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January 14, 2004

Top Photo Books of 2003

I've owned a few photography books over the years, but in the past their purchase was driven by other passions (specifically books featuring jazz photography by William Claxton, and various volumes on landscape photography). In the last two years, I've really gotten the bug when it come to photo books, in all forms...oversized, pocket-sized, hardcover, pamphlet, used, limited edition, etc...I'm addicted.

The good news is that there's been a real bumper crop of photography books across a wide variety of genres in the last few years, and even independent press titles are no longer considered an esoteric item... I've seen suburban locations of Barnes and Noble and Borders carry a surprisingly diverse selection of titles, and of course online bookdealers like Amazon and Powell's can now track down many of the quirkiest selections easily. Another great online resource, and an enjoyable web site in its own right, is Photo Eye Books.

Vince Aletti, the photo critic for the Village Voice and a key contributor to the definitive Book of 101 Books , has just published his top 20 photo books for the last year. He says he originally had a list of 44 (!) books that he had to prune down to the final 20, but he graciously lists a few notables that didn't make the final cut. I can attest to the quality of a few of the top choices he lists that I own, or have had a chance to look at in a bookstore -- in particular, the titles by Diane Arbus, Paul Graham, Philip Lorca di Corcia, Sally Mann, and William Eggleston (I've listed some in my "Recent Faves" sidebar). Must to add to the wish list: Mitch Epstein's Family Business (I own a previous book of his featuring outstanding photographs of New York City), and Deborah Luster's One Big Self.

Aletti doesn't discuss all the titles in his top 20, but if you poke around his previous columns on the Voice site, you'll come across his take on many of the other artists. Very worthwhile reading.

Another good list published recently from another superb critic, with a number of the same titles (and a bit more discussion), comes from Andy Grundberg of the New York Times. Here's his top 10 (registration required for NYTimes site).

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I enjoyed looking over Aletti's list and (of course) have .02 to spare:

Eggleston's "Los Alamos" is brilliant and beautiful... an excursion into color and form that is so satisfying. His images have a simplicity to them that invites staring.

Polidori's Zones of Excursion is quite amazing as well. In a twisted way, it's a little bit like walking into your apartment the day after your roommate has thrown a wild party. Only it was hardly a party. And it's NOT (thankfully) your home. Although empty and damaged interiors seem to be quite fashionable to photograph these days, it's worth looking at this book before it becomes cliché.

Tillmans' "If One Thing Matters..." is wacky. Fun and wacky. BUT -- the theory/moral is solid and thought provoking.

Not on his list are a few from '03 that I would put on mine:

HCB's "The man, the images..." (aka the big maroon one). Enough said.

Raghubir Singh's "A Way into India" - technically published in '02, but the show (in D.C.) was in '03. Color, design, form... all contributing to decisive moments that will either make you want to visit India immediately, or never.

Elliot Erwitt's "Handbook" is typically funny/punny in classic Erwitt style. Some excellent street shots (and a perfect example of how street photography can also happen on the beach). And I have a signed first edition ;-)

Posted by: Andrew Miller at Jan 14, 2004 9:30:49 AM

i love the book of 101 books. the sad thing is that i'll never own all the books mentioned in it. the los alamos book is also one of my favorites from this past year.

Posted by: e ku at Jan 18, 2004 9:25:18 PM