A great coffee table book not only makes for a thoughtful and memorable gift, it acts as a sort of cultured ornament for visitors to flick through while you fetch them drinks. Here are 10 (technically 13) of my favorites.
There was a time when getting a book as a present was unappreciated. But the older I get, the more I enjoy a good book. What constitutes a good book isn't just the text however — oh, no — if you add the words "coffee" and "table" in front, you unlock new criteria of aesthetics. The right photography book can not only be a rich vein of inspiration and art, but the experience of even handling the item has a level of tactile satisfaction worthy of repeating.
After my tongue-in-cheek article last month about items photographers don't want for Christmas, I began working on a more useful resource for gifts photographers might well want. One staple member of that list from before I'd even articulated the idea was a good coffee table photography book. If you've never seen or held a good one, it's well worth it. Forget those flaccid gloss print text books, and instead, paw through a carefully bound photography book with high-quality printing and careful image curation and presentation. Here are some of my suggestions.
I went to see the exhibition of this in London and was jolted awake with awe. Salgado's images are often a festival of monochrome with perfect contrast, composition, and clarity.
This lofty tome ought to be a staple for any fashion photographer, but honestly, a landmark artist worth studying from the point of view of any creative discipline. Lindbergh is one of the godfathers of fashion portraiture, and the images in this book are powerful and iconic.
The McCullin documentary was one of the most harrowing insights I'd ever seen into photojournalism of war. I noted after watching it several years back that it was if you could see the effects of war and tragedy on McCullin immediately, even without knowing him. There's a quiet, accepting, somber manner, and as heartbreaking as it is, the resulting images over his long career are important and captivating.
Our writer Anete Lūsiņa put me on to this, and as a cat lover (though I refuse to enter into the false dichotomy of cats versus dogs; I'll take both), I fell in love with this bizarre little creation. It is pure happiness strong enough that it can make you briefly forget about Brexit or whatever troubles you.
One of the more famous entries to this list, but no less worthy. Robert Frank's work perfectly captured an era in America that is enticing and fascinating whether you're an American or like me, not.
If you haven't heard of Vivian Maier, I'm not going to ruin the story for you: go look her up or watch the documentary "Finding Vivian Maier." One of the most mysterious photographers of all time, intensely private, and with an almost unparalleled eye for street photography.
A portrait photographer I have tremendous respect for and whose images you'll likely recognize whether you've heard of him or not. This is the closest entry to "instructional" on this list, and his stories are worthy accompaniment to a stellar body of work.
From what I can tell, this book isn't overly well known and certainly one of the least famous on this list. I'm not even certain how I stumbled upon it, but it was in my bookmarks, and I'm glad it was. The concept is this: incredible architecture, but with a dog in the shot. The execution is great, and I also like that this balances out my cat/dog karma for the article.
It's difficult to use the word "raw" in the context of art without sounding like an insufferable tool, but I might have to take the risk. The reason this book is so compelling is that it's truly stripped back to basics. There are 139 contact sheets, featuring 69 photographers, spanning 70 years, scribbled with notes and other scars of the editorial process.
I'm a huge fan of Vanity Fair as a publication, and its portraiture throughout the years has undoubtedly played a role in that. For me, no images have the lasting draw that a portrait does, which means you'll revisit this book time and time again. It features everyone from Pablo Picasso to Chris Rock, with no two images alike. Also, the foreword is by fellow Brit, ex-Vanity Fair Editor, and one of my personal heroes, Christopher Hitchens.
My shortlist for this article was already longer than10, and then, I asked my fellow writers for suggestions, and it got out of hand. I will, however, add three honorable mentions that are a bit different from my selections:
A terrifying look into storms in North America and a reminder that London's public transport ceasing to function with the first snowflake of the year is ridiculous. (Suggested by Alex Cooke)
A serene tour of America's national parks with diverse imagery. It's worth reading this article on the book. (Suggested by Ryan Mense)
There's a "look" in early color photography that grabs and holds me, particularly if the inherent color cast of the film is tempered. This book is a festival of bold colors, striking contrast, and disparate locations. (Suggested by Jason Vinson)
What Coffee Table Photography Book Would You Suggest?
Now, I want some community suggestions. What books did I miss out that you would recommend? What's on your proverbial coffee table? Share them in the comments section below.
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