With the emergence of smart phones and social media, photography has taken on a prominent role in peoples lives. Nowadays, I start and end my day with social media fixated on small images that flash by as fast as my thumb can move.
A few days ago, I took a break from my familiar routine and went back to my roots. I spent time thinking about the great photography books that inspired me and got me into this profession 16 years ago. Three of them stand apart from all the rest. These artists challenged the norms that defined their times and inspired millions of future photographers.
Born in 1938, Koudelka eventually left Czechoslovakia and attained political asylum in England. In 1988, Mr. Koudelka published what became one of his most famous series: Exiles. The book evokes extreme feelings of alienation, disconnection, and affection. This work is a Master Class on what it takes to convey emotion in an image. The work chronicles his travels and the everyday life of the people he encountered during his twenty years of wanderings through Europe. Reviews and availability.
I was fortunate enough to see an exhibition of Mr. Koudelka's work in Chicago, and it left a profound impression on me. I would consider him to be among the top 5 photographers of the twentieth century.
In Koudelka case, I would also recommend his first book: Gypsies. A series published during his ten-year at Magnum Photos. Reviews and availability.
Funded thru a grant from the Guggenheim Foundation, Robert Frank took twenty-seven thousand images over the course of a year and a half, culling the collection down to eighty-three photographs for the book. It initially received overwhelmingly negative reviews and in one case was described as "a sad poem by a very sick person." The gritty images of ordinary individuals struggling to find any semblance of the American dream inspired a new generation of photographers. It redefined the way Americans saw themselves, challenging the traditional narrative that was offered up in popular magazines of the time. Reviews and availability.
Originally published in 1952, including a cover design by Henri Matisse, there are only a dozen original books in existence now. Luckily, a reasonably priced reprint of this book by the German publishing house, Steidl is available in English.
A true master of composition and timing, Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) was born in France and is considered the father of photojournalism and pioneered the genre of street photography. Along with Robert Capa, they co-founded Magnum Photos. This book contains some of his earliest and most icon work with insights into his photographic process. Reviews and availability.