My Favourite Photobooks - Great Gift Ideas!

December 11, 2020

With this being gift-giving season, it's the perfect time to finally write about my favourite photo books.

Each of these books will make a great gift for the photographer or photography lover in your life.

As life is still in lockdown for many of us, what better to curl up with and enjoy than a wonderfully engaging photo book?

I am including eleven books, each chosen based on what draws my interest and what I enjoy. They are not in any particular order.

I will start with a Canadian legend of colour film...


1. Modern Color by Fred Herzog

The late Fred Herzog was an early pioneer in shooting colour film. He captured Vancouver in a way that few have done then or since. His work is a real inspiration to me and how I capture street scenes.

Fred Herzog is represented by Equinox Gallery in Vancouver, B.C. I noticed that Modern Color is on sale on the Equinox Gallery website until December 19th, 2020.

If you love street or film photography, or just art that reveals unique human moments and insight, then I highly recommend this book.


2. San Francisco Noir by Fred Lyon

I saw an interview with Fred Lyon on an Adobe Youtube channel a few years ago and fell in love with his wonderful images of San Francisco.

There is something about Fred Lyon's timeless black and white images that is so engaging.

I highly recommend San Francisco Noir. Even if you don't buy his book, do pay a visit to Fred Lyon's website to enjoy more of his images.


3. Small World by Martin Parr

Many years ago I told a few friends how I'd love to see a coffee table book about tourists - not just about the destinations that tourists love to visit. I had lived overseas for a while and had seen all kinds of painful behaviour by tourists where I was living. So when I encountered the work of Martin Parr many years later - thanks to a photography class I took at Ryerson - it was a real "Yes!" moment.

Small World shows images captured by Martin Parr of tourists - and the tourist culture that surrounds them - in all of their absurd glory.

I heard Martin Parr speak at the AGO and had the chance to meet him afterwards also - a very fun moment.

There is so much more that could be said about Martin Parr's work. I recommend exploring the large catalogue of books that he has released over the years.

If you appreciate poking holes through false surfaces, or have a taste for the absurd, then give Small World a try, or at least visit Martin Parr's website.


4. Music Makers by Lisa MacIntosh

I first met Lisa MacIntosh several years ago through Twitter. Before we even met in person, it was clear to me that Lisa is a wonderful human being - the kind who takes time to say kind words and to give encouragement, even to those she has not yet met. 

Lisa knows many in the arts community in Canada and well beyond. Her photo book Music Makers: Portraits at The Great Hall is a testament to this fact. Even more so, Music Makers illustrates how skilled Lisa is at creating unique and delightful portraits.

Whether you come for the portrait skills, or for the musicians you know and love, Music Makers: Portraits at The Great Hall is well worth buying and enjoying. Unfortunately it is sold out! You can still see many of the Music Makers portraits on Lisa's website though. I recommend following Lisa on Twitter and discovering her fantastic ASK series on Instagram. Thank you Lisa for being a bright light to so many.


5. Fashion Climbing by Bill Cunningham

If you love New York City, or photography, and haven't watched "Bill Cunningham: New York" then you are missing something vital. I highly recommend it. The story of this lovely human being and dedicated New York street fashion photographer is inspiring and very moving, I guarantee it. (The film can be seen on Kanopy for free if you have a Toronto Public Library Card - click here to sign in to Kanopy).

Once you get that done, and perhaps wipe a tear or two away from your eyes (OK, maybe it was just me?) then there is a good chance you will want to know more about Bill Cunningham's life. If so, then you will enjoy reading Fashion Climbing. It is not a photo book, but it is a touching auto-biography of the life of Bill Cunningham and how he moved through the world of fashion to become the person you see in Bill Cunningham: New York.

Bill Cunningham shares some incredible stories and insider information on the world of high fashion. I really enjoyed reading this book.

If you want a book that shares Bill Cunningham's street photos directly, then have a look at Bill Cunningham: On The Street (click the link for a great write-up about the book). It is on my Christmas list for this year!


6. Steve McCurry Untold: The Stories Behind The Photographs

I can hear critical voices responding to this selection. Isn't a bit cliché to suggest the work of classic National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry? Isn't he from another time? His type of photography out of date?

Well perhaps yes, but I still admire Steve McCurry's work. His images will be undoubtably with us forever and the stories of how he got his most famous photos remain inspiring.

Hard work, ingenuity, people skills and even good luck will always be important for any photographer who wants to succeed, and Steve McCurry's stories prove this to be true. This book adds much insight into his journeys over the years, and includes artifacts and elements that add to the whole story of his life and work.

(By the way, I met Steve McCurry a number of years ago. It was quite a fun moment. I may have to blog about it some day!)


7. Street Photography: A History in 100 Iconic Images by David Gibson

I received this book as a gift a while ago, and found myself a bit skeptical given its title. "Who can really tackle the history of street photography in 100 images?" I found myself thinking. I was still grateful though for the thoughtful gift and for the chance to continue learning about a genre of photography that I love.

I enjoyed the book's layout and found myself pleasantly surprised at the wide variety of photographers that were included - not just the "usual suspects" that I often hear about but a solid range of international photographers whose work does not receive the attention of as the likes of Joel Meyerowitz, Garry Winogrand and other prominent names in street photography.

I found a balanced review of this book at which echoed my concerns and raised some valid points, but still in the end gives it a recommendation. If you want to go wider than some of the usual names, but aren't ready for a heavy duty text book such as Joel Meyerowitz's Bystander (which I'd also recommend if you're up for a heavier tome), then this is a great book for you or a friend.


8. Bathers by Ruth Kaplan

Ruth Kaplan is a skilled Canadian documentary photographer and an instructor at Ryerson University and at Gallery 44. I feel privileged to have taken a few courses with Ruth, and to have received guidance and input from her on my Taxi Drivers of Toronto project.

A while ago I purchased a copy of her book Bathers. This piece from Artbook gives a good description of Bathers:

"Bathers, by Toronto-based photographer Ruth Kaplan, explores the social theater of communal bathing. Kaplan’s journey began in the nudist hot springs of California in 1991. By participating in the baths, Kaplan gradually became accepted and was able to make photographs of her fellow bathers, occupying the dual role of voyeur and participant. From California she then traveled to Eastern Europe, seeking a more traditional form of the practice in the spa towns of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary and Romania. The unique display of individual body types and ages became a component of the work, as did the decaying architecture of the interiors. She then traveled to higher-tech spas in Germany, France, Italy and Denmark, completing the series in 2002 in Moroccan hamams and Icelandic hot springs. Hedonism, sensuality, innocence and social bonding are some of the underlying themes that emerged."

In 2020 PhotoEd Magazine (a great Canadian photo magazine worth subscribing to!) put out a call asking people to submit names of Canadian women photographers that everyone should know. Many names were submitted and a vote was held to select the top five, which were then put onto a tote bag.

I was very happy when they announced the final list and learned that it included Ruth Kaplan. (You can read a list of those who were selected or considered here.)

Explore Ruth Kaplan's work, and consider buying a copy of Bathers as well.

Please note that there is nudity in Bathers.


9. 100 Ideas That Changed Photography by Mary Werner Marien

If you want to get a wider understanding of where photography has come from, and in many cases where it is headed back to (exploring old film processes is very popular now), then this book is worth a look.

It is divided into easy to digest sections that bring forward the most interesting points about important developments and innovations in photography over the years. You can jump in anywhere in this book and find something fascinating to read about.

100 Ideas That Changed Photography is a great book for anyone who wants to broaden their understanding of the history of photography. As I mentioned earlier, many of the techniques and processes listed in this book are still being used or reinvented today.


10. How to Read A Photograph by Ian Jeffrey

When I got this book, I thought it would do as the title says - teach me how to analyze images by each of the great photographers found within. What it does do is offer great insights into each of the photographers' works, approaches, and the times they lived in - which may be the next best thing.

While a history of photography textbook can be daunting (something I may have experienced while studying History of Photography at Ryerson University), a book like this allows meaningful insights into each photographer without committing to forty pages of dense reading.

This is an enjoyable book for anyone who loves classic photography and learning more about the moments and themes that shaped each photographer's creative work.

11. Coincidences by Jonathan Higbee

I was aware of Jonathan Higbee's very fun street photography work, so when I came across this book at a local thrift store it was an exciting moment.

The beauty of Higbee's work is making his images look like just that, coincidences.

Having seen Jonathan Higbee apply his skills in a YouTube video, it is clear that he works very hard, even over several visits to the same location, to get the kind of image that he is after. He is very dedicated.

If you or someone you know enjoys playful street photography, then this book is well worth a purchase.

In Conclusion!

There are so many photo books out there. What I have shared here is just what I especially enjoy from my own collection. I hope this list is a useful starting point, but keep exploring - you are bound to discover so much more.

As a random example - have a look at these fun photo books about cats and dogs in Hong Kong by Dutch photographer Marcel Heijnen.

Here is a handy directory of Canadian booksellers for finding one near you. Consider supporting independant booksellers when making your purchase. Small retailers give personal service and contribute to warm local culture that is so vital to any community.

Enjoy curling up with a good photo book this winter! Thanks for looking!

Culture Snap Photography features the work of Toronto-based photographer Henry VanderSpek. Henry specializes in documenting the work of local and international non-profit organizations, special events, live music, street and art photography. To hire Henry for an assignment, please click here to get in touch.
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