What makes a good street photographer? How do we find beauty in the chaos of the streets? What are the best street photography books and why have they become important? Well, there are probably thousands of ways of replying to all these questions and equally, there could be thousands of lists made on this subject. Street photography continues to be one of the leading genres, perhaps the most accesible of them all and certainly one of the most versatile styles to work with.
Here is a (very short) list of some of the most famous street photography books:
Joel Meyerowitz - 55
I don't think you can make a list of the best street photography books and not include Joel Meyerowitz. An early advocate for colour, his work helped the acceptance of colour in a time when 'black and white' was the norm. This monograph contains 55 images presented in chronological order, illustration the major themes of the photographer. He captured the highly eventful streets of New York with humour and whimsy. You can buy a 2005 revisited edition of this street photography classic book here.
The Americans by Robert Frank
This books remains just as powerful as when it was published back in 1958. The Americans is considered to have changed the course of 20th century photography conceptually and methodically. Frank's shooting style is intuitive and immediate, capturing layers and layers of themes and ideas in the simple. The Americans contains 83 photographs taken in overlooked areas of the United States, plagued by racism, exclusion and neglect. A poignant document that continues to shake our vision of the powerhouse of the Western culture. You can buy The Americans and other books by Robert Frank here.
The Atmosphere of Crime, 1957 by Gordon Parks
This book doesn't usually feature in 'Best Street Photography Books' lists. But it most certainly should. Parks was the first black American to hold the position of staff photographer for Life Magazine. He was commissioned to run a photo-essay on crime in the US and this book is the result. The sophistication of his street work still leaves us speechless. He rejected all racist stereotypes and clichés about delinquency and drug use that were constantly used in the mainstream media and instead used a cinematic approach full of empathy and a compelling aesthetic. You can buy Gold Parks's books here.
Photographs of Spitafields by Markéta Luskačová
It makes complete sense that Markéta Luskačova would roam around the streets of Brick Lane and East London in general, capturing its gritty corners, loud markets and vivacious people. Luskačova was attracted to the cloud of people that would gather around the market stalls, most of them migrants like herself. A natural observer, the Czech photographer visited the East end markets for more than ten years documenting the street encounters in incredible detail, creating extremely rich portraits of the people and their daily lives. Buy Marketa Luskacova's photography books here.
Life is Good & Good for You in New York by William Klein
William Klein once called New York 'The world capital of anguish'. He was fascinated by this city, a fascination that shows through in the images taken in the mid fifties of New York City. This is a book of controversy, of elegance but also anarchy. A book that refuses to take one position and instead, merges many styles through Klein's bouncing between genres and approaches. The artist shot New York with complete freedom, perhaps that's why this is regarded as a ground-breaking book. You can buy this and other books by William Klein here.
Subway by Bruce Davidson
Once again, it's hard to see an 'essential street photography' list and not see Subway by Bruce Davidson. Originally published in 1986 by Steidl, Subway submerges the viewer into the graffiti-covered underbelly of the New York subway system in an exploration of the personality of this city's inhabitants. He found a tension in the sea of faces and the urban landscape, often in decay. The result is a vibrant and unruly documentation of this iconic city. Buy Subway and more books by Bruce Davidson here.
Street Photographer by Vivian Maier
Vivian Maier may well have the most compelling and strange story in the photography world. A professional nanny who took thousands and thousands of photographs between 1950s and 1990s and never showed a single image to anyone, Maier was a reportedly very lonely person. She also was an outstanding street photographer. This book was put together by local historian John Maloof, who purchased a box of Maier's negatives a pieced Maier's life and work together, allowing us to discover her talent.
The Decisive Moment by Henri Cartier-Bresson
Perhaps one of the most influential and important photobooks of the twentieth centry, The Decisive Moment was described as a bible for photographers and continues to be a huge referent in street photography. The title refers to capturing an ephemeral and spontaneous moment. The book collects images of exactly that: fleeting moments in time, lines aligning for the tiniest second and movement flowing as the composition falls into place in one instant. You can buy The Decisive Moment and more books by Henri Cartier-Bresson here.