Suggested Reading List

Updated January 1, 2019

This anthology contains two types of literary works: 1) biographies of photographers and 2) writings on photography. I first posted this list in 2013, but below is an updated version. These are not picture books, but historical records of a photographer’s life that also fuss over the meaning of a photograph.

There are diamonds for living here, but each book should be approached with skepticism. For example, you may ask:

Do we really need another Diane Arbus book?
The more famous a photographer, the more that’s been written. Arbus is a good example, as new published works on her life and career appear every few years. The list below only includes my preferred sketches and interpretations of a photographer’s life and work. It’s not exhaustive.

Should I read their memoir or a biography?
Both. Read Robert Capa’s autobiography and then Kershaw’s bio of the photographer, they’re wildly different.

Anyone local and still working?
Yes, I just found D.C.-based and European Pressphoto Agency (EPA) photographer Jim Lo Scalzo’s memoir on Amazon.


  • Ansel Adams, “Ansel Adams: An Autobiography,” 1985
    (Thanks to Denver Daniel for suggesting Adams’ sidecar, “Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs,” 1989)
  • Lynsey Addario, “It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War,” 2016
  • Mary Street Alinder, “Group f.64: Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, and the community of artists who revolutionized American photography,” 2014
  • Pamela Bannos, “Vivian Maier: A Photographer’s Life and Afterlife,” 2017
  • Cecil Beaton and Hugo Vickers, “Beaton in the Sixties: The Cecil Beaton Diaries as He Wrote Them, 1965-1969,” 2004
    (Thanks to Erica for this addition, who mentioned Beaton’s diaries in general)
  • Leah Bendavid-Val, “Song Without Words: The Photographs & Diaries of Countess Sophia Tolstoy,” 2007
    (Thanks to Tennessee Brooke for this addition)
  • Patricia Bosworth, “Diane Arbus: A Biography,” 1989
  • Robert Capa, “Slightly Out of Focus,” 1947
  • Brian Clegg, “The Man Who Stopped Time: The Illuminating Story of Eadweard Muybridge – Pioneer Photographer, Father of the Motion Picture, Murderer,” 2007
  • Jerry W. Cotten, “Light and Air: The Photography of Bayard Wootten,” 1998
  • Timothy Egan, “Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis,” 2012
  • Horst Faas and Richard Pyle, “Lost Over Laos: A True Story of Tragedy, Mystery, and Friendship,” 2004
  • Peter Galassi, “Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Modern Century,” 2010
  • Jane Gallop, “Living with His Camera,” 2003
    (Thanks to Empty Stretch’s Nate for this, the author collaborated with photographer Dick Blau for reflections on private, family and daily life as it relates to taken pictures)
  • Vicki Goldberg, “Margaret Bourke-White: A Biography,” 1987
  • Vicki Goldberg, “Light Matters,” 2010
    (This is a collection of essays about numerous photographers, but also includes musings on theory)
  • Linda Gordon, “Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits,” 2010
  • Stanley Greene and Teun van der Heijden, “Black Passport,” 2010
  • Paul Hendrickson, “Looking for the Light: The Hidden Life and Art of Marion Post Wolcott,” 1992
  • Katherine Hoffman, “Stieglitz: A Beginning Light,” 2004
  • Jim Hughes, “W. Eugene Smith: Shadow and Substance – The Life and Work of an American Photographer,” 1989
  • David Hume Kennerly, “Shooter,” 1979
  • Alex Kershaw, “Blood and Champagne: The Life and Times of Robert Capa,” 2003
  • Arthur Lubow, “Diane Arbus: Portrait of a Photographer,” 2016
  • Sally Mann, “Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs,” 2016
  • James R. Mellow, “Walker Evans,” 1999
  • Patricia Morrisroe, “Mapplethorpe: A Biography,” 1995
  • Penelope Niven, “Steichen: A Biography,” 1997
    (Thanks to Stephen for this addition, who also mentioned his “chatty” 1963 autobiography, “A Life in Photography”)
  • Tod Papageorge, “About a Photograph: New York, 1967, by Garry Winogrand,” 2014
    (This is just an essay, but very amusing and the only thing I have written on Winogrand)
  • Gordon Parks, “A Choice of Weapons,” 1966
    (Parks has several memoirs out there, I’m honestly not sure which to go with)
  • Jane Rogoyska, “Gerda Taro: Inventing Robert Capa,” 2013
    (Taro had such a short life, the ICP’s catalog of her images should go hand-in-hand with this)
  • T.S. Satyan, “Alive And Clicking,” 2005
  • Maria Tippett, “Portrait in Light and Shadow: The Life of Yousuf Karsh,” 2008
  • Laura Wilson, “Avedon at Work: In the American West,” 2003
  • Robert Wilson, “Mathew Brady: Portraits of a Nation,” 2013


  • Robert Adams, “Why People Photograph: Selected Essays and Reviews,” 2005
    (Thanks to Robb for this Aperture addition)
  • Roland Barthes, “Camera Lucida,” 1980
  • Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” 1936
    (Thanks Chris, but what’s the photography angle here)
  • John Berger, “Understanding a Photograph,” 2013
    (Thanks Atlanta Robb for this, which was edited by Geoff Dyer. Robb also recommends, “Ways of Seeing,” 1972, but specifically I recommend going to chapter 7, or page 44 of the PDF link, for the photography focus on “publicity images.”)
  • Henri Cartier-Bresson, “The Mind’s Eye,” 2005
  • Italo Calvino, “The Adventure of a Photographer,” 1958
  • Charlotte Cotton, “The Photograph as Contemporary Art,” 2009
  • Geoff Dyer, “The Ongoing Moment,” 2007
  • Marvin Heiferman, “Photography Changes Everything,” 2012
  • Tod Papageorge, “Core Curriculum: Writings on Photography,” 2011
    (Thanks to floating Hicks for this Aperture addition)
  • Fred Ritchin, “After Photography,” 2010
  • John Szarkowski, “The Photographer’s Eye,” 1966
    (Thanks to Denver Daniel for the suggestion. I have this work. Szarkowski has an essay a few pages long in a preface, but the book is largely pictures. However, his absence from this list would be a mistake.)
  • Susan Sontag, “On Photography,” 1973
  • Ivan Vartanian, Akihiro Hatanaka and Yutaka Kanbayashi (Aperture Books), “Setting Sun: Writings by Japanese Photographers,” 2006
    (Thanks to Empty Stretch’s Nate for this, which is expensive and rare, but a doozy of a collection of essays by celebrated Japanese photographers over many decades)