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Here Are 20 Photo Books That Brought Us Joy In The Very Exhausting Year Of 2020

We rounded up some of our favorites and asked for recommendations from artists on this list and other industry professionals.

Posted on December 1, 2020, at 4:50 p.m. ET

What better way to spend the winter holidays than curled up at home, looking at some great photographs? While the internet offers a rich treasure trove of work, nothing compares to a good photo book. We rounded up some of our favorites that we reviewed this year and asked for recommendations from artists on this list and other industry professionals. Enjoy!

Anthropocene by Edward Burtynsky

Edward Burtynsky

"Edward Burtynsky, a legendary landscape photographer, has spent the past three decades looking at how resources are used and the impact of humans on the environment around the globe. He collaborated with Nicholas de Pencier and Jennifer Baichwal on his newest project, Anthropocene, which combines scientific research with film, virtual reality, augmented reality, and photographs, and is also available as a book. The photographs from the project are both haunting and eye-opening, offering a unique perspective on the collective result of decisions around the globe." —BuzzFeed News

The Parameters of Our Cage by C. Fausto Cabrera & Alec Soth

Mack Books

"C. Fausto Cabrera, who has been studying writing and photography while incarcerated, began corresponding with Alec Soth, a well-known photographer who is a part of Magnum Photo agency, just before the pandemic was declared. Their letters and emails have been turned into a book, The Parameters of Our Cage, that reflects on the criminal justice system, the strengths and limits of perspective, and Demi Lovato, among other things. It is not a traditional photo book full of images and context, instead, it offers a powerful meditation on photography and society." —BuzzFeed News

Interior Space: A Visual Exploration of the International Space Station by Roland Miller and Paolo Nespoli

Paolo Nespoli And Roland Miller

"It's been a rough year and a little perspective about Earth sounds nice right now. While we still don't have tourist flights to the International Space Station, it feels like a good time to pause and reflect on the fact that the space station has been operating and continually inhabited by humans for 20 years(!!).

"Photographer Roland Miller and astronaut Paolo Nespoli collaborated to create a book, Interior Space: A Visual Exploration of the International Space Station, documenting the space station as a way to preserve it for the historical record. The station will eventually be decommissioned and demolished in space, so future generations may only know it through replicas and images such as these. The photographs highlight the intersection between people and the technology that they have created, and while some of the images are highly technical, the overall impression is one of admiration — for the technical prowess and for how highly mechanical things have their own beauty." —BuzzFeed News

The New Black Vanguard: Photography Between Art and Fashion by Antwaun Sargent

Awol Erizku

Antwaun Sargent's lyrical new book explores the creativity and powerful sense of expression found in the work of Black photographers within the fashion and art worlds, and the influence that this new vitality has on contemporary visual media. The book highlights the work of 15 highly talented artists alongside conversations about inclusion and exclusion, and offers an alluring look at the future of photography.

Ming Smith: An Aperture Monograph by Ming Smith

Ming Smith courtesy Aperture

Detroit-born photographer Ming Smith was the first African American woman to have her work acquired by the Museum of Modern Art. Now living and working in New York city, this book looks at four decades of her work. Publisher Aperture says that this kinetic, mid-movement image is typical of Smith's "trademark lyricism, distinctively blurred silhouettes, dynamic street scenes, and deep devotion to theater, music, poetry, and dance."

1960 Now: Photographs of Civil Rights Activists by Sheila Pree Bright

Sheila Pree Bright via Chronicle Books

"The work by Atlanta-based photographer Sheila Pree Bright could not be more relevant today. Her book #1960Now: Photographs of Civil Rights Activists and Black Lives Matter Protests examines the parallels and differences between the civil rights movement in the 1960s and the ongoing protests for racial equality and justice, thoughtfully pairing images of young activists with the founders of movements from half a century earlier, while also capturing the energy of the early years of the Black Lives Matter protests in reportage." —BuzzFeed News

Gordon Parks: The Atmosphere of Crime by the Museum of Modern Art

Courtesy The Gordon Parks Foundation

"Life magazine enlisted the help of Gordon Parks, the first Black staff photographer in the magazine's history, to accompany police on the streets of New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. The results were published as a striking, full-color photo essay titled The Atmosphere of Crime, which offered groundbreaking insight into the era's methods of policing. Most notably, the manner in which Parks approached his subjects set a new standard for crime scene photojournalism — presumed criminals were documented with an obvious sense of anonymity to protect their innocence until proven guilty, while police officers were captured with striking clarity to crystalize their identities and tactics.

"You still can view this work in its entirety from their comfort of your home in Gordon Parks: The Atmosphere of Crime, 1957, a new book produced by the Museum of Modern Art in collaboration with the Gordon Parks Foundation. Edited by Sarah Meister, curator at the Museum of Modern Art's Department of Photography, the book brings together the entire body of work, alongside unseen images and critical essays on the era." —BuzzFeed News

Magnum Artists: Great Photographers Meet Great Artists — Magnum

Werner Bischof / Magnum

Magnum Artists: When Great Photographers Meet Great Artists, a new book by Magnum that is curated by Simon Bainbridge, offers up a series of portraits by Magnum photographers of famous artists throughout history. With an intimate vibe, the portraits offer insight into the art world that was rarely accessed before the age of Instagram.

"What I was really interested in...was how they came to the shoots as equals, confident and sure of themselves. These were people who were often covering wars or very serious subjects, and they came to these portrait shoots with the same level of seriousness, with this intensity of observation. What I was often looking for were moments that were informal and capture some of the daily life of the artists, that would bring some context and insight into the production of the art they were making instead of the normal history of art, which is presented in white-walled museums and very clean spaces," said Bainbridge.

National Anthem by Luke Gilford

Courtesy Damiani

If you're in an escapist mood, we highly recommend Luke Gilford's new book, National Anthem: America's Queer Rodeo — a delightful exploration of rural America. Gilford grew up going to rodeos with his father. As he grew older, Gilford became more aware of just how anti-LGBTQ mainstream rodeo and rural America could be. Gilford, who is queer, first participated in and then turned his camera on the subculture of the International Gay Rodeo Association over the last four years. This book is as much a celebration of queer culture as it is America, and it's a lovely way to look at the classic American sport.

Extinction Party by Jonathan Blaustein

Jonathan Blaustein

As we start to reopen our society, the question everyone is asking is: "What will the future look like?" Some want a return to normal, and some want to use this crisis as an opportunity to rebuild as something better, kinder, greener. Jonathan Blaustein has been thinking about capitalism and consumption for over a decade, and he summarizes some of these thoughts in his new book of images called Extinction Party, which takes a sometimes absurd look at how we're spending our resources right now.

William Eggleston 414 by Harmony Korine and Juergen Teller

Juergen Teller

A decade ago, Juergen Teller and Harmony Korine took a road trip with famed photographer William Eggleston and his son. This book serves as a visual memoir of the trip, and an homage to Eggleston himself, whose influence can be seen in many of the clever re-creations of his own themes, and who appears as a star in scenes throughout the book.

Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness by Zanele Muholi

Zanele Muholi courtesy Aperture

Zanele Muholi's long-awaited monograph, based on a widely reviewed exhibition with the same title, features a series of powerful self-portraits of the artist that comment on identity, race, and resistance. The book is a triumph of imagination and has been recommended by multiple artists on this list. "These feel like images you might have dreamed, both of the kind that slip away and the ones you manage to keep tenuously in your grasp, slippery, otherworldly. . . . Before our eyes, Zanele Muholi transforms into a mother, a domestic worker, an Afrofuturist, an oracle. It’s fiction and it is not," Yrsa Daley-Ward writes in the New York Times Book Review.

Performance Review by Endia Beal

Endia Beal / Minor Matters

Endia Beal's newest book takes a sharp look at corporate norms and practices, starting with the basics of representation. By layering an office setting within a personal environment, Performance Review reflects on the experiences of women of color in American offices and the expectations and pressures that they uniquely face. "My hope is that Performance Review will allow us to see the humanity in one another. No matter your gender or race, we all have insecurities, fears, and frustrations. Now that the “workplace” has shifted to home, these challenges are more apparent," Beal says.

He Threw the Last Punch Too Hard by Hannah Kozak

Hannah Kozak

As the coronavirus pandemic continues and families are locked down together in close quarters, there is a silent and growing crisis of intimate partner violence around the world. Hannah Kozak's new book, He Threw the Last Punch Too Hard, offers a tender and crucial look at the long-term effects of familial violence, and the enduring redemptive power of love and forgiveness. Kozak's images of her mother, who suffered years of abusive attacks from her second husband, highlight her individuality and perspective on the world, with her past and her present delicately interwoven. Also available on Amazon.

Rescuers: Portraits of Moral Courage in the Holocaust by Gay Block

Courtesy Radius Books

First published in 1992, Gay Block documented the individuals who were involved in the rescue of Jewish people during the Holocaust, combining interviews by Rabbi Malka Drucker and image artifacts to paint a vivid portrait of the risks ordinary people undertook to save the lives of others. The updated edition offers a new forward by Samantha Baskind, a scholar of Jewish American art.

Ciprian Honey Cathedral by Raymond Meeks

A tan book with black writing down one side.
Mack Books

"When I put down a book of photographs after having leafed through it for the first time telling myself that I will have a hard time writing about it, it is usually a good sign: the book resists explanation and language. This is exactly what I felt when I discovered Raymond Meeks' latest book, Ciprian Honey Cathedral. With a few sentences inspired by Nick Cave's Rings of Saturn on the cover and its elegant layout designed by the artist and Morgan Crowcroft-Brown, the book alternates color and black and white photographs. The poetic images evoke an abandoned house as well as the home the author shares with his partner, photographer Adrianna Ault. The house is a body. The warmth of one blends with the intimacy leaving only the whisper of lyrical visual memories. Nothing is said, everything is suggested. The book ends with these few words from the photographer, 'we have not arrived to explain, but to sing.'" —Clément Chéroux, the Joel and Anne Ehrenkranz chief curator of photography, Museum of Modern Art, New York

In the Limelight: The Visual Ecstasy of NYC Nightlife in the 90s by Steve Eichner and Gabriel Sanchez

Steve Eichner

Photographer Steve Eichner captured the club scene in New York throughout the nineties, amassing a treasure trove of nightlife images of celebrities and cool kids out on the town. Eichner partnered with former BuzzFeed News editor Gabriel Sanchez to curate a book that brings the energy and freedom of the era to renewed life.

The Book of Everything by Mary Ellen Mark

Mary Ellen Mark

"Mary Ellen Mark's career was defined by its depth, covering everything from Fellini film sets to the circus to homeless teenagers. Her images capture both the poetic and the absurd, often within the same frame, and offer a poignant, uncommon look at humanity.

"Mark died in 2015, leaving behind a deep archive of images. A new book, The Book of Everything, serves as an eloquent retrospective of her long career and should be an inspiration for documentary photographers everywhere. Spanning five decades of work, the book is broken into three volumes that examine, well, everything from well-known long-term projects to more casual snapshots that showcase Mark's talent for observation. The book includes photos of Mark herself and quotes from many of the people she worked with." —BuzzFeed News

American Dreams by Ian Brown

Ian Brown

"Ian Brown, a Canadian photographer based in Toronto, has spent the last 12 years thinking about the American dream."I realized that [the American dream] is the one commonality that binds all Americans together, and it is a phrase that everyone across every state has heard and has an idea about. It transcends politics, race, gender, and geography, and so I thought that it would be the best way to get Americans to speak about their lives — and their ideas on what the idea of America means to them.

"For each person he spoke with, Brown would ask for their version of the American dream to be written out, an exercise that for many was unique and deeply personal. Brown's project American Dreams has now been turned into a book, which includes the portraits and the handwritten responses, and encapsulates the wide array of views that people have about the future." —BuzzFeed News

Fernweh by Teju Cole

Mack Books

Teju Cole is multitalented: as a writer, as a photographer, and as a writer about photography. You can pretty much guarantee that anything with his name on it is going to be provocative, thoughtful, and worth your time.

Fernweh muses on the German word for a longing to be elsewhere, specifically, the picturesque vistas and apparent stability of Switzerland, which Cole photographed from 2014 to 2019. The images "though largely devoid of human presence, [are] rich in human traces," allowing for interpretation and the viewer to insert themselves into the scene.

This story is part of our series on the year 2020. To read more, click here.

Ben Kothe / BuzzFeed News; Getty Images




A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.

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