Painful encounters. Simple pleasures. Moments captured in time. It is the task of photography–the good kind, at least–to communicate the human experience of few to an audience of many. The work of the greatest photographers allow a viewer a voyeur’s vantage point, peering into worlds known and unknown. Here, we’ve selected some of our favorite photography books from photographers who tasked themselves with capturing the intimate moments of strangers around the world.
‘Invisible City’ by Ken Schles
Throughout the 1980s, Ken Schles documented the nocturnal nonconformist events of the New York City’s East Village. Twenty-five years after the book’s original run, the images have been reprinted using scans from Schles’ negatives and a five-plate technique to bring never-before-seen details. While that era of New York is long gone, the photographs within Invisible City still have the ability to mesmerize.
‘Paris de Nuit’ by Brassaï
When Brassaï arrived in Paris in 1924, he soon realized that photography would enable him to chronicle his fascination with Paris at night. He photographed every aspect, from police to prostitutes. Nothing was too risqué. In 64 surreal and enigmatic photographs, Paris de Nuit captures Paris’ moodier face, and the people living in the shadows of the City of Light.
‘Facing Change: Documenting America’ by Leah Bendavid-Val
In 2009, a group of photographers formed a non-profit collective, Facing Change, whose mission was to create an overall national portrait of America. Inspired by the FSA-commissioned work of the Depression era, the photographs found within the pages of Documenting America capture a more modern country, and the hardships that exist to this day.
‘The Family of Man’ by The Museum of Modern Art
From the start of its January ’55 MoMA opening, The Family of Man was considered to be the most successful exhibition of photography ever assembled. The show included 503 groundbreaking images taken by 273 photographers from 69 different countries. Following its MoMA run, it was experienced by the thousands on its subsequent international tour. This volume is the full catalogue of that unbelievable collection, a series that Edward Steichen once described as “a mirror of the essential oneness of mankind throughout the world.”
‘Tiny: Streetwise Revisited’ by Mary Ellen Mark
In 1988, Mary Ellen Mark published a heartbreaking group of images. The series featured homeless and troubled youth living in Seattle as pimps, prostitutes, panhandlers and small-time drug dealers. Within these images, a 13-year-old prostitute with lofty dreams named “Tiny” (Erin Blackwell) emerged. Mark continued to photograph Tiny over 30 years. The resulting images seen in Tiny: Streetwise Revisited serve as a powerful education on issues of poverty, class, race, and addiction.
‘Period of Juvenile Prosperity’ by Mike Brodie
Period of Juvenile Prosperity documents Mike Brodie’s years of living on the fringes of society, hitch-hiking and train-hopping across America. The untrained photographer captured all the grit that lifestyle entailed, illustrating a type of freedom that is rarely seen or experienced.