In the beginning of my photography journey I remember searching art photography books and only found books with technical advice. I was wondering if there’s any good books about storytelling and methodologies? I will be introducing you to the best art photography books that I’ve read during my studies.
Nowadays, you can find everything you need to know online. Although we live in the digital age, nothing beats the learning and reading experience of a physical book. In order to feel creative, we need to feel bored. And rewiring our brains for books will at first feel exactly like that.
Disclosure: There are some affiliate links below and I may receive commissions for purchases made through links in this post, but these are all products I highly recommend. I won’t put anything on this page that I haven’t verified and/or personally used.
How books can enhance your storytelling
I’ve done my fair share of research on photographers and their practises. For some reason, I always felt many photography books that I came across were about the technicalities of the practice. I had a difficult time finding books on the methodologies and the ways of building a narrative.
Eventually it became clear that you can focus on deepening your own practice and depict subject in your photography that had more of a symbolical meaning. Creating a whole new narrative in your photographs. Similarly like with editing , knowing what message you’re conveying through your imagery is an essential skill.
Although it’s great to find inspiration in visual material like photography from other artists and movies, the biggest impact for me came from books and articles.
Even if you are not familiar with reading books for inspiration, transitioning between visual and written inspiration is important for your improvement in photography.
You cannot base your visual inspiration solely on visual material. This will leave the basis for your work quite thin, even flat if I may say.
Hence photography being about conveying a hidden meaning or communicating with symbolism, doing your research will eventually require you to turn to written text instead of visual material.
While reading will help you absorb details in a more creative and in-depth manner, it will also inspire you to be original – finding unique ways and ideas to translate a message through your imagery.
Indeed, firstly it will help you improve your image reading skills. And secondly, it will give you a new perspective on how to approach your themes.
Nonetheless, even if these books are not about the technicality of photography, you will be able to expand your knowledge on photography and create more meaningful images.
Best art photography books I recommend
A new edition of the definitive title in the field of contemporary art photography by one of the world’s leading experts on the subject, Charlotte Cotton.
I highly recommend this one. After reading the book not only was I more educated on the well-known photographers in the field, but also their methods.
A true enjoyment learning the methodologies that I later on implemented in my own practice. For example, photographers like Rineke Dijkstra, Nan Goldin, and Elina Brotherus are all introduced here.
In the twenty-first century, photography has come of age as a contemporary art form. Almost two centuries after photographic technology was first invented, the art world has fully embraced it as a legitimate medium, equal in status to painting and sculpture.
The Photograph as Contemporary Art introduces the extraordinary range of contemporary art photography, from portraits of intimate life to highly staged directorial spectacles.
Equally important text to introduce to you if you find semiotics in imagery interesting. This text for photography students identifies key debates in photographic theory, stimulates discussion and evaluation of the critical use of photographic images and ways of seeing.
The content is updated with additional international and contemporary examples and images throughout. All while providing extensive material on photography.
Now in its sixth edition, this seminal textbook examines key debates in photographic theory and places them in their social and political contexts. Written especially for students in further and higher education and for introductory college courses, it provides a coherent introduction to the nature of photographic seeing.
Illustrated with over 100 colour and black and white photographs, it features work from Bill Brandt, Susan Derges, Rineke Dijkstra, Fran Herbello, Hannah Höch, Mari Katayama, Sant Khalsa, Karen Knorr, Dorothea Lange, Susan Meiselas, Lee Miller, Ingrid Pollard, Jacob Riis, Alexander Rodchenko, Andres Serrano, Cindy Sherman and Jeff Wall.
A fully updated resource information, including guides to public archives and useful websites, full glossary of terms and a comprehensive bibliography makes this an ideal introduction to the field.
Because my themes are mostly circling around gender identity, reading this book was an eye-opener for my practice. Indeed, in more ways than one: by concentrating on how we look at paintings and images, Berger will almost certainly change the way you look at them too.
Due to this reason, I learned to depict my portraitures the way I did. The opening to John Berger’s most famous written work, the 1972 book Ways Of Seeing, offered not just an idea but also an invitation to see and know the world differently: “The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled,” he wrote.
John Berger’s “Ways of Seeing” is a short commentary that seems to be about how different classes of people perceive art, how its meaning has changed through the ages, and how the introduction of technology has affected it.
Berger seems to be an extremely controversial art critic, based off opinions of him that range from “stimulating” to “preposterous”. He has been praised numerous times, yet condemned just as much.
His writings can seem extremely complex and difficult, even cryptic at times; but trudging through his works can yield many fascinating nuggets of truth. I believe that ultimately, Berger’s argument of original pieces of art losing their value is solid.
Berger starts out by establishing how sight is arguably our most important sense. He then makes us question if we can truly believe our eyes, if what we see is actually reality.
Even pictures, according to him, cannot be taken for face value because one must consider the intent of the photographer and other factors that may have skewed the message.
To conclude the list with this essential text, Susan Sontag confronts important questions surrounding the power dynamics between photographer and subject.
The blurred boundary between lived events and recreated images. Photographs are everywhere – high art to family albums to legal evidence, they capture and document the world around us. And whether we use them to expose, reveal or remember, they hold an enduring power.
First published in 1973, this is a study of the force of photographic images which are continually inserted between experience and reality. Sontag develops further the concept of ‘transparency’. When anything can be photographed and photography has destroyed the boundaries and definitions of art, a viewer can approach a photograph freely with no expectations of discovering what it means.
This collection of six lucid and invigorating essays, the most famous being “In Plato’s Cave”, make up a deep exploration of how the image has affected society.
Overall all these books have introduced me to a narrative I could convey if I wished to visualize subjects not yet visible.
Thus also introducing me to examples of the methodologies a photographer could explore – there are several that do not require you to just point your camera at your subject.
Although we all want to tell a story with our photography, knowing how context can be visualized will help you deepen your work.
If you liked this article, you may also like Photographers Dilemma: The Ethics of Photography And How To Implement It