Top 10 Photography Books of 2014

  By John Veldhoen

I wish I’d have been able to write more reviews for The Camera Store this year, there have been so many great books that we’ve had. I feel grateful to look at photobooks, to wrap myself up in them. I look at it as the perfect art, a marriage of cinematic, or novelistic narrative, painterly gesture, psychological study, and independent craft, all at the same time. Moreover, I am privileged, and thankful that TCS continues to support the art of the photobook as strongly as it does. Hopefully this list gives you a few gift ideas just before Christmas.

10) The Photography Book, Second Edition, from Phaidon. This is a revised version of the first book, of the same name, that we also carry. The first edition is available in softcover. This second edition expands to add more photos, one each for each photographer, this book is an encomium of the greatest practitioners of the art, I think it is totally necessary, and maybe deserves place at the top of the list as well as the bottom.

9) Kati Horna, Jue de Paume, Editions RM. I wrote this summer “She fled Paris, left everything for Spain, lost everything again for Mexico, with, she wrote, “a Rolleiflex around my neck, and nothing else.” I wonder if in this statement I can read the blessing of poverty, to having nothing left hanging around the neck at all, but that is immaterial, as least in regards to the what is of what was Kati Horna.” This book is synoptic of one photographer’s vision, strange and beautiful.

8) Urbes Mutantes, Editions RM. A catalog from the International Center of Photography show of the same name, this book is a collection of various photographers from Latin America. I re-read part Blake Stimson’s brilliant book “The Pivot of the World” this year, which is a study on photography and nation. “Urbes Mutantes” is vibrant, startles the eye with mutant visions, and asks why so many incredible visions have gone unseen, subverted by other modes of language than what is due to photography itself.

7) Walker Evans, The Magazine Work. Evans is mostly known for his FSA documentary photography and his pictures from his collaboration with James Agee in “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men”. This revealing monograph goes to show how an artist of the highest standing can apply his concerns for the commercial image with a sense of tension, but maybe that tension also breaks along personal lines. I think this is an important book for younger photographers trying to work out the balance between what they regard as artful and commercial.

6) Leon Levinstein, Steidl. Levinstein is rather the photographer’s photographer, his pictures of New York cast an eye out for the downbeat, the weird and exotic, or what was called “beat” to some degree. I can’t help myself, it is like listening to the Velvet Underground and imagining a place lost and gone.

5) Emmit Gowin, Aperture.
The more I look at Gowin’s pictures the more I am convinced that he was one of the greatest ever. He seems to understand his subjects as a short-story writer might. I can’t say enough about this book so I am going to write only a little, his work was in need of an update as a monograph, and this is it.

4) The Open Road, Aperture. More of the same as above with Levinstein, I loved this book because it caught that “Visions of Cody”/”On the Road” thing without really overdoing it, a great collection including some of my favorite photographers best work, and some unseen. Worth buying for Jabob Holdt, perhaps my all-time favorite photographer, I think the letter that inspired Jack Kerouac to write “On the Road” went up for sale this year at auction, the lure turned into an icon nevertheless is there, always.

3) Lens Based Sculpture, Akademie der Kunst, Walther Koenig.
I bought a copy. Maybe should be lower on the list, but it fit with the tone of my own work and things I wanted to understand and work out. There is a correspondence between the two art forms that only get tantalizingly broached in the book, but nothing else has ever come close to showing how photography relates to sculpture and vice-versa. A great collection, worthy because it leads to new directions, to forms not made, approaches not yet taken.

2) Exiles, Josef Koudelka, Aperture.
A perfect expression of idea and form, a heartbreaking map of the heart with no place for a home, the restless heart that is the opposite of what Czeslaw Milosz describes, as a state of being, in the introduction, “Rhythm is at the core of human life. It is, first of all, the rhythm of the organism, ruled by the heartbeat and circulation of blood. As we live in a pulsating, vibrating world, we respond to it and in turn are bound to its rhythm. Without giving much thought to our dependence on the systoles and distoles of flowing time we move through sunrises and sunsets, through the sequences of four seasons. Repetition enables us to form habits and to accept the world as familiar Perhaps the need of a routine is deeply rooted in the very structure of our bodies.”

1) Saul Leiter, Early Black and White, Steidl. Saul Leiter’s work in color has garnered no shortage of attention, but it was this book that validated the living, breathing Leiter for me. His work in black and white, broken into two-volumes, one for exteriors, and one for interiors (always, it seems, a tricky thing), shows that he was not merely a watercolor dauber, a Mondrianist cum abstract-expressionist with a lens, but a something more. What’s clear from Leiter’s black and white photography is how immediately, how sensually he lived; his pictures are erotic and ethical (which is to say loving), deeply beautiful, filled with life. The challenge of form rests, rises, he worshiped the inside with the pictures of the outside of the life that he witnessed.

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In addition to being on our sales team, John curates The Camera Store's book selection and is a contributing author of our blog. He likes to think about photography, talk about photography, and sometimes write about photography.