8 Books Every Photographer Should Read

Book cover collageOne of the best things about being a working photographer is absolutely getting to travel for work — but hours on an airplane (or a Greyhound bus) can get pretty boring, pretty quickly. Even if you’re not traveling for work, if you’ve got summer adventures on the docket, it’s wise to have a robust reading list ready to roll. Instead of wasting your precious downtime catching up on the latest tween vampire/werewolf/unicorn page-turner, why not really immerse yourself in your craft and read up on the lives of the photographers who came before you?

Here are nine of our favorite books about photographers — including biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs — for photographers. Let the beach reading begin.

ALifeBeyondLimitsWildlife Photography: Stories from the Field, by George Lepp and Kathryn Vincent Lepp: George Lepp is best known for his wildlife photos and technical manuals, but for Stories from the Field, he took a different route, teaming up with his wife and getting personal about his experience as a photographer of wild things. Even if you’re just doing your reading while waiting in line at the DMV, Lepp will have you on the edge of your seat as you read about some of the fascinating — and occasionally nail-biting — moments in the field.

Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits, by Linda Gordon: If you’ve never read up on the life of one of the most iconic photographers of the American Depression, you’re really missing out. And while there are plenty of accounts of Dorthea Lange’s life, Life Beyond Limits is one of the most highly regarded. Full of gorgeous photos and interesting details, Life Beyond Limits was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, a San Francisco Chronicle Best Book, a New York Times Notable Book, and the winner of the 2010 Bancroft Prize.

Diane Arbus: A Biography, by Patricia Bosworth: Patricia Bosworth does incredible work illuminating the genius and sadness of Diane Arbus, whose captivating, sometimes uncomfortable work made her a staple of the 1960s. Including interviews with other big names of the time — including Andy Warhol — this book captures her rise to fame, and, ultimately, her tragic end. Not exactly a feel-good read, but definitely a fascinating look at the life of a legend. It’s also a nice counterbalance to the sensational 2006 Nicole Kidman-driven Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus.

Weegee: Murder is My Business, by Brian Wallis: If you’re not afraid of grisly photos of decease Prohibition-era gangsters, this is the book for you. Get to know the photodetective behind the images with this series of essays and photographs, which explores Weegee (real name: Arthur Fellig) as both a photographer and a person.
Just Kids, by Patti Smith: Singer-songwriter Patti Smith’s first prose piece, which detailed her relationship with legendary and controversial photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, became one of the most beloved books of 2010, winning the 2010 National Book Award for Nonfiction. It was also a Publishers Weekly’s Top 10 Best Books, an ALA Notable Book, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and a New York Times bestseller. It’s a beautifully-written, intimate peek into the intertwined lives of two cultural icons.

Annie Leibovitz at Work, by Annie Leibovitz: How did Annie Leibovitz get all those incredible shots of famous people? Let her tell you in this technical guide, which walks the reader through the details of some of her most recognizable work. This is a must-read for all serious photographers who want to learn about how the sausage gets made.

The Man Who Stopped Time: The Illuminating Story of Eadweard Muybridge – Pioneer Photographer, Father of the Motion Picture, Murderer, by Brian Clegg: Long name, fascinating story. Go beyond the horse-running photo that made Eadweard Muybridge famous to learn about his other photography subjects, including “men, women, boxers, wrestlers, racehorses, elephants and camels frozen in time, captured in the act of moving, fighting, galloping, living.”

Ansel Adams: An Autobiography, by Ansel Adams: Did you know that, in addition to taking gorgeous photos of the American landscape, Ansel Adams was also a musician? Adams completed this inspirational read just before his death in 1984, and is a perfect encapsulation of his legacy.

Images via Wikimedia Commons and Patti Smith

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Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer and editor for CreativeLive, longtime reporter, and the co-founder of Seattlish. Follow her on Twitter at @mshannabrooks or go to her website for more stuff.