We can – and should – all look at street photography books from the likes of Alex Webb, Vivian Maier, and Martin Parr and admire the skill and effort that went into them.
But wouldn’t you prefer to be amongst the creators and not merely the viewers? For it to be your name on the cover? For people to be looking at your street photography book?
Thanks to self-publishing and print-on-demand services, it’s easier than ever to make that happen – if you put in that aforementioned effort.
This means looking at great photography books doesn’t have to be a passive endeavour. Not when you can use what you see as a driver to create your own. To help you with this, I’ve put together a list of inspirational photography books.
Before we begin, a quick disclaimer. You may consider some of the entries to be more documentary photo books than street.
I wouldn’t disagree, but I find the line between the two is often too blurred to separate them. It would also limit the potential to inspire you to eventually go make something of your own, and avoiding that is far more important than semantics.
So, split into colour and monochrome sections, here’s the list of the best street photography books to inspire yours.
- 1 Colour street photography books
- 1.1 Uncommon Places by Stephen Shore
- 1.2 America by Zoe Strauss
- 1.3 The Last Resort by Martin Parr
- 1.4 Sidewalk by Jeff Mermelstein
- 1.5 The Suffering of Light by Alex Webb
- 1.6 William Eggleston’s Guide
- 1.7 A Summer’s Day by Joel Meyerowitz
- 1.8 River of Colour: The India of Raghubir Singh
- 1.9 On The Night Bus by Nick Turpin
- 1.10 Cuba La Lucha by Carl De Keyzer
- 1.11 Early Color by Saul Leiter
- 1.12 Sunlanders by Sean Lotman
- 1.13 All That Life Can Afford by Matt Stuart
- 1.14 Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton
- 1.15 Subway by Bruce Davidson
- 1.16 American Color 1 & 2 by Constantine Manos
- 1.17 American Prospects by Joel Sternfeld
- 1.18 Hold the Line by Siegfried Hansen
- 1.19 Platform 10 by Rammy Narula
- 1.20 Moments in Between by Jens Olof Lasthein
- 2 Black and white street photography books
- 2.1 Street Photographer by Vivian Maier
- 2.2 The Americans by Robert Frank
- 2.3 Magnum Contact Sheets by Kristen Lubben
- 2.4 The World Through My Eyes by Daido Moriyama
- 2.5 The Man in the Crowd by Garry Winogrand
- 2.6 Fragments of a Spinning Rock by Kaushal Parikh
- 2.7 Personal Best by Elliott Erwitt
- 2.8 Earthlings by Richard Kalvar
- 2.9 The Decisive Moment by Henri Cartier-Bresson
- 2.10 Exiles by Josef Koudelka
- 2.11 One, Two, Three, More by Helen Levitt
- 2.12 Grim Street by Mark Cohen
- 2.13 Hong Kong Yesterday by Fan Ho
- 2.14 The Human Fragment by Michael Ernest Sweet
- 2.15 The Eyes of the City by Richard Sandler
- 2.16 Go by Bruce Gilden
- 2.17 Istanbul by Ara Güler
- 2.18 Unposed by Craig Semetko
- 3 The best street photography books to inspire yours?
Colour street photography books
Uncommon Places by Stephen Shore
You can tell something about a photography book’s greatness by the influence it has on other shooters. Uncommon Places, shot on large format film as Stephen Shore travelled 1970s America, certainly passes this arbitrary test.
The work broke new ground in colour photography; a genre that had previously been the domain of advertising and fashion work. Timeless urban and rural landscapes are presented from an objective viewpoint that has been aped – knowingly or otherwise – by photographers ever since; from Shore’s 1970s contemporaries to today’s social media crowd.
This makes Uncommon Places a classic example of how you can capture your own road trip memories, whether on film or to put through digital filters, and make your own book from them too.
Get it today on Amazon.
America by Zoe Strauss
To create your own great American photography book, you might need to get away from the typical tourist sights and endless highways; especially if you want it to be something original. That’s what the highly talented Zoe Strauss did with America, presenting the country’s neglected underbelly that lays a world away from the bright lights of New York and Los Angeles.
Philadelphia native Strauss took to the road to capture the people and places of the nation’s forgotten communities. Shooting up-close and personal, the result is a sometimes witty, often moving, and always powerful documentary of the beauty and struggle of everyday life in today’s America.
If you want to present a grittier photography book than most, America could be all the inspiration you need.
Order yours today from Amazon.
The Last Resort by Martin Parr
The Last Resort by British photographer Martin Parr shows that almost anywhere can make a good photography book subject when captured as a snapshot of a time and place. Shot in the mid-1980s in New Brighton, a coastal suburb of Liverpool, it presents the declining ‘great’ British seaside as seen through the eyes of local working-class families.
Shot on medium format film and using a daylight flash, The Last Resort is an evocative portrayal of northwest England at the time; 40 photographs showing crowded beaches, games arcades, and the ubiquitous fish and chips shops of a depressed Thatcher-era Britain in unexpectedly saturated colours.
Great photography books don’t need a famous location or subject, and The Last Resort can inspire you to create a time capsule of wherever you happen to be in the world right now.
Find it on Amazon.
Sidewalk by Jeff Mermelstein
Finding original ways to shoot familiar subjects is a challenge for any photography book, but you will definitely find some inspiration in Jeff Mermelstein’s Sidewalk. This award-winning collection looks at New York City anew, capturing all of its quirks and idiosyncrasies in a series of images that are as funny as they are surreal.
Despite the countless photographs shot in the place’s history, you’ve probably never seen the Big Apple quite like this before – Mermelstein’s vivid account of the streets and the eccentric characters who walk them is a great document of the oddball energy that exists in any big city.
If you’re looking for a spark of leftfield originality to make your book stand out from the crowd then seeing New York from Mermelstein’s off-kilter perspective is the perfect place to start, and probably end too.
Order today from Amazon.
The Suffering of Light by Alex Webb
If you want colour, layers, and light to feature in your street photography book, there’s nothing better than seeing the master of all these at work; that person is Alex Webb, and the recommended book is The Suffering of Light – regarded as one of the best photography books of all time.
This hefty tome presents a chronological survey of Webb’s three-decade, globetrotting career, featuring some of his most iconic shots alongside previously unpublished images. Webb’s distinctive style is evident throughout, using colour to communicate an emotional experience in complex, frame-filling images that reveal their depths with repeated viewing.
Every page of this comprehensive collection bursts with intensity and life, so if you want to understand the power that colour, as well as layers and light, can bring to your photography book, spending some time with one of the all-time greats can both inspire and show you how.
Find it on Amazon.
William Eggleston’s Guide
While books of colour photography can be found in museum gift shops all over the world today, that wasn’t always the case. William Eggleston was one of those who blazed this particular trail.
Shot in and around Eggleston’s home town of Memphis during the late 60s and early 70s, the 48 photographs found in Guide make a rich and varied collection, featuring landscapes and portraits that capture the distinctive atmosphere of everyday life in the Deep South.
If your idea for a photography book is to capture the essence of a place rather than random street snapshots, Eggleston can indeed by your guide. His confident use of colour as a key part of his compositions was revolutionary, and the legacy of his work can live on in yours if you let it.
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A Summer’s Day by Joel Meyerowitz
Great photography puts you in the moment, evoking a sense of time and place and atmosphere. If you’re looking to achieve those kinds of effects in your own photography book, Joel Meyerowitz’s A Summer’s Day is a masterclass.
Shot in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the 65 images in this collection are a first class ticket to the long, lazy and hazy hours of summer. Filled with sun-baked colour and the tranquil vibes of an endless holiday, Meyerowitz takes the familiar hues and textures of the sea, sand and sky and assembles them into a photo-essay that feels like a 24-hour daydream.
If you want to transform your holiday snapshots into something special and tell a story in the process – and who doesn’t – then allow Meyerowitz to show you how.
Find it on Amazon today.
River of Colour: The India of Raghubir Singh
For your street photography book to really grab the essence of a place, you need to get under the skin of your location, capturing its textures, smells and sounds. Raghubir Singh’s study of his native country does exactly that, and is sure to provide ideas and inspiration for your own work.
Split into sections arranged around themes, the 132 photographs in River of Colour paint a fascinating and varied portrait of day to day life throughout India, ranging from stark desert landscapes to busy city scenes.
Every picture bursts with emotion, and Singh’s affinity for the complexities of his homeland shines throughout. An overlooked master of colour, Singh’s book can teach you the value of getting to grips with a deeply personal subject in a sustained and studied manner, or simply show you what a great book from your trip to India could look like.
Get your copy from Amazon.
On The Night Bus by Nick Turpin
Street photography is not a new concept, but that doesn’t mean new ideas can’t emerge in the genre. Take On the Night Bus for example, where Nick Turpin presents an original vision of contemporary life via portraits of commuters shot through the condensation-fogged windows of London buses.
The atmosphere of a drizzly London night is palpable throughout the 49 shots in this collection, which almost resemble paintings in their impressionistic haze. There’s a realism to Turpin’s work too though, bringing the alienation of life in a big capital, and the themes of privacy and voyeurism which lurk in the corners of the city.
This original take on a London street photography book is proof that it’s still possible to avoid cliches in your work, to find new ways to respond to the environment around you, and to produce an inspiring street photography book based on one single theme.
Check it out on Amazon today.
Cuba La Lucha by Carl De Keyzer
Photography is often poised between art and documentary, and Cuba La Lucha shows how you can combine the two in your own book. Using vibrant colour, the photographs depict contemporary Cuban society in transition, caught between the crumbling legacy of Communism and a new era of openness and improved relations with the West.
There’s a power and directness to the images, which form an important document of a changing way of life, but Carl de Keyzer’s work is anything but dry. Humour, irony and other poetic flourishes are all used to tell the story.
Finding your voice in a crucial step towards producing a powerful and cohesive collection of photographs, and Cuba La Lucha shows that great results can come from breaking free of the restrictions of expected genre and categorisation.
See for yourself on Amazon.
Early Color by Saul Leiter
Street photography is often associated with documentary and reportage, but Saul Leiter’s Early Colour shows you the possibilities of taking an entirely different approach.
This retrospective collects 175 images taken between 1948 and 1960 that showcase Leiter’s unusual approach to the form. He was a successful painter, and these photographs show the influence of that background. They depict familiar scenes of the city, but use colour in a subtle and lyrical manner, combining it with elements such as soft focus and reflection to produce compositions that verge on abstraction. Their originality has a powerful impact, even 50 years on.
Leiter’s embrace of his artistic contemporaries will provide some great inspiration if you’re trying to find a style of your own that breaks free from street photography cliches.
Go find it on Amazon.
Sunlanders by Sean Lotman
Published in 2016, Sean Lotman’s Sunlanders collects 48 images of his adopted homeland of Japan, and provides a masterclass in the unusual use of colour to create atmosphere and drama.
Lotman brings a distinctive outsider’s eye to his subjects, capturing the wonder and fascination of life in a foreign land. His images are imbued with mystery; using tints, blurs and over-saturations created during the printing process to create a warped and almost psychedelic effect. Presented without explanations, the photographs imprint the dreamlike experience of exploring unfamiliar surroundings onto the page.
If you’re interested in using colour in subjective and personal ways in your own photography book, then Lotman’s collection is sure to get your juices flowing.
See for yourself on Amazon.
All That Life Can Afford by Matt Stuart
All That Life Can Afford is Matt Stuart’s first book, collecting 80 images shot on the streets of London between 2002 and 2015. His busy compositions are evocative snapshots of life in a modern city that show the importance of sifting through the clutter to capture great, meaningful moments in your own street photography.
Stuart’s photographs are dynamic and multilayered, and frequently feature multiple subjects within the same image. They seem to stop time, containing visual rhymes, puns and odd conjunctions, freezing fleeting moments full of wit, grit and tenderness.
If you’re creating your own street photography book, then Stuart’s work is a great lesson in appreciating what’s in front of you, and cutting through the hubbub of the modern life to find the moments that really matter.
Get yours from Amazon.
Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton
The paper version of an online sensation, this bestseller is the culmination of a project Stanton began in 2010, embarking on an epic census of the residents of the Big Apple.
The result is a 300-page collection of portraits, each accompanied by a quote or anecdote about the subject. The combinations of image and text are revealing, touching and amusing, but above all human, and Stanton’s collection brilliantly evokes the sense of a vibrant city full of individuals with unique stories.
A runaway success and a novel kind of photography book, Humans of New York is a great inspiration to think differently about the kind of projects you could undertake. In a world seemingly full of candid street photography, why not go all in on street portraits – or anything else that sets you apart from the masses – instead?
Pick it up from Amazon today.
Subway by Bruce Davidson
New York might have inspired more photography books than any other city on the planet, but Bruce Davidson’s work proves that it’s always possible to find an original niche.
Originally published in 1986, Subway is a visceral document of a gritty era in the history of the city, told through a collection of 118 images shot on and around the eponymous metro system. Davidson’s first colour work, the photographs are full of spidery graffiti, flash-lit flesh, and the hard-set faces of jaded travellers.
It’s an evocative time-capsule of a city since remade by money and gentrification, and full of intriguing figures, from everyday commuters and ladies in their party finery to some altogether shadier characters. It’s also a great example of the potential of focusing on a single theme or environment as a way to hone your own distinctive style.
Look it up on Amazon.
American Color 1 & 2 by Constantine Manos
‘Color’ has a double meaning in the titles of these collections by Magnum’s Constantine Manos. The striking compositions burst from the page with their expert use of vibrant shades, but ‘color’ refers to the subjects too, which comprise vivid scenes of distinctively American life.
It’s a perfect match of medium and message, and Manos has a great eye for finding fleeting moments full of mystery and atmosphere, using shadows, silhouettes and tightly framed compositions to powerful effect.
The images were shot in a variety of locations right across the US, but they are united by Manos’ distinctive aesthetic, in which colour takes centre stage. Any photographer who shoots in colour should be aiming to use it in a confident and purposeful manner, and American Color 1 & 2 are masterful examples to aspire to.
Find them both on Amazon today.
American Prospects by Joel Sternfeld
Many a photographer has attempted to capture the essence of American life in their work, but few have produced something as strangely compelling as this collection shot by Joel Sternfeld, which takes a sideways look at some of the more unusual aspects of Americana.
American Prospects presents a different view of the American Dream, and though it was originally published in 1987 its oddness feels timeless and prescient in today’s off-kilter world. From a fireman buying a pumpkin whilst a house burns in the background to a runaway circus elephant on a country road, Sternfeld’s photographs are consistently curious and offbeat.
If you’re looking to inject a touch of the weird into your work, or are a Twin Peaks fan as much as a photography fan, then American Prospects will give you some directions to the stranger side of the tracks.
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Hold the Line by Siegfried Hansen
Street photography isn’t often thought of as an abstract art, but Siegfried Hansen’s Hold the Line shows the kind of striking work that can result if you shoot with that approach in mind.
Through Hansen’s lens, the city is an assemblage of stark colours, shapes and textures. His bold, deliberately composed images emphasise the artificiality of the urban landscape, using intersecting elements such as the corners of buildings and road markings to create deceptively simple photographs that echo the work of painters like Mondrian and van Doesburg. Presented without any explanatory text, the images are visual puzzles that reward repeated viewing, with human figures making only fleeting appearances.
If you’ve got an inner modern artist bursting to get out, then Hold the Line can show you how to unlock the power of the abstract in your street photography.
Find out more on Amazon.
Platform 10 by Rammy Narula
A lot of street photographers like to pound the pavement, traversing entire cities and even countries in search of subjects to shoot. But what if you did the opposite, and shot in a single location again and again?
That’s the premise of Rammy Narula’s Platform 10, which comprises 29 photographs taken in the same corner of Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong Train Station over a period of 6 months. The result is a rewarding document of a tiny slice of life in the huge Thai capital, telling a cinematic story of people passing through a humble location, and all captured by Narula’s distinctive, nocturnal style.
The hunt for the best street photography subjects can be daunting, and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the wealth of sights and sounds of a big, bustling city. But Platform 10 shows how effective it could be for you to work the other way round, and get to know a single spot properly.
See for yourself here.
Moments in Between by Jens Olof Lasthein
War reportage has a long and noble history in the field of photography, and has provided some of the most enduring images in the history of the medium. But the quest to capture the front page shot can come at the expense of seeing what happens before and afterwards, and that’s the focus of Moments in Between.
Shot during Lasthein’s travels through the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s, Moments in Between tells the story of the people living in the shadow of the Balkan War, trying to go about their lives in the moments when the bloodshed pauses.
It’s a powerful collection, and might not seem a likely source of inspiration, but there’s an important lesson to be learned for any photographer – sometimes the ‘decisive moment’ isn’t the whole picture, and what happens when the dust settles might be an equally compelling subject for your work.
Check it out on Amazon today.
Black and white street photography books
Street Photographer by Vivian Maier
Finding the time to focus on your work is a challenge for any aspiring photographer, and Vivian Maier’s Street Photography is an inspiring example of just how much you can achieve in spite of the demands of everyday life.
An amateur who worked full time as a nanny, Maier was overlooked during her lifetime, but her work was rediscovered in recent years and Street Photographer is now justly recognised as a classic. Shot mostly in Chicago, this book collects her striking monochrome images of American street life from the 1950s to the 1990s, showcasing her roving eye and human touch.
Maier was as prolific as she was talented, leaving behind thousands of images, and Street Photographer proves that you can produce an outstanding body of work even when other responsibilities compete for your attention.
Check it out for yourself on Amazon.
The Americans by Robert Frank
Great photography can be food for thought as well as a feast for the eyes, and there are few better examples of this than The Americans. Now thought of as one of the best photography books ever, it initially made Frank a controversial figure, with his critique of the dark side of the 1950s American Dream seeing him being branded unpatriotic.
His photographs defied convention just as much as his politics did, using focus and cropping in deliberately strange and unsettling ways to explore the racial and economic tensions that lay just beneath the surface of US society.
Rejected by the mainstream but embraced by literary radicals such as Jack Kerouac and John Steinbeck, The Americans shows that a photography book can be used to tell uncomfortable truths – an important reminder in these turbulent times.
Find it on Amazon today.
Magnum Contact Sheets by Kristen Lubben
With most photography books, we’re used to seeing a perfect selection of immaculate images – the finished product of hours of work, or even an entire career. Glimpses behind the scenes are rare, but that’s exactly what the groundbreaking Magnum Contact Sheets provides.
This anthology pulls back the curtain by reproducing the contact sheets used by photographers who worked for the Magnum agency, giving you a fascinating insight into the creative process that produced their iconic images. This alone makes it one of the best photography books for beginners to learn from.
If every picture tells a story, Contact Sheets tells the story behind the story. It’s guaranteed to make you think about how you shoot your own images, and how you can then edit them to produce your own photography book. After all, the process is just as important as the outcome.
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The World Through My Eyes by Daido Moriyama
Some people believe great photography should be technically perfect; beautifully lit, flawlessly focused, and shot with crystal clarity. Daido Moriyama’s The World Through My Eyes shows these people are not always right.
His highly personal, decade-spanning vision of Japanese life is anything but perfect – his photographs are grimy, blurry, overexposed, scratched, and yet are all the more vivid and powerful as a result. Comprising a ‘greatest hits’ culled from Moriyama’s other books, most of the images date from the 50s to the 70s, but their provocative potency remains undiminished.
The perfect introduction to Moriyama’s work, The World Through My Eyes is both evidence that breaking the rules could lead to something special in your own work, and your original guide to the high-contrast Asian street photography genre we still being shot today.
Get it today from Amazon.
The Man in the Crowd by Garry Winogrand
There’s “no such thing as street photography”, said Garry Winogrand. It’s a provocative statement, but an explanation for what he meant can be found in The Man in the Crowd. These photographs were taken on the streets, but their subjects are unmistakably people, rather than tarmac or buildings.
Winogrand was a master at capturing the human moments, behaviours and gestures that made modern American society, and this career retrospective of over 100 images (more than half previously unpublished) bubbles with energy and dynamism.
The Man in the Crowd shows the importance of sifting through the hustle and bustle of the city to find the instances that can make a personal connection, and it will help to you identify those moments for your photography too, be it when shooting, editing, or putting together your own street photography book.
Take a look on Amazon.
Fragments of a Spinning Rock by Kaushal Parikh
It’s always important to look back to influential predecessors, but for your work to really flourish it’s useful to learn from contemporaries as well, and Kaushal Parikh is an inspiring example of what a modern photographer can accomplish.
Fragments of a Spinning Rock comprises 65 photographs drawn from a decade of work shot in Parikh’s native India. It was self-published and is lovingly presented, interspersed with short pieces of poetry that provide a wonderful foil to his black and white images
More of a photo-essay than a conventional collection, the book presents a personal vision of street photography that touches on his family as well broader scenes of life in Mumbai. It’s a stirring demonstration of how an ambitious and original approach could produce something fresh and exciting for your own photography book.
Find it on Kaushal’s own site here.
Personal Best by Elliott Erwitt
A crucial part of creating a compelling photography book is finding a voice that unites your images, helping you to present a coherent body of work rather than just a scattergun selection. Personal Best is a great example of that principle in action.
As the title suggests, it’s a personally chosen collection of images from Erwitt’s legendary catalogue. His trademark style shines through on every page, despite the images being selected from a career that spans decades, countries and a variety of subjects, from street photography to more traditional photojournalism.
Printed in a luxurious coffee-table format befitting such a great figure, Personal Best shows Erwitt’s candour and wit throughout. This makes it great inspiration to think about the signature qualities you’d like to display in your own work, if you’re to create one the best photography books ever too.
Get it from Amazon today.
Earthlings by Richard Kalvar
Earthlings is a globetrotting collection of eye-catching black and white images from Magnum photographer Richard Kalvar. As the title suggests, this book looks inquiringly at our odd little species, capturing unusual scenes of human life from diverse locations including Rome, Warsaw, New York and Tokyo.
Kalvar’s images are unusual and absurd, and his unique take on the human condition finds surprising comedy and darkness in the most mundane of moments. Presented without titles, his photographs are like puzzles, or scenes from a film without an ending, posing questions without answers.
If you want to inject some humour and absurdity into your street photography book, then Earthlings is an essential starting point, showing just what can be achieved if you look closely at the strangeness lurking all around us.
Find it on Amazon.
The Decisive Moment by Henri Cartier-Bresson
Perhaps the most famous street photography book of all time, or at least the one that has its title most used in conversation, The Decisive Moment set a template that continues to exert influence to this day.
Called Images à la Sauvette in Cartier-Bresson’s native French, the English title refers to the crucial second that captures the spontaneous essence and balance of a scene, and the pursuit of that elusive instant is still the goal of urban shooters everywhere.
Originally published in 1952, this groundbreaking collection of Cartier-Bresson’s early work still influences street photographers today. While that has led to a few cliches developing in the genre, learning from The Decisive Moment can only improve your own work.
Get it from Amazon.
Exiles by Josef Koudelka
This classic 1988 book collects the striking monochrome photography of Josef Koudelka, shot on his travels throughout Europe and America whilst in exile from his native Czechoslovakia following the Soviet invasion of Prague.
Exiles is an inspiring example of a photographer working in a deeply personal and philosophical mode. His images are wrought with a sense of dislocation, speaking of the alienation that comes with enforced migration or being part of a minority group away from your homeland – concerns that are as relevant now as ever.
If you’re interested in photography as a cathartic form of expression, or the ways that your work can combine personal and political themes, then the stark and moving images in Exiles are sure to resonate.
Go take a look on Amazon.
One, Two, Three, More by Helen Levitt
An early landmark of street photography, Helen Levitt’s One, Two, Three, More is an unforgettable document of life in New York City during the 1930s and 40s.
Shot amidst the working class immigrant neighbourhoods of the city, Levitt’s beautiful black and white images burst with the humanity of the Big Apple’s melting pot. From children playing on the sidewalk to the elderly gossiping on their stoops, Levitt’s work is a moving and evocative time capsule of the full range of a vanished way of life, with an honesty and purity that makes a lasting impression.
Levitt’s work is a great inspiration to get out and document the everyday life all around you, and to record the slices of life today that will fascinate future audiences.
Find yours on Amazon.
Grim Street by Mark Cohen
It’s easy to feel constrained by convention as a photographer, and obsess over creating traditionally ‘correct’ images – perfectly lit, focused and composed. Mark Cohen’s Grim Street shows how effective it can be to do the opposite though, and to break some rules in your work.
Shot over 3 decades in his hometown in Pennsylvania, this collection of gritty monochrome images is a great introduction to Cohen’s rough, off-kilter style. Shot from the hip, and full of harsh light and extreme close-ups, Cohen’s photographs are fragmented and disconcerting, with heads and limbs cropped from the frame, and often feature strange, warped perspectives.
They break every rule in the book about what photography ‘should’ be like, but their originality and impact is undeniable. If you’re looking to learn from a photographer who dares to deviate from the norm, Grim Street could well be the place to go.
Take a look on Amazon today.
Hong Kong Yesterday by Fan Ho
Ever feel like making excuses for why you can’t crack on and produce great work? Fear not, because Hong Kong Yesterday will set you straight.
This collection of 70 photographs shot in Hong Kong during the 1950s and 60s showcases Fan Ho’s eye for exquisitely lit slices of life, and is all the more impressive since many of the images were shot when he was a teenager, including some when he was just 14 years old. There’s a bittersweet nostalgia to the collection, which captures a city during a period of rapid change, as traditional ways of life were lost to the development of a modern financial capital. Despite this, Fan Ho’s sensitivity and human touch are evident throughout.
Young, self-taught, and shooting exclusively with a single Rolleiflex camera, Fan Ho is proof that the only real obstacle to producing lasting work is your own creativity.
Head over to Amazon and see for yourself.
The Human Fragment by Michael Ernest Sweet
Plenty of street photographers shoot big, broad scenes, with multiple figures, vehicles and buildings grouped together to capture the sense of a busy city. Canadian photographer Michael Ernest Sweet takes the opposite approach, shooting extreme close-ups to evoke the hustle and bustle of urban life.
The ‘fragment’ in the title of this 65-photograph collection refers to parts of the human body – arms, legs, hands, feet and bits of faces are the subjects of these images. All are shot in Sweet’s signature high contrast style, producing surprising and vivid images which have a raw energy and original impact.
If you want your photography book to tell a story about life in the urban jungle, The Human Fragment is a great reminder that it’s important not to miss the forest for the trees. Sometimes less is more, and close-ups can often communicate what wider vistas cannot.
Check it out on Amazon today.
The Eyes of the City by Richard Sandler
The complexities and contradictions of modern life are an evergreen subject for photography, and though the images in The Eyes of the City capture a world that has changed in the meantime, they’re still a provocative example for your contemporary work to follow.
Shot in Boston and New York City between 1977 and 2001, Sandler’s gritty collection paints a complex portrait of American life during an era that saw Wall Street boom and drugs ravage poorer neighbourhoods. From shots of graffiti-covered subway trains to the melting pot of humanity on Fifth Avenue, the photographs in The Eyes of the City could be a storyboard for a film noir.
Contemporary society might be different in many respects, but its underlying inequalities and conflicts remain, and The Eyes of the City shows how you could juxtapose such issues in your own photography book.
See if you can find it on Amazon.
Go by Bruce Gilden
Many street photographers are inspired by their travels, hoping to document their experiences of other countries and cultures. It’s easy to fall victim to cliche though, and does the world need another picture of yellow cabs in NYC, or Beefeaters at the Tower of London? Bruce Gilden’s Go shows what can happen if you dare look a little deeper.
Named after the ancient Chinese board game, Go explores the underbelly of Japanese society. There are no cherry blossom trees or geishas to be found here, because Gilden’s camera points towards the darker sides of Japanese life, such as gangsters, prostitutes and the homeless.
The Magnum photographer’s work is tough and unflinching, and as a portrait of a society is unconventional and compelling. It’s also a great example to follow if you want to look past the cliches and stereotypes for your own photography book.
Go find it on Amazon today.
Istanbul by Ara Güler
With the nickname ‘The Eye of Istanbul’, it’s safe to say Ara Güler has made a mark in his home city, and this soulful document of life at the gateway between two continents collects an array of his stunning images, shot between the 1940s and 1980s.
Güler’s work is atmospheric and often nostalgic, capturing his city shrouded in fog, and caught between tradition and modernity. He describes himself as a ‘visual historian’ rather than an artist, but above all his affinity and affection for his subject shines through.
Ara Güler’s Istanbul is a great example of the potential of shooting what you know and love, and capturing the rhythms and routines of everyday life that can enchant natives and newcomers alike.
See for yourself on Amazon.
Unposed by Craig Semetko
Unposed is Craig Semetko’s answer to Henri Cartier-Bresson’s The Decisive Moment; a photography book that preserves forever perfect occasions of happenstance that modern life throws up.
Whether it’s a man unconsciously copying the pose of a nearby statue, or a dog behind the wheel of a car, Semetko’s beautiful black and white images are full of humour and warmth. Shot across a globetrotting array of locations from the US to Vietnam, the work is classical street photography in the best possible sense, and unabashed in acknowledging its debt to the masters who came before.
It’s a reminder that whilst finding your own original niche is great, it’s possible to follow in the footsteps of influential predecessors and produce great work too – after all, there’s a reason why they were influential. If you’re worried your work may be aping too much those that came before, Unposed will show you that might not be a bad thing.
Pick it up from Amazon today.
The best street photography books to inspire yours?
While every title here is an inspirational photography book, the best one for you personally depends on what you want to take from it.
It may be guidance on a specific shooting style, or it may be an idea for a theme. It could be direction on a narrative to include throughout your book, or it could be help in editing work you’ve already shot.
Whichever it is, it still won’t be the most important thing in making your own photography book. You’re still going to have to get out there and start creating.
Don’t just be a consumer of famous photography books. Use them as inspiration, get what you need from them, and then get out there and make your own.
One day it could be your name appearing on these kind of lists.
… p.s. if you’ve found this list of the best street photography books inspirational and want to help others discover it too, why not share or pin it?