Rare Books

The 10 most collectible photography books of all time

The 10 Most Collectible Photography Books of All Time

Collectors are willing to pay steep prices for the world's finest photography books. Rare editions from the likes of Robert Frank, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Irving Penn and Ansel Adams are among the most sought-after of all art books. Sometimes these books have captured an era or a location, sometimes they have helped to coin an artistic trend, sometimes they are simply the finest work of a particular photographer. Whether geography, portrait, abstract or other, these are the books that draw the eye time and time again, and showcase the finest art to ever come from a camera.

Enjoy our list of the top 10 most collectible photography books of all time (plus there are five more wonderful books that failed to make the top 10).

The top 10 photography books

By Bill Burke
Part travelogue, part art, I Want to Take Picture follows Burke as he explores South East Asia and the Khmer Rouge. The project dealt a fatal blow to the preconceived notion that documentary photography was a vehicle for absolute truth.

1987 first editions
2007 reprints
By Brassaï
Brassaï was the pseudonym of Gyula Halász - a Hungarian photographer, sculptor, and filmmaker best known in France. While working as a journalist, he took countless photos of Paris after dark - Paris de Nuit was his first published book of photographs.

All copies
By Ed Ruscha
Photos of 26 gas stations along Route 66, and no text except the station's brand and location. This book, Ruscha's first, eventually achieved cult status and launched his career in Pop Art.

1963 first editions
later editions
By Henri Cartier-Bresson
Cartier-Bresson published Images à la sauvette (The Decisive Moment) in 1952.The book's memorable cover was drawn by Henri Matisse, who died in 1954. A lengthy essay prefaces the book with Cartier-Bresson's thoughts on why everything has a decisive moment.

1952 French first editions
1952 American first editions
By Irving Penn
Legendary fashion photographer Irving Penn published this in 1960 with a print run of 20,000 (over French, Italian, German and English editions). Penn spent his early career with Vogue magazine, and Moments Preserved is an overview of these first years.

All copies
By James Agee & Walker Evans
Agee and Evans visited rural Alabama in 1936 to document the sharecroppers' plight for a magazine, but it ballooned into a documentary. Evans' stark photos and Agee's moving text made this a defining essay on tenant farmers in the dustbowl.

1941 first editions
2006 reprints
By Ansel Adams
Adams' first book of photographs, Sierra Nevada was commissioned by a Sierra Club president as a tribute to his son who died in a climbing accident. Adams' striking images set a new standard for photo-books and provided him a launching pad for his stellar career.

1938 first editions
2006 reprints
By Mike Mandel & Larry Sultan
Mandel and Sultan compiled thousands of photos used as objective instruments (ie evidence) in a single volume, removing all explanation. The book revealed the multiple meanings an image could take on when devoid of original context.

2003 editions
By Pat and Rosemarie Keough
Stunning photographs capturing the natural beauty of the last unsettled continent on Earth, featuring panoramic snow fields and majestic emperor penguins. The book weighs in at 27 pounds, was limited to 950 copies, and was part of an effort to prevent the extinction of the albatross.

All copies of Antarctica
By Robert Frank
Frank's best-known work - a remarkable insight into 1950s US culture. Initially criticized as an assault on America, the book is now celebrated as an influential work of 20th-century photography, juxtaposing 50s optimism with poverty and race issues.

1958 first edition
1959 first US edition
2008 editions

And five books that didn't make the top 10

By Taschen
Greatest Of All Time is the pinnacle of collectible sports books with 3,000 images about Muhammad Ali. Taschen published it in 2004 with a print run of 9,000, all of which were signed by Koons and Ali. This monster weighs over 75 pounds - a true heavyweight of photography books.

2004 first editions
All copies of GOAT
By Helmut Newton
The biggest and most expensive book production of the 20th century, Sumo had a limited global print run of 10,000 copies, signed and numbered by Newton. Measuring 20 x 27.5 inches (50 x 70 cm), it contains over 400 photos, including many of his renowned nudes and celebrity shots.

1999 first editions
2009 reprints
By Ed Ruscha
This compilation contains continuous photographs of a two-and-a-half mile stretch, of the 22-mile boulevard that is Sunset Strip. It is presented as an accordion-fold page with the north side of the street on the top of the page and the south street inverted on the bottom.

1966 self-published editions
1970 second printing
By Ed Ruscha
Self-published in 1967, Ruscha continues to transform the mundane and this time takes aerial views of (mostly) empty parking lots around the city of Los Angeles including those of the Hollywood Bowl and Dodger Stadium.

1967 self-published editions
1974 edition
By Hiroshi Sugimoto
Sugimoto captures views of the interiors of movie theaters by taking images from the projection room and setting exposures to the duration of the films. The projector provides the sole lighting and the seats and building details are the only subjects, so the photographs have a very surreal feel.

All copies of Theaters


More beautiful books

By Richard Davies
June 03, 2021
The Book of Miracles is perhaps not the right name. 'The book of biblical drama and things we don't understand' may be a better title. This beautiful book about a book is published by Taschen. It contains a facsimile of a mysterious manuscript from the 16th century along with two modern essays of explanatory comment on the history, meaning and importance of this manuscript.
2 Min Read
By Jessica Doyle
June 03, 2021
Penguin Drop Caps is a series of 26 rainbow-hued hardcover editions of literature's finest treasures. An edition for each letter of the alphabet, the series features authors from A (Jane Austen) to Z (Carlos Ruiz Zafon).
1 Min Read
By Edward Halpern
June 03, 2021
The Limited Editions Club of New York was started in 1929 by George Macy. At 29-years-old, he was an avid reader who wanted to make his living from books. His business revolved around publishing beautifully illustrated classic titles in relatively small quantities with club members paying a subscription.
3 Min Read