The top ten most collectable photographic books of all time.


The Americans – Robert Frank

1. The Americans is a incredible photographic insight into US culture in the 1950s and is Robert Frank’s best known work. Originally criticized as an assault on America, yet now it is well known and widely celebrated, as one of the most influential photographic works of the 20th century.  A collection from 28,000 photos taken over two years, where Frank connects 1950s optimism with America’s poverty and racial issues. The original first edition was published in Paris as Les Américains – no US publisher would touch it, and in 2008 a 50th anniversary edition was released.

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Paris de Nuit –  Brassaï (Gyula Halász)

2. Brassaï aka Gyula Halász  is a Hungarian photographer, sculptor, and filmmaker who is well known in France. While working as a journalist, he took numerous photos of Paris after dark – Paris de Nuit was his first published book of photographs. First editions of this 1933 book are spiral bound and are very rare to find. Paris de Nuit created a sensation when first published and many images were considered too crude for public viewing.

The Decisive Moment – Henri Cartier – Bresson

3.  One of the greatest photojournalists, Henri Cartier-Bresson published the book Images à la sauvette (The Decisive Moment) in 1952. The well known colourful artist Henri Matisse drew the unforgettable book cover, who sadly later died in 1954. Cartier – Bresson wrote at the beginning of the book, a lengthy essay with his thoughts on why everything has a decisive moment. The most expensive copy of The Decisive Moment sold by AbeBooks, which went for $5,000 (£3,050).

Twentysix Gasoline Stations – Ed Ruscha

4. As the title suggests, the book features photos of 26 petrol stations along Route 66 and contains no description except the station’s brand and location. This was Ruscha’s first book, which eventually achieved him high status, in turn helping him to launch his career into Pop Art.  Originally this book was published in 1963, Gasoline Stations was limited to 400 copies. Two subsequent editions of the book were published, one of 500 copies in 1967 and another of 3,000 copies in 1969.

Evidence – Mike Mandel & Larry Sultan

5. Mandel and Sultan filtered though thousands of photos that had been used by various corporations and government institutions, as objective instruments (ie the evidence) and placed them together in a single volume, stripping them of their original context.  The book introduced readers to the multiple meanings that an image can have and how it changes when it is freed from its original context.  Originally published in 1977, this landmark book was reprinted in 2003 and the most expensive copy sold by AbeBooks went for $2,200 (£1,342).

Moments Preserved – Irving Penn

6. The first book from the legendary fashion photographer Irving Penn, which was published in 1960 with a print run of 20,000 (divided between French, Italian, German and English editions).  Penn spent his early career with Vogue magazine and was among the first to pose subjects against simple grey or white backdrops. Moments Preserved is an overview of these early years in his career, which started in 1943. Penn died in October 2009. The most expensive copy of his book sold by AbeBooks went for $1,600 (£976).

Let us Now Praise Famous Men – James Agee & Walker Evans

7. James Agee and Walker Evans were sent to rural Alabama in 1936 to document the plight of sharecroppers for a magazine article, however it expanded into a 500-page documentary.  Evan’s remarkable black and white photos combined with Agee’s sympathetic text, made this a defining essay on tenant farmers in the dustbowl.  The most expensive copy sold by AbeBooks went for $2,500 (£1,525).

Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail – Ansel Adams

8. Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail is Adams’ first book of photographs, published in 1938 with a limit of only 500 copies. His striking images set a new standard for photographic books and provided him with a launching pad for his amazing career, where he captured the American West and most famously Yosemite National Park.

I Want to Take Picture – Bill Burke

9. Part travelogue, part art, I Want to Take Picture follows Burke though Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia as he explores South East Asia and the Khmer Rouge.  The project is credited with having a bitter notion, as Bill Burke reveals the absolute truth of these destinations.  First published in 1987 with a limited edition of 1,000 hard-bound copies, yet much cheaper reprints are available. The most expensive copy sold by AbeBooks went for $2,250 (£1,372).


Antarctica – Pat & Rosemarie Keough

10. An amazing set of photographs capturing the natural beauty of the last unsettled continent on Earth, featuring photos of panoramic snow fields and magnificent emperor penguins.  Published in 2007, this mammoth collection weighs in at 27 pounds and was limited to 950 leather-bound copies. It was part of an effort to raise money and awareness to prevent the extinction of the Albatross. The most expensive copy sold by AbeBooks went for $4,000 (£2,440).


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