Documentary Photography Resources (updated January 2021)
As part of building resources for Documentary Photography, we include a list of 'favourite' photobooks and projects. The aim is to identify books and other resources that people have found inspiring and enjoyable, and to provide a little background. This is not a formal RPS or Documentary endorsement of the book or resource; but think of it more as a growing catalogue that might be worth exploring.
(** This list will be updated with more information and more books in the near future**)
(**In the meantime if you have any suggestion please let us know**)
Olivia Arthur, Stranger - imagines a survivor from a 1961 shipwreck returning to Dubai fifty years later, and what they would see.
Mathieu Asselin, Monsanto - a long term visual research project, investigating the impact of Monsanto, its products and its operations.
Eugene Atget, Paris - classical images from early 20th century Paris. Atget was a French flâneur and a pioneer of documentary photography, noted for his determination to document all of the architecture and street scenes of Paris before their disappearance to modernization
Murray Ballard, The Prospect of Immortality - an investigation into cryogenics and the quest for endless life.
Jonas Bendikson, The Last Testament - an exploration of those who consider themselves to be "the messiah", and their followers.
Poulomi Basu, Centralia - exposes hidden crimes of war as an indigenous people fight for their survival.
Cecil Beaton, Chinese Album - 1946 documentation of China. Taken while he was Official Photographer for The Ministry of Information, from peasants to soldiers.
Nina Berman, An autobiography of Miss Wish - a story of a survivor of sex trafficking and child pornography and her struggle to survive and find safety, and to assert herself as an artist.
Jim Brandenburg ‘Chased by the Light’, (1998); ‘Looking for the Summer’, (2003); Brother Wolf : A Forgotten Promise, (1993). - Natural history as documentary. All large format hardbacks. A reminder that documentary is not confined to social documentary. Based in the forests of northern Miinnesota, Brandenburg set himself the task of taking one image a day for 90 days in the fall for ‘Chasing the Light’ and for 94 days in the summer for ‘ Looking for Summer’ and there’s a full, and fascinating narrative text. The earlier ‘Brother Wolf’, is a masterpiece of documentary text and imagery.
John Bulmer, The North - documenting life in the bleak industrial centres of the north of England. A pioneer of colour photography, Bulmer captured the north it in all its variety and beauty.
Henri Cartier-Bresson, The Decisive Moment - originally called Images à la Sauvette—is one of the most famous books in the history of photography, assembling Cartier-Bresson’s best work from his early years. The book and its images have since influenced generations of photographers. Its English title has defined the notion of the famous 'formal peak' in which all elements in the photographic frame accumulate to form the 'perfect image'.
Mik Critchlow, Coal Town -For the past 42 years, Mik has photographed the town, people and surrounding areas of Ashington, the town in which he was born, educated and still lives.
Robert Clayton, The Estate - a social photography project – capturing the residents and life on the Lion Farm Estate in Oldbury, West Midlands.
Bruce Davidson, Black and White, - is the definitive collection of his black and white photography, spanning a period of 40 years. This five-volume set comprises re-prints of classic books: Circus (1958), an intimate portrait of a dwarf clown; Brooklyn Gang (1959), depicting a group of troubled youths; Time of Change (1961–1965), a civil rights documentation in America; East 100th Street (1966–1968), showing life on one block in Spanish Harlem; and Central Park (1992–1995), exploring layers of life in New York’s famous urban oasis.
Robert Doisneau, ‘Les Doigts Plein d’Encre’ (Hoebeke, 1989) - Images of children at school (hence ’fingers full of ink’) and play in 1940s-50s Paris.
John Downing, Legacy - a celebration of an illustrious career. Press photographers are often overlooked for their contribution to photography but it is their images that define how we see the world's events unfolding on a daily basis.
Elliot Erwitt, Cuba - Erwitt first went to Cuba in 1964, staying in Havana at the invitation of Fidel Castro and took photographs on commission for Newsweek. He made two return trips, in 2015 and 2016, travelling across the whole island to document its interior as well as the capital. The resulting book combines both the older and more recent shots.
Elliot Erwitt, Museum Watching - Observation of viewers in museums and galleries. Museum Watching. “For a photographer, rather than fly casting, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.”
Walker Evans, American Photographs - More than any other artist, Walker Evans invented the images of essential America that have long since accepted as fact His work has influenced not only modern photography but also literature, film and visual arts in other mediums. Published by The Museum of Modern Art in 1938 to accompany an exhibition of photographs by Evans that captured scenes of America in the early 1930s.
Walker Evans, Cuba - images of pre-revolutionary Cuba. In 1933, he traveled to Cuba to take photographs for The Crime of Cuba, a book by American journalist Carleton Beals. The explicit goal was to expose the corruption of dictator Gerardo Machado and the torturous relationship between the United States and Cuba.
Matthew Finn, Mother - Over a thirty year period, from 1987 onwards, Matthew Finn collaborated with his mother, Jean, to document her everyday life through a series of portraits taken in her home in Leeds.
Robert Frank, The Americans - First published in France in 1958, then in the United States in 1959, The Americans changed the course of twentieth-century photography. In eighty-three photographs, Frank looked beneath the surface of American life to reveal a people plagued by racism, ill-served by their politicians, and rendered numb by a rapidly expanding culture of consumption.
Masahisa Fukase, Ravens - on a journey from Tokyo to Hokkaido, his hometown, Fukase began to photograph the ravens he saw from the train window. At stations along the way, he captured the birds in motion or perched on poles, telegraph wires, chimneys and fences. Their silhouettes suggest something solitary and elemental.
Nana Goldin, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency - is a deeply personal narrative, formed out of the artist’s own experiences around Boston, New York, Berlin, and elsewhere in the late 1970s, 1980s, and beyond.
Ken Grant (images) and Jemes Kelman (text), ‘The Close Season’ (Dewi Lewis Publishing, 2002) - Images made over a 15 year period of the Merseyside community into which Ken Grant was born.
Harry Gruyaert, Maroc - eclectic colour images from Morocco (text in French)
Jean-Claude Gautrand (editor), ‘Willy Ronis : Stolen Moments’, Taschen, 192 pages, large format hardback - An excellent collection of images from the work of the great humanist photographer Willy Ronis (1910-2009) mostly from the ‘golden age’ of photojournalism 1945-70.
Lena Herzog, ‘Pilgrims: Becoming the Path Itself’, Lena Herzog (images) and Werner Herzog (text), Arcperiplus, 2002. A documentary record of two pilgrimages – to Bodhgaya in Bihar, India and Mount Kailash in western Tibet.
John S. Kiewit, 'Gone to Sanctuary : From the Sins of Confusion’, (1997, Capra Press) - Images of the old American West, each accompanied by interesting quotations and insights. ‘So the West drew to itself more than a share of is unsettlers, of people whose essential relation to place was the denial of place. And yet places that they came to, being the last place to go, finally took hold of them, drew them down into their flinty soils, rooted them, claimed them the way they shaped sagebush.’ A reminder that when text and image compliment each other, they are both more powerful.
Chris Killip, Inflagrante (and Inflagrante Two) - England’s North East from 1973-1985, images from which made up this seminal photobook, reissued as Inflagrante Two.
Chris Killip, Seacoal - Living, on and off, in a caravan on Lynemouth’s Seacoal camp from 1982 to 1984, Killip immersed himself in the locals' struggles to survive. Fourteen images from the Seacoal series were also included in Killip’s groundbreaking book In Flagrante (1988).
Josef Koudelka, Gypsies - One of the seminal photoessays of the 20th Century, Magnum photographer Josef Koudelka’s Gypsies offers an unparalleled insight into the everyday lives of Europe’s Roma communities.
Josef Koudelka, Exiles - Koudelka photographed the gypsy population, minority groups, and everything that is destined to become extinct, to be ‘exiled’ in some way – it became a lifelong journey of photographic documentation.
Sergio Larrain, Valparaiso - Larrain began photographing the famous Chilean port in the 1950s but it was not until 1963 that he spent more time there, this time in the company of the poet Pablo Neruda. The pair explored the bohemian lifestyle of the port-side neighborhoods, which then counted some one hundred brothels and cabarets. The ensuing text and photographs were published in the journal Du in 1966.
Jack Latham, Sugar Paper Theories - investigation of a notorious case of memory implantation has come to be known as the ‘Guðmundur and Geirfinnur case’, or the ‘Reykjavik Confessions’,
Dana Lixenburg, Imperial Courts - Imperial Courts, 1993-2015 is a project by photographer Dana Lixenberg about Imperial Courts, a social housing project in Watts, Los Angeles. The project contains work made over a period of 22 years and consists of a book, exhibition and web documentary.
Markéta Luskačová, By the Sea - a series of photographs made by Czech photographer Markéta Luskačová taken in the late 1970s on the North East coast of Britain,
Chloe Dewe Mathews, Shot at Dawn - Viewed as a series of mundane-looking sites—a stretch of brick wall, parts of fields, a water-filled dyke, a bunker—there is little on the face of it that is remarkable about the photographs in Shot At Dawn. What invests them with meaning is the knowledge that at these exact locations, a young British, French or Belgian man was executed by his fellow soldiers.
Guy Martin, Parallel State - is a multi-layered project which began life as an examination of the Turkish soap opera and film industry, but evolved over the course of five years, into a semi-fictional study of truth, reality and lies in contemporary Turkey
Celine Marchbank, Tulip - a quiet observation of the everyday and a steadfastly low-key, almost diaristic approach to an immensely difficult subject: the last year of her mother’s life.
Roy Mehta, Revival London 1989-1993 - photographs of the Afro-Carribbean and Irish communities in west London in the early 90s. The images move from moments of faith to quiet family moments and to the noisy streets.
Susan Meiselas, Nicaragua - photographs of the revolution in Nicaragua. Starting with a powerful and chilling evocation of the Somoza regime, following the course of the popular resistance that led to an insurrection, and ending with the triumph of the revolution.
Peter Mitchell, Early Sunday Morning - revealling the layers of the city’s history, exposed by the changes to the urban landscape that epitomised the 1970s and 80s. Hundred-year-old terraces and cobbled streets sit flanked by concrete flats, with newly cleared ground to either side are presented with Mitchell’s typical graphic framing.
Daro Mitidieri, Children of Bombay, (Dewi Lewis Publishing, 1994) - A very powerful portrayal of street children by the winner of many prestigious photojournalism awards. Accompanpied by excellent introductions to the photography and the international context by Peter Dalglish, founder of ‘Street Kids International’. A fine example of documentary as activism’.
Mimi Mollica, Terra Nostra - " is a photo essay on the effects of Mafia in Sicily. Capturing the permanent scars inflicted by Cosa Nostra on the Sicilian territory and the social context, victim and persecutor, of a system strongly rooted on fear and corruption.
Inge Morath, Iran - A collection of images from Iran whilst on assignment in the Middle East in 1956 for Holiday magazine.
Jim Mortram, Small Town Inertia - For over seven years, Jim has been photographing the lives of people in his community and their challenges. His work covers difficult subjects such as disability, addiction and self-harm, but is always with hope and dignity, focusing upon the strength and resilience of the people he photographs.
Tish Murtha, Elswick Kids -taken as Tish walked the streets of the working-class district of Elswick in Newcastle Upon Tyne and were not intended to be an exhibition in their own right. They tell of a time when children had the freedom of the streets to play in and where friendship blossomed against a seemingly harsh background.
Tish Murtha, Youth Unemployment - photographic essay on the hardships of youth unemployment in Newcastle during the Thatcher years.
Mark Neville, Parade - Starting the day on which the UK voted to leave the European Union, ‘Parade’ was photographed over a three year period, within a 30km radius of the town of Guingamp, in Brittany, France.
Trent Parke, The Black Rose - Between 2007 and 2014, in an attempt to reclaim memories of his childhood, Parke took thousands of photographs of his surroundings and of everyday objects and wrote down his dreams and observations in diaries.
Trent Parke, Minutes to Midnight - merges traditional documentary techniques and imagination to create a dark visual narrative portraying Australia with a mix of nostalgia, romanticism and brooding realism. This is not a record of the physical landscape but of an emotional one.
Gordon Parks, Atmosphere of Crime - noteworthy not only for its bold aesthetic sophistication, but also for how it challenged stereotypes about criminality then pervasive in the mainstream media. They provided a richly-hued, cinematic portrayal of a largely hidden world: that of violence, police work and incarceration, seen with empathy and candor.
Gordon Parks, Segregation Story - features a broad selection of images – from his powerful 1956 photographic series documenting the “Restraints: Open and Hidden” on an extended African American family persevering in the segregated South. Originally commissioned for Life magazine, Parks’ work resulted in the creation of hundreds of transparencies, representing one of his earliest social documentary studies on colour film.
Martin Parr, The non-conformists - In 1975, fresh out of art school, Martin Parr found poor footing in the London photography scene, so he moved to the picturesque Yorkshire Pennine mill town of Hebden Bridge. Over a period of five years, he documented the town in photographs, showing in particular the aspects of traditional life that were beginning to decline. Susie Parr, whom he had met in Manchester, joined him in documenting a year in the life of a small Methodist chapel, together with its farming community.
Martin Parr, Common Sense - "From kitschy to grotesque, this book documents modern consumerist culture. These vivid and often lurid photographs are both funny and sad, taking a forensic look at everyday items. A smorgasbord of over-the-top visuals, highlighting everything from tacky clothes and jewellery to different kinds of junk food."
Martin Parr, The Last Resort - This was Parr’s first project to show a move towards his now distinct personal style: bright colours and vivid images, that captured the holidaymakers of New Brighton, in the Wirral, and set alight his passion for observing society. The series has since become a modern classic.
Christopher Payne, ‘Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals’ 2009, MIT Press, 210 pages, large format hardback - Christopher Payne specialises in the documentation of America’s vanishing architecture and industrial landscape. This is a powerful collection of images inside abandoned mental asylums with an informative introduction. See also his ‘New York’s Forgotten Substations : The Power Behind the Subway’ (2002).
Brian Rose, ‘The Lost Border : The Landscape of the Iron Curtain’ Princeton Architectural Press, 2005, 144 pages, hardback, large format - Images made between 1985-1990 along the walls and fences that divided central Europe. Brief text with over 100 full page images. Excellent example of a long-term project of historical significance and the importance of the mundane.
Sebastião Salgado, Workers - unearths layers of visual information to reveal the ceaseless human activity at the core of modern civilisation. With extended captions by the photographer providing a historical and factual framework for the images, the book is divided into six chapters: Agriculture, Food, Mining, Industry, Oil and Construction.
Mark Power, Maintenance - With the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, the TOEI network chose Mark Power to showcase the rigorous work of maintenance which allows the huge network to operate daily. For the bus, the metro or the tram, the photographer has documented the diversity of the maintenance tasks, unknown by the public. He thus tried to capture “the beauty of usage “of this proliferation of tools and tasks which ensures the network’s functioning.
Mark Power, The Treasury Project - Power began to photograph the rennovation of the new HM Treasury building on Whitehall, in central London. A grade 2 listed building, the Treasury was originally constructed in two phases between 1898 and 1908, and between 1912 and 1917. The revamped building, designed by Foster and Partners, was finally completed in July 2002.
Louis Quail, Big Brother - an intimate photographic portrait of Louis' older brother, Justin, and his daily struggle with schizophrenia. The condition is severe and Justin has been sectioned three times in his life. Yet, as the book shows, there is much more to him than his illness. He has interests, hobbies (painting and poetry and especially birdwatching). He also has love; he has been with his girlfriend, Jackie, for over 20 years. By showing the person beyond the illness, 'Big Brother' challenges stigma head on.
Tony Ray Jones, A day off - "My aim is to communicate something of the spirit and the mentality of the English, their habits and their way of life, the ironies that exist in the way they do things, partly through tradition and daily anachronisms in an honest and descriptive manner, the visual aspect being directed by the content. For me there is something very special and rather humorous about the “English way of life” and I wish to record it from my particular point of view before it becomes more Americanised."
Simon Roberts, Merrie Albion - represents ten years’s worth of photographing Britain. A visual representation of a country’s anxieties, past and present.
George Rodger, Southern Sudan - At the start of 1948, in search of something less barbaric, Rodger arranged with the Sudanese government to be the first authorised photographer to document indigenous people of the Nuba mountains, in the former central Sudanese province of Kordofan, and the Latuka and other tribes of southern Sudan. In doing so, he created some of the most historically important and influential images taken in sub-Saharan Africa during the twentieth century.
W Eugene Smith, Minimata - "The story of the poisoning of a city, and the people who chose to cary the burden of courage". Extensive visual research, documented by Smith and his wife in the 1950s.
Alec Soth, Sleeping by the Mississippi - One of the defining publications in the photobook era, it merges a documentary style with poetic sensibility. Evolving from a series of road trips along the Mississippi River, Sleeping by the Mississippi captures America’s iconic yet oft-neglected ‘third coast’.
Alec Soth, Songbook - focuses Soth’s piercing eye on the ever-present loneliness of today’s society. An elderly man ballroom-dances without a partner; a pilot, plugged into her headset, wears an expression of dreamy vacancy; a hoard of shoppers stand quiet, with trolleys at the ready, waiting for a Wal-Mart’s doors to open on a Sunday afternoon.
Alec Soth, Broken Manual - For two years, Soth embraced self-exile and solitude while producing this project. In this work, he is thrusting himself back into society, while reflecting on a universal and growing detachment from the notion of “community” in modern America.
Alec Soth, Niagara - “Niagara is part of American mythology. It’s a place of romance, where people go to get married,” says Alec Soth. “But when I got there my view of the place totally changed. The American side is economically devastated. It’s bleak.”
Chris Steele-Perkins, ‘England, My England’, 2009, Northumbria Press, 150 pages, large format hardback - A collection of images made over 40 years about ‘everydayness and how special it can be’. ‘This book is not a lament for the past, but a celebration of some of the things he has lived through, has been fascinated by, and survived’. A great observer.
Homer Sykes, The Way We Were, 1968-1983 - is a look at British society through the eyes of leading British photographer Homer Sykes – his personal view of ‘life’ as he encountered it as a young photographer setting out in the early years of his career.
Newsha Tavakolia, The Fifth Pillar - documenting the Hajj pilgrimage. Some twelve million Islamic pilgrims flock to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina annually in a voyage that is bidden of them by the fifth of the five pillars of Islam.
Michael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse, Ponte City - An intimate social portrait of Johannesburg's iconic Ponte City and its community of residents
Alys Tomlinson, Ex Voto - is the culmination of a five-year journey across Catholic pilgrimage sites in Ballyvourney in Ireland, Grabarka in Poland, and Lourdes in France. “Placed anonymously and often hidden from view, ‘Ex-Votos’ are offerings left by pilgrims as signs of gratitude and devotion,”
Alex Webb, Under a Grudging Sun -Photographs depict conditions in Haiti immediately folliowing the departure of dictator, Jean-Claude Duvalier, including the desperate poverty and the violence surrounding the disastrous November 1987 election.
Alex Webb, Crossings - a project of more than twenty-five years covering the region and tragedy of life in the borderland. Illuminating the precarious world of illegal border crossers. Suggesting crossings that are cultural, economic, and spiritual in nature, such as nightclubs and religious celebrations, tourists and day labourers, fiestas and swap meets.
Alex Webb, Violet Isle (with Rebecca Webb-Norris) - multilayered portrait of "the violet isle"--a little-known name for Cuba. It combines two separate photographic visions: Alex Webb's exploration of street life, with his attention to detail, and Rebecca Norris Webb's fascination with the unique, quixotic collections of animals.
Alex Webb, Amazon - From the Floodplains to the Clouds. A documentation of a voyage through the worlds of those who live along this immense waterway.
Alex Webb, The Suffering of Light - Gathering some of his most iconic images, many of which were taken in the far corners of the earth, The Suffering of Light brings a fresh perspective to his extensive catalogue. Recognized as a pioneer of American colour photography, Webb has since the 1970s consistently created photographs characterized by intense colour and light.
Tom Wood, All Zones Off Peak - Wood spent over 15 years developing and refining his theme. The photographs are both visually stunning and dramatically revealing in their content. It is already recognised as one of the most impressive achievements of recent British photography.
The 55 Series (Phaidon) - A series of small (approx. 5 x 6 inch) books and around 60 pages, serving as excellent well-illustrated introductions to the work of individual photographers. Featured photographers include: Willy Ronis; Wynn Bullock; Chris Killip; David Goldblatt; Ralph Eugene Meatyard; Nan Goldin; Andre Kertesz, Walker Evans, Werner Bischof, Eugene Atget, Jacb Riis, Larry Fink, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Mary Ellen Mark, Steve McCurry, and Eugene Smith.
Magnum First - Magnum agency's first ever exhibition.
Magnum Contact Sheets - contacts providing insights into the photographers approach and working methods.
New Documents, 1967 - the MoMA exhibition of Diane Arbus, Friedlander and Winogrand's work.
The Open Road - a collection of 'road trip' style documentary projects
The Photobook: A history - Martin Parr and Gerry Badger's history of the photobook in three volumes.
Life Magazine (W Eugene Smith - Country Doctor - Photo Essay)
Elliott Erwitt (at Huxley Parlour)
Dorothea Lange archive (Oakland Museum of California)