Gift guide: 2020’s best photo books for photographers

Gift guide: 2020’s best photo books for photographers

Photographers can be quite difficult to shop for. We’re particular about our gear, accessories tend to cater to niche audiences, and we certainly don’t need any more lens shaped coffee mugs. Luckily, photography books never go out of style and can also serve as inspiration for years to come.

There’s just something special about cracking open a nicely bound photo book and taking in the images, one at a time. And so we’re pleased to share some of our favorite titles from 2020, all of which make great gifts.

Magnum Artists

Magnum’s photographers have been capturing the world’s big personalities since the 1930s when the agency was founded. This hardcover coffee table book brings together over 200 portraits of the world’s greatest artists as captured by Magnum’s photographers, as well as behind-the-scenes stories of the shoots.

Magnum Artists features portraits of Diane Arbus by Elliott Eriwtt, Louise Bourgeois by Inge Morath, Nan Goldin by Alec Soth, Robert Frank by Wayne Miller, Frida Kahlo by Werner Bischof, and many more. Most often the artists are captured inside the intimate spaces that are their homes or studios. The collection spans nearly eight decades and offers a unique perspective on the folks behind some of the most important pieces of artwork in our lifetime.

How I Make Photographs

Part photo book and part advice book, this title gives readers a peek into the mind of legendary street photographer Joel Meyerowitz. Meyerowitz has been shooting in the streets of New York City since the early 1960s and is considered as one of the pioneers of street photography – so who better to learn from. The pocket-sized book is broken up into chapters and in each of them Meyerowitz dives into bite-sized lessons on how to anticipate the moment, embrace humor, follow the light, and more.

Meyerowitz’s enthusiasm for his craft seeps through the prose and is punctuated by the colorful street photographs that he has made throughout his career. It’s a great quick read and one that you might find yourself reaching for whenever inspiration starts to wane.

Mirror Sound

It’s never been easier to self-record an album – iPhone voice memos and programs like GarageBand make it so nearly anyone can, but the concept can still be wildly intimidating. Mirror Sound hopes to demystify the world of self-recording. This book takes a deep dive into the personalities and processes of recording music on your own.

Photographer Daniel Topete and musician Spencer Tweedy traveled to the home-studios of 27 musicians to capture the stories contained within Mirror Sound. Topete’s intimate photographs offer a rare look inside the bedrooms, living rooms and garages where artists like Sharon Van Etten, Mac DeMarco, Ty Segall, and Open Mike Eagle make the magic happen. The photographs are paired with essays written by Tweedy that explore the nuances of self-recording and why some artists prefer to work in this way. In a time when we’re all being advised to stay at home, Mirror Sound offers an uplifting view of just how creatively satisfying one’s home can be.

Godlis Streets

Best known for his moody black-and-white photographs from New York City’s CBGB’s in the late ’70s, Godlis Streets captures the lighter side of this prolific shooter. These images were captured during the ‘70s and ’80s on the street of Boston, where Godlis attended school, and New York City. The playful energy found in his rock ‘n’ roll pictures from the Bowery are still very much present in these images – and the grit is too.

Godlis’ pictures from the streets capture a city that no longer exists – the big hair, cigarette smokers, racy Times Square advertisements and fashion all speak to that. His humorous frames capture the mundane nature of life as a commuter and may make you nostalgic for the time before working-from-home became the norm. If you love the work of Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, or Garry Winogrand, this book should find a comfortable spot on your coffee table or bookshelf.

Death Magick Abundance

Akasha Rabut captures the beauty and joy of New Orleans in her debut photo book, Death Magick Abundance. Shot primarily on film, Rabut has been photographing the city’s second lines and the community that surrounds them for nearly a decade. For the unfamiliar, the second line is a tradition that originates from funerals, it’s the group of musicians who follow the ‘Main Line’ of the parade and encourage anyone and everyone to join in on the fun. It’s also a mainstay in the social lives of New Orleans residents.

Rabut’s book celebrates groups like the Caramel Curves, the first all-female black motorcycle club; the Southern Riderz, urban cowboys who ride horses through the city’s streets; and the other energetic and stylish characters that one might find following a second line. Rabut’s images are accompanied by oral histories from members of Caramel Curves and the Southern Riderz. Overall, Death Magick Abundance unfolds like a love letter to the people of New Orleans.

The New Woman Behind the Camera

Published in advance of a major 2021 exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC and the Met in New York City, The New Woman Behind the Camera takes an in-depth look at the way women around the world shaped photography from 1920-1950.

The book features images from 120 photographers from the era who worked as fine artists, photojournalists, fashion photographers, portraitists and more. The images are paired with scholarly essays that explore the ways in which women brought a unique perspective to the medium and highlights some of the lesser-known names of the era. It’s an impressive and expansive survey that reflects the massive transformations of the era.

Eyes Over the World

Affordable consumer drones have changed the way in which we see and capture the world in the last half a dozen years – Eyes Over the World is a celebration of these aerial perspectives.

Curated from the Instagram account @fromwhereidrone, the book is organized geographically by water, arid, lush, urban and ice. Eyes Over the World showcases stunning overhead views of surfers on crashing waves, bathing hippos, airplane graveyards, fall foliage, suburban sprawl, and more. And although the images are from far-flung places around the globe, they serve as a reminder of the incredible power of shifting your perspective as a photographer.

The Shadow Knows

This Lee Friedlander collection is truly a photographer’s photography book – think of it like an inside joke. Known for his unconventional self-portraits, The Shadow Knows expands upon the collection, except here the photographer only includes his shadow.

The book lacks a conventional intro and outro, choosing instead to dive straight into the pictures. The Shadow Knows features 101 portraits of Friedlander – sometimes his shadow gives off an ominous vibe, other times its playful and lighthearted. Occasionally the frames capture Friedlander with the camera to his eye. Although these types of shadows are the elements that photographer’s often seek to eliminate from their images, Friedlander has intentionally broken the fourth wall, and the results are strangely beautiful. Get this one for the art nerd in your life.

Black in White America

Leonard Freed’s definitive collection of work has been redesigned and expanded for 2020. Originally published in 1968, Black in White America features photographs taken between 1963 and 1965 in the North and South that document the lives of black Americans living in a deeply segregated and racist America.

The images within the book have been reprinted from Freed’s original negatives and are published alongside excerpts from Freed’s journals that he kept while photographing. Organized geographically, the book takes readers through locations such as Harlem, Brooklyn, Washington DC, New Orleans, The Carolinas and more. The nuanced collection of images is as relevant today as when it was first published and cements Freed’s place as one of the premiere documentary photographers of the 20th century.