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In this selection, you will find the most important photo books of photo portrait history. These include the works from the greatest photographers that have highly influenced the art form, from the fashion world to socially oriented subjects. Ranging from different time periods and artistic intentions, this list is a great starting place to dive into the essence of portraiture.

01. Road to Seeing

Portrait photographer, Dan Winters, relays both his personal experiences and philosophy of photography to the broader photography audience. He addresses such topics as creating a visual language; the history of photography; the portfolio; street photography; personal projects; his portraiture work; and the need for key characteristics such as perseverance, awareness, curiosity, and reverence.

Publisher: New Riders | Author: Dan Winters | Release Date: 2013 | ISBN-13: 978-0321886392

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02. Mark Seliger

Mark Seliger has captured some of the most influential faces of our time, including Kurt Cobain, Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama, and Mick Jagger. Accompanying the photographs is an interview in which Seliger shares stories behind some of his most iconic work: Kurt Cobain showing up for a Rolling Stone shoot in a Corporate Magazines Still Suck T-shirt; taking a road trip with Brad Pitt; and navigating a room full of Tibetan monks while shooting His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Publisher: Harry N. Abrams | Author: Mark Seliger | Release Date: 2018 | ISBN-13: 978-1419726613

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03. Mary Ellen Mark on the Portrait and the Moment

This book gives insight on what the vision of photographer Mary Ellen Mark was and how she would capture dramatic moments that reveal more than the reality at hand. Through words and pictures, her creative process is presented, along with her past discussions on a wide range of issues, from gaining the trust of the subject and taking pictures that are controlled but unforced, to organizing the frame so that every part contributes toward telling the story.

Publisher: Aperture | Author: Mary Ellen Mark | Release Date: 2015 | ISBN-13: 978-1-59711-316-8

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04. Berenice Abbott - Paris Portraits

Abbott began her photographic career in 1925, taking portraits in Paris of some of the most celebrated artists and writers of the day including Marie Laurencin, Jean Cocteau, Peggy Guggenheim and James Joyce. Within a year her pictures were exhibited and acclaimed. Paris Portraits 1925–30 features the clear, honest results of Abbott’s earliest photographic endeavor, which illustrates the philosophy that shaped all of her subsequent work. 

Publisher: Steidl | Author: Ron Kurtz and Hank O´Neal | Release Date: 2016 | ISBN-13: 978-3-86930-314-7

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05. The Unseen Eye

In each photograph in this idiosyncratic and compelling collection, the gaze of the subject is averted, the face obscured, or the eyes firmly closed. This catalog of anti-portraiture, amassed over the course of thirty years by New York collector W. M. Hunt, includes works by masters such as Richard Avedon, Diane Arbus, Imogen Cunningham, William Klein, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Robert Frank.

Publisher: Aperture | Author: W.M. Hunt | Release Date: 2011 | ISBN-13: 978-1-59711-193-5

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06. La Grande Terreur en URSS 1937-1938

From 2008 to 2011, Tomasz Kizny conducted a real investigation into this wave of violence by the Soviet state against its own citizens in the 30s. In collaboration with the Memorial Association, he carries out a photographic work that documents the crimes and presents a topography of the Terror: places of execution and mass graves, photographs of the relatives of the disappeared, objects found during excavations. The heart of the book consists of a series of shocking portraits of convicts caught in the NKVD jails after their arrest and a few days before their execution.

Publisher: Noir sur Blanc | Author: Tomasz Kizzy | Release Date: 2013 | ISBN-13: 978-2-88250-303-9

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07. Erwin Olaf: I Am

In each photograph in this idiosyncratic and compelling collection, the gaze of the subject is averted, the face obscured, or the eyes firmly closed. This catalog of anti-portraiture, amassed over the course of thirty years by New York collector W. M. Hunt, includes works by masters such as Richard Avedon, Diane Arbus, Imogen Cunningham, William Klein, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Robert Frank.

Publisher: Aperture | Author: Erwin Olaf | Release Date: 2019 | ISBN-13: 978-1-59711-466-0

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08. Irving Penn: Centennial

Celebrating the centennial of Irving Penn's birth, this volume spans the entirety of his groundbreaking, nearly seventy-year career. It features one of the largest selections of his famous images as well as works that have never been published. Essays acquaint readers with Penn’s primary subjects, including documentary scenes and imagery; portraits of cultural figures and celebrities; fashion and people from around the world. Irving Penn: Centennial is essential for any fan of this artist's work or of the history of twentieth-century photography.

Publisher: Metropolitan Museum of Art | Author: Maria Morris Hambourg | Release Date: 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-1588396181

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09. Laetitia Casta

Dominique Issermann photographed Laetitia Casta in Switzerland, in the baths of Vals, built by the architect Peter Zumthor. This book brings together thirty-two photographs of this meeting which seems like a choreography between the photographer, Laetitia Casta and the architecture of the place.

Publisher: Editions Xavier Barral | Author: Dominique Issermann | Release Date: 2012 | ISBN-13: 978-2365110044

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10. Bill Brandt: Behind The Camera

Acknowledged as a master of twentieth-century photography, Bill Brandt left an indelible mark on the medium. After training in Man Ray’s studio, he produced a body of work that ranged from portraits of upper-crust society to views of the poverty of the industrial north of England. After the war, he began a series of remarkable nude studies using lens distortions and unusual points of view to interpret the female form in a new way. He also photographed the players of the English artistic scene, making portraits of everyone from Alec Guinness to David Hockney. 

Publisher: Aperture | Author: Mark Haworth-Booth and David Mellor | Release Date: 2015 | ISBN-13: 978-0-89381-170-9

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11. Dorothea Lange: Migrant Mother

During the Great Depression photographer Dorothea Lange agreed to capture, for the RA, the daily lives of those poor communities and migrants, to highlight the blatant inequalities of the American society. Among the pictures taken in the field, the migrant mother stood out. A photographic masterpiece. MoMA curator Sarah Meister provides a fresh context for this iconic work.

Publisher: Metropolitan Museum of Art | Author: Sarah Hermanson Meistert | Release Date: 2019 | ISBN-13: 978-1-63345-066-0

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12. Emmet Gowin

Throughout his prolific career as a photographer, Emmet Gowin has threaded together seemingly disparate subjects, from portraiture to landscapes and aerial views of environmental devastation. He photographed their children and their aging parents, and made intimate portraits of his wife and their extended family. This survey, Emmet Gowin pays tribute to Gowin’s remarkable career and his impact on the medium.

Publisher: Aperture | Author: Keith F. Davis | Release Date: 2013 | ISBN-13: 978-1-59711-261-1

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13. Yves Saint Laurent

Yves Saint Laurent is Lowits personal photographic history of Saint Laurent, the man and the fashion, from 1978, the year she first met him, to the last show he gave in 2002. This book represents the backstage experience of YSL shows as Lowits experienced them, and shares with the world intimate and social moments of the brand to create a unique portrait of this towering figure of postwar couture.

Publisher: Thames & Hudson Ltd | Author: Roxanne Lowit | Release Date: 2014 | ISBN-13: 978-0500517604

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14. Lartigue: A Life's Diary

Jacques-Herni Lartigue’s albums constitute the first photographic autobiography shown as an art form known to date. This book presents the photographic albums that Lartigue developed between 1902 (beginning of his photographic activity) and 1986 (date of his death). Lartigue reveals the most beautiful images that he realized day after day, which led him to be recognized in 1963 by the American critics as one of the greatest photographers of his time.

Publisher: Seuil | Author: Martine d'Astier, Alain Sayag et Quentin Bajac | Release Date: 2012 | ISBN-13: 978-2021060003

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15. Malick Sidibe - Mali Twist

Malick Sidibé, Mali Twist brings together the exceptional and iconic black and white photographs of the life of the man who was nicknamed “the eye of Bamako”. The studio and evening photographs reveal Malick Sidibé’s capacity, starting at the beginning of the 1960s, to grasp the vitality of the youth of Bamako and impose his unique style, recognized today throughout the world. 

Publisher: Editions Xavier Barral | Author: André Magnin & Brigitte Ollier | Release Date: 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-2365111522

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16. Kate

Kate features intimate, never-before-published portraits of a young Kate Moss, taken by her then-boyfriend, Mario Sorrenti in the 1990’s. These photographs, when seen by Calvin Klein, gave life to the famous Obsession campaign, which launched Moss to international superstardom. This book is a stunning photographic portfolio of one of contemporary culture's most iconic figures. 

Publisher: Phaidon | Author: Mario Sorrenti | Release Date: 2018 | ISBN-13: 9780714876801

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17. Peter Lindbergh. A Different Vision on Fashion Photography

This photographic collection includes more than 400 pictures taken by Peter Lindbergh, many previously unpublished, to showcase his seductive, cinematic aesthetics and the new narrative vision he brought to art and fashion. Considered as a pioneer in his domain, he introduced a new form of realism that redefines beauty in timeless images. 

Publisher: TASCHEN | Author: Peter Lindbergh | Release Date: 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-3836570343

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18. Obama’s People

Commissed by New York Times, Nadav Kander brought a skilled eye to his series of individual portraits of the 53 members of President Obama’s cabinet. The idea was to photograph Obama’s administration as it was being assembled, creatively capturing a political anatomy-in-progress. All subjects were photographed against a plain background with an item of theirs, allowing the dynamics of portrait photography to take centre stage.

Publisher: Flowers | Author: Nadav Kander | Release Date: 2009 | ISBN-13: 978-1906412272

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19. Helmut Newton and Alice Springs. Us and Them

First published in 1999, this collection gathers photographs by Helmut Newton and his wife, Alice Springs. The collection is arranged into five sections, alternating the gaze between Newton and Spring’s own internal world of “Us” with portraits through time of one other, and the glamorous encounters of their social and professional milieu―“Them.” 

Publisher: TASCHEN | Author: Helmut Newton| Release Date: 2016 | ISBN-13: 978-3836524674

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20. Immediate Family

Taken against the backdrop of her woodland summer home, Sally Mann's extraordinary, intimate photographs of her children reveal truths that embody the individuality of her immediate family. Mann's pictures explore the eternal struggle between the child's simultaneous dependence and quest for autonomy, the holding on, and the breaking away. 

Publisher: Aperture | Author: Sally Mann | Release Date: 2015 | ISBN-13: 9781597112550

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21. Robert Mapplethorpe

This collection presents the classic dimension of Robert Mapplethorpes’s work and his search for aesthetic perfection, through more than 200 images covering his entire career from the 1970s to his early death in 1989. His black and white work covers portraits both in studios and on location of the body as a sculpture, iconic figures of art and music, and moving self-portraits expressing the different aspects of his identity. 

Publisher: RMN | Author: Jerôme Neutres | Release Date: 2014 | ISBN-13: 978-2711861408

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22. Beaton: Photographs

Beaton: Photographs recompiles the astonishing and less known photographic career of Cecil Beaton spanning six decades, from the 1920s to the 1970s. These archives reveal an artist of extraordinary energy and ambition who made definitive portraits of the leading figures of his time, including Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein and Audrey Hepburn. 

Publisher: Jonathan Cape | Author: Cecil Beaton | Release Date: 2015 | ISBN-13: 978-0224101806

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23. Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph

A collection of eighty eerie and moving photographs, Diane Arbus: A Monograph offers the perfect introduction to the artist’s eclectic body of work. While Arbus is famous for having taken photos of drag queens, little people, nudists, and other marginalized figures excluded from the mainstream of society—she also photographed people as they struggled and failed to fulfill their prescribed social role.

Publisher: Aperture | Author: Diane Arbus | Release Date: 2012 | ISBN-13: 978-1597111751

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24. Richard Avedon, Portraits 

A selection of works by the influential portrait photographer, packaged in an accordion-folding folio, spans his entire career and demonstrates his signature technique of portraying his subject without extraneous detail and against white backgrounds.

Publisher: Abrams | Authors: Maria Morris Hambourg, Mia Fineman, Richard Avedon, Philippe de Montebello  | Release Date: 2002 | ISBN-13: 978-0810935402

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25. A Photographer's Life: 1990-2005

One of the most celebrated photographers of our time presents a selection of her work of the last fifteen years. Over 300 photographs are accompanied by an essay by Annie Leibovitz that discusses the circumstances under which the work was made, both technically and logistically, and her relationships with and thoughts about many of the subjects. Leibovitz's passion for her family and friends is part of a larger passion that extends to the subjects of her professional work, and the two worlds meet thematically.

Publisher: Random House | Author: Annie Leibovitz | Release Date: 2006 | ISBN-13: 978-0375505096

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26. August Sander: People of the 20th Century

With People of the 20th Century, August Sander created a monumental work that is unique in the history of photography and a classic of photographic literature. Sander conceived this uncompleted large-scale project, a complete typological portrait of contemporary society. Hundreds of portraits classified according to professional, social or family criteria were to provide a representative picture of the various social groups of the world in the 20th century.

Publisher: Schirmer Mosel | Author: Gabriele Conrath-Scholl | Release Date: 2013 | ISBN-13: 978-3829606448

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27. Belgicum

This book is the first monograph on Stephan Vanfleteren's total oeuvre. For more than fifteen years he has been wandering and hunting with love in his home country. This book is not a photographic project about rapid progress and great prosperity, but rather a visual testament filled with portraits of the last remnants of Belgium from the end of the last century and start this century. 

Publisher: Lannoo | Author: Stephan Vanfleteren | Release Date: 2018 | ISBN-13: 9789020971217

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