By Huangsheng Wang (editor), Ge An (editor), Wugong Hu (editor)

Book cover of Humanism in China:A Contemporary Record of Photography

This vast book in 500 pages broke new ground in publishing and photojournalism circles in China. Edited by the visionary curator Wang Huangsheng this extraordinary collection of colour and black and white material from hundreds of photographers both professional and amateur remains unmatched in scope. With unflinching courage to show both the brightest and darkest sides of life in the People’s Republic Wang selected many previously unpublished images along a range of themes from ‘desire’ to ‘time’, existence’ to ’relationships’. Crime and punishment, rural schools, and worker demonstrations - all sorts of subjects that were rarely seen in the state media, even the anal inspection of army recruits. Never before and rarely since, particularly in the last few years, has such a daring serving of so many slices of life been served. This important book is a reminder that despite the limitations of China’s state media and the much denigrated…


Who am I?

I first went as a student to Beijing in 1984 with a camera and a suitcase of film but not much of a plan. I found myself in a country whose young people were suddenly empowered to put their skills to use rather than let state planning order every aspect of their lives. My academic studies rapidly evolved into a vocation to photograph the changes around me. There was a demand for this: one of my first assignments being for Life magazine and then a slew of US and European publications eager to expand their coverage of all that was reshaping China and in turn the world. I chose street-level life as the most relatable to an international audience and in recent years also for Chinese eager to see how this era began.


I wrote...

The Door Opened: 1980s China: Photography: Adrian Bradshaw

By Adrian Bradshaw,

Book cover of The Door Opened: 1980s China: Photography: Adrian Bradshaw

What is my book about?

British photojournalist Adrian Bradshaw came to Beijing in 1984 to study Mandarin just as everyday life was in flux. He would go on to spend three decades living in, experiencing, and recording the transformation of the reform and opening-up era. The youth whose energy and optimism seized the moment with experimentation and invention back in the first decade of the new era built the foundations of an outward-looking, successful, and confident China today. Bradshaw would stay longer than any other overseas photojournalist, bringing an empathy and understanding to his subjects that is rare.

In his twenties in the 1980s, Bradshaw was in the company of the young people who drove the reform era and built many of the features of 21st Century China: the artists, farmers, entrepreneurs, and industrialists whose enthusiasm and positivity made things happen. This energy that made history is still bursting forth.

Falkland Road

By Mary Ellen Mark,

Book cover of Falkland Road: Prostitutes of Bombay

Prior to her death in 2015, photojournalist Mary Ellen Mark had published over 20 collections of her work spanning her storied career, but few hit the reader in the gut like her debut Falkland Road. Taken during visits to Mumbai (Bombay) in the 1970s, Mary was able to gain the trust of sex workers being pimped out in the Indian city’s notorious red-light district. The images are dark, disturbing, and bleak, but their intimacy and tenderness are what separates Mary from her peers.


Who am I?

Peeking over the American fence, I found myself in China in 2004 as the nation was transitioning from its quaint 1980s/90s self into the futuristic “China 2.0” we know it today. My occupation, like many expats, was small-town English teacher. I later departed for a two-year backpacking sojourn across the country. I took a bunch of snapshots along the way with a little point-and-shoot camera. 800 of those images became my first book. Photography – be it travel, documentary, street or reportage – is my passion. The following are but five of five hundred books I’d love to recommend.


I wrote...

China: Portrait of a People

By Tom Carter,

Book cover of China: Portrait of a People

What is my book about?

From the jungles of Yunnan to the frozen wastes of Heilongjiang; across the deserts of Xinjiang and beneath Hong Kong's neon blur. Tramping through China by train, bus, boat, motorcycle, or hitching on the back of anything that moved. On a budget so scant that he drew sympathetic stares from peasants. Backpacker Tom Carter somehow succeeded in circumnavigating 35,000 miles (56,000 kilometers) across all 33 Chinese provinces during a 2-year period, the first foreigner on record ever to do so. What Carter’s photographs reveal is that China is not just one place one people, but 33 distinct geographical regions populated by 56 different ethnicities, each with their own languages, customs, and lifestyles. 

We Went Back

By Cynthia Young,

Book cover of We Went Back: Photographs from Europe 1933-1956 by Chim

Technically about World War II, this work covers Chim’s work depicting culture, politics, and life before and after the war, so the circumstances leading to conflict and its aftermath. Chim was the co-founder of Magnum Photos, so his contribution to photojournalism is immense, and his photos are beautifully lit and composed even as they capture fleeting moments: Polish school children waiting for a bus in the rain, a baby reaching for bread at a displaced person’s camp or a boy playing in the ruins of a bombed building. The book also includes later photos of celebrities and movie stars, which, when seen alongside his earlier work creates an interesting narrative of a world putting itself back together and once again seeking out joy and beauty.


Who am I?

In my “day job” I write about architecture, which means I often write about things I see in photos. When I began writing fiction, I continued using photos as inspiration and research. My novels are inspired by my family’s circumstances at the end of World War II and my fascination with the work of the Monuments Men. Photos show me details like a little girl playing with her doll under a sign that declares her building to be at risk of collapse, or a woman using the ruins of a building to hang out the wash. I love finding ways to use these elements in my writing.


I wrote...

The Roses Underneath

By C.F. Yetmen,

Book cover of The Roses Underneath

What is my book about?

It is August 1945 in Wiesbaden, Germany. With the country in ruins, Anna Klein, displaced and separated from her beloved husband, struggles to support herself and her six-year-old daughter. As a typist at the Collecting Point for the US Army’s Monuments Men she barely has her head above water. When the easy-going American Captain Henry Cooper recruits her as his translator, they stumble on a mysterious stash of art, and Anna finds she has a bigger gift for sleuthing than for typing. And Cooper’s penchant for breaking the rules provides an enticing taste of a newfound freedom that might change the future she thought she had planned.

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