Monday, November 22, 2010

Book lists

Elizabeth Avedon wrote an interesting post recently speculating about the best selling photography books of all time. She polled a variety of photo folks and came up with suggestions ranging from The Americans to In the American West. But unfortunately there was no way to pin firm numbers on any of the titles. Many popular books have been around for decades through various reprints. Print runs are hard to determine and sales figures are even harder. Avedon's conclusion was that The Family of Man was probably the all time bestseller but she couldn't be certain.

While measuring all times sales is tricky there is an accurate way to measure contemporary book sales and it's Amazon. Here are the top 100 best sellers in what Amazon calls Photography Collections & Exhibitions, which is a (sometimes very) rough approximation of fine art photography titles.

Amazon sales have a natural bias toward recent titles, books still in print, and generally less expensive editions. Amazon also lists separate entries for multiple editions of the same title so the numbers for very popular books are diluted somewhat.

For all these reasons Amazon rankings do not reflect total historical sales. Nevertheless they're fun to peruse. Here are the Amazon rankings for many of the books mentioned in Avedon's post, as well as a few other noteworthy titles (as of 10 am, Pacific time, 11/20/10).

918. Tim Flach, Dogs (top selling fine-art photography title)
5,529. Robert Frank, The Americans
8,529. Lee Friedlander, America by Car
8,889. Susan Sontag, On Photography
10,930. Anne Geddes, Beginnings
14,052. Stephen Shore, Uncommon Places
20,485. William Eggleston's Guide
21,756. Michael Lesy, Wisconsin Death Trip
26,494. John Szarkowski, The Photographer's Eye
38,149. The Family of Man
42,982. Larry Clark, Tulsa
45,188. Diane Arbus Monograph
46,161. John Szarkowski, Looking At Photographs
111,997. Newhall's History of Photography
407,319. Alec Soth, Sleeping by the Mississippi
512,655. Nan Goldin, Ballad of Sexual Dependency
577,045. Edward Weston, The Daybooks
595,021. Garry Winogrand, The Animals
949,287. Robert Frank, The Lines of My Hand
967,826. Joel Sternfeld, American Prospects
973,986. Robert Capa, Images of War
1,484,097. Joel Peter Witkin, Gods of Earth and Heaven
1,624,634. Richard Avedon, In the American West
2,353,814. Eliot Porter, In Wilderness is the Preservation of the World
2,558,555. Henri Cartier-Bresson, The Decisive Moment
5,716,330. Josef Koudelka, Exiles
7,274,943. Walker Evans, American Photographs

On the topic of book lists, there is one resource which I think stands head and shoulders above all others, and that is Building a Photographic Library published in 2001 by The Texas Photographic Society.

Despite the misleading title it's more of a research study than How-To guide. The authors polled 100 prominent people in the photo world asking

"We would like to know your six favorite photography books. Please list them and a brief description of each book and/or a statement on how the book has influenced you?"

The book is a compilation of answers received. It's fascinating reading but unfortunately like many photo-related books this one is out of print and difficult to find (Amazon ranking: #4,072,441).

Here are the books most commonly listed (with number of mentions) by those polled in 2001.

1. Robert Frank, The Americans (27)
2. John Szarkowski, Looking at Photographs (17)
3. Edward Weston, Daybooks (13)
4. Szarkowski and Hambourg, The Work of Atget (10)
5. Diane Arbus Monograph (9)
6. Walker Evans, American Photographs (7)
7. Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida (7)
8. Henri Cartier-Bresson, The Decisive Moment (6)
9. Ansel Adams, The Negative (6)
10. Michael Kenna, A Twenty Year Retrospective (6)
11. Josef Koudelka, Exiles (6)

With a few exceptions, this list looks a lot like Avedon's initial chart of suspected bestsellers. I'm not sure how well they've sold but they're all classics. I'd say at least the first 6 of these belong in every photographer's library (I've got Szarkowski's Atget (Amazon: #352,418) instead of the massive 4 volume set co-written with Hambourg (Amazon: #4,900,134)).

I'm going to make that my six. How about you? What are your six favorite photography books?


Droid said...

Amazon's top ten doesn't surprise me, with the exception of the Friendlander book (which I bought myself from Amazon). The rest are pure popular photography which emphasizes Nat Geo and fashion/commercial photography.

Blake Andrews said...

I guess that's why Friedlander's been putting out so many books in recent years. There seems to be a strong market for them.

Zisis Kardianos said...

It's not easy to select just 6 but I'll give it a try.

R.Frank "The Americans"
H.C.Bresson "Decisive moment"
G. Winogrand "Figments from the real world"
J. Koudelca "Exiles"
Szarkowski "Looking at photographs"
Nicos Economopoulos "In the Balkans"

Droid said...

I don't have any of the books in your list, except an Aperature on Atget, but my favourite books from my collection are:

The Last Resort - Martin Parr
The Cost of Living - Martin Parr
The North End - John Paskievich
American Surfaces - Stephen Shore
Los Alamos - William Eggleston
Hart Island - Joel Sternfeld

Elizabeth Avedon said...

I found your contribution with current Amazon rankings illuminating-appreciate the new information. Thank you for posting!

Rowan said...

I don't have a huge library, so I'm going to pick ones that I've seen as well as own. In no particular order;

Stray Dog by Daido Moriyama
William Eggleston's Guide
Once by Wim Wenders
Sightwalk by Gueorgui Pinkhassov
American Photos by Walker Evans
The Americans by ol' Franky boy.

Droid said...

Rowan, thanks for listing Gueorgui Pinkhassov. I had seen some of his photos but didn't realize he was the photographer. I'm going to have to look out for that book. I can recommend another relatively unknown classic 'street' photographer. It's Saul Leiter and the book is Early Color. He was using color film much earlier than others, but was never given much credit because color was looked down upon back then, especially for street photography. It's a good book.

Ben said...

Tough question! I would probably make the first 6 Friedlander, but that's boring, so for today in no particular order, from my collection…

1. Sticks and Stones, Lee Friedlander
2. In Flagrante (Books on Books), Chris Killip
3. Henry Wessel, Henry Wessel
4. Haiti, Bruce Gilden
5. Dream Street, Gene Smith
6. Figments of the Real World, Garry Winogrand

On another day I might choose 6 others.

About photography:
1. Bystander, Meyerowitz/Westerbeck
2. The New York School, Livingston
3. Andre Kertesz, Greenough
4. The Nature of Photographs, Shore
5. Looking at Photographs, Szarkowskl
6. Tarnished Silver, Coleman

Blake Andrews said...

My revised list:

1. Winogrand, Public Relations
2. Shore, Uncommon Places
3. Rexroth, Iowa
4. Evidence, Sultan and Mandel
5. Eggleston's Guide
6. Arbus monograph

I guess I'm still living in the seventies.

Justin Sainsbury said...

1. Animals, Garry Winogrand
2. England / Scotland 1960, Bruce Davidson
3. Earthlings, Richard Kalvar
4. The Shipping Forcast, Mark Power
5. Public Relations, Garry Winogrand
6. The last resort, Martin Parr

If I figure out why I'll let you know.

Justin sainsbury said...

'If I figure out why....' (sorry that sounds a bit rubbish so here goes.
Animals- I think it's the way the humour makes you laugh and then you realise it's pretty dark so there's this internal emotional fight going on. Plus, the quality of moments show pure commitment and incredible reaction ability.
England/ Scotland 1960- Beautifully poignant in a period of cultural transition. For me, it reminds me that outside of core 'remembered' work there was incredibly talented people pushing new ground. We think of Tony Ray- Jones as bringing back a new style from the U.S but it was partly already made here at least 5 years earlier.
Earthlings- It shows unconnected work (in a conventional project way)can work. It just takes 40 years to get together! (all the better). It's just lovely really.
The Shipping Forecast- Just because it's what started things with me.
Public relations- Because i just keep coming back to it and learn more each time I look at it. It made no sense the first time I looked. Pure genius.
The Last Resort- To remind me Parr did earn his stripes and it really seems like a unique and influencial document.