You Instagram users may be onto something: You only get 140 characters per tweet on Twitter, but it’s been said that a picture—or, it follows, an Instagram photo—is worth a thousand words. The right picture can communicate information and emotion just as powerfully as a good piece of writing.
While posting pics on the Internet opens up fun and innovative new ways to express ourselves, there will always be something so satisfying about seeing full-sized photographs printed on glossy paper. We’ve rounded up the best photo collections for every kind of Instagram user. Whether you’re snapping pictures of your brunch or raising awareness for social justice, we’ve got the best photography books for you.
Since it began as a simple blog in 2010, Humans of New York has quickly grown into a pop culture phenomenon. Creator Brandon Stanton publishes his striking portraits of New Yorkers alongside alternately irreverent and poignant stories or quotes from the subject. This enormously popular project has been anthologized in book form, and the result is undeniably compelling. Be warned: This is the book that everyone who visits will try to borrow from you. It really is just that good.
Instagram style: #tbt, angsty and nostalgic enough to make the Beats proud
Robert Frank’s photo collection is an uncontested classic, although its initial reception in the United States wasn’t particularly warm. The Americans captures both the glamour of American life and the staggering inequalities, particularly those pertaining to race in the 1950s. With its introduction by famed Beat writer Jack Kerouac, this collection is a dark look at the disparities in the way people live: With his Guggenheim grant, Frank traveled across the country and took pictures of the most remarkable and, sometimes, uncomfortable subjects he could find. He took almost 30,000 photos, which he edited down into this collection that is one of the most influential works of photography to date.
A famed environmentalist and photographer, Ansel Adams was (many would say) at his best when he married these two passions. Adams’ original intention in creating Sierra Nevada was to use it to help testify before Congress regarding turning Sequoia and Kings Canyon into national parks. He was successful. The photos themselves are starkly beautiful black-and-white views of nature that highlight the magnificence of mountains.
The images contained in Sahel: The End of the Road are heartbreaking: They depict extreme suffering and starvation, and are not for the faint of heart. Salgado’s book was controversial when it was published, and continues to arouse the ire of some critics. At issue is its haunting and disturbing (but aesthetically striking) portrayal of the famine that claimed the lives of a million residents of the Sahel region of West Africa in the mid-1980s. That said, this book is widely considered to be the benchmark piece of work in the field of documentary photography. These images will shock you, but also change the way you see the world.
We’ve all heard of endangered species, but the animals featured in Scott Leslie’s 100 Under 100 are on another level: There are fewer than 100 Amsterdam albatrosses and Irrawaddy river sharks (among others!) living today. Leslie captures photos of some of the world’s most endangered species, helping his reader to more immediately understand how vital it is to not allow them to become extinct. If you have a penchant for instagramming animals, we bet Leslie’s photos will resonate with you.
Photography has long been a mechanism for exposing the harsh realities of war. Instagram may be a fun app, but it’s also a very real tool that’s been used to share information with the masses during times of conflict. (There’s also some debate over Instagram’s role in this type of guerilla journalism.)Robert Capa at Work: This Is War! examines the work of Capa, who is considered by many to have “invented” war photography. War is something that many of us only understand in the abstract: We have trouble visualizing what it’s like on the front lines if we haven’t seen it for ourselves. Capa’s work breaks down that barrier.
Meals often play an important part in fiction. Would The Bell Jar have been the same without the weird avocado salads? For Dinah Fried, the answer is a resounding “No!” In her quirky collectionFictitious Dishes, she cooks, styles, and photographs some of fiction’s most notable meals, from Holden Caulfield’s cheese sandwich to Gatsby’s harlequin-patterned salads. This book is a fun, literary examination of a sometimes-overlooked aspect of books: the food! We recommend this photography collection for bookworm foodies everywhere.
If you live in New York City, chances are you’re no stranger to the good ol’ MTA. When the R train was supposed to show up 10 minutes ago and it’s 100 degrees on the subway platform, it’s hard to see anything worth photographing in your misery (unless you have a special affinity for terrifyingly oversized rats). Bruce Davidson manages to transcend this, however, in his photo collection Subway. He finds beauty in the grimy, graffitied subway tunnels of the ‘80s, painting an indelible and diverse portrait of city life. There’s no Internet service in most of the tunnels, which makes instagramming the experience tough, but look at it this way: Davidson got some great photos down there, and you can, too.
Annie Leibovitz is a veritable legend, known for her extraordinary photographs of celebrities that capture far more than would otherwise meet the eye. Maybe you saw Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield downtown at Momofuku Milk Bar, and took what you think is the picture that best encapsulates the unique dynamic of their relationship. Leibovitz’s work is sure to inspire your instagramming, and to deepen your appreciation for the art form as a whole.