The 19 Best Photo Books of 2019
Jan. 3, 2020
By: Lee Cutlip
Coffee table books speak volumes about their owners: their interests, the type of person they purport to be, the type of person they aspire to be. When someone puts a coffee book on display, it serves as a signifier of how attuned they are to culture, art, style, etc. But regardless of what coffee table books communicate to others, on a base level, they’re simply fun to look at. Meeting at the intersection of book, decoration and art piece, the oversized pages of coffee table books can repeatedly be studied for hours. If you’re reluctant to entertain guests, just set a coffee table book in front of them and let them entertain themselves. Anyone can find pleasure in them, even if their interests don’t necessarily align with the content of the book.
The world of coffee table books is vast, with new books dropping seemingly every day. This year proved to be dense with releases, but we’ve managed to find the best 19 coffee table books of 2019, all of them bound to become timeless fixtures.
Francois Halard: A Visual Diary
If you’ve ever longed for an intimate look into the private live of visionaries and creatives, photographer Francois Halard offers just that, with Francois Halard: A Visual Diary. A follow-up to Halard’s last collection of photographs, he grants the reader access into the homes such individuals as Dries Van Noten and Louise Bourgeois. Rather than encapsulate the interiors in one photo, Halard focuses on one aspect at a time, from a door frame to one particular book on a shelf, creating a fuller and more personal portrait of the person that inhabits that space.
Kerry James Marshall: History of Painting
Kerry James Marshall is one of the most prolific painters currently living, and if you’re unable to see his works in person, this book is the next best thing. The figurative works that Marshall has come to be most known for are featured prominently throughout the book, now alongside his nonfigurative and more abstract work, both dealing with the themes of race, history, gender and critique of the predominantly white art world. Paired with essays by Teju Cole and Hal Foster, the book allows for a more deeper reading of the art.
Donald Judd Interviews
Although it boasts fewer pictures and more text, this collection of interviews by famed minimalist artist Donald Judd is just as compelling as any photo-heavy book. The interviews, which include Judd in conversation with Edward Hopper and Yayoi Kusama, among others, are a comprehensive dialogue about art, art criticism, art practices, particularly in relation to the changing art scene of the 1960s. It’s a must-have for anyone who self-identifies as an artist.
Herman Miller: A Way of Living
Herman Miller is one of the most iconic names in furniture design, and A Way of Living chronicles his rise within the industry, noting key moments that changed the design world. Rather than just photographs and text, the book also includes newspaper and magazine clippings, as well as drawings and posters, helping to fully detail the trajectory and influence of Miller’s career. While you may not be able to own a Herman Miller original, this is the next best thing.
Bill Cunningham On the Street: Five Decades of Iconic Photography
It’s been three years since Bill Cunningham’s passing, and the world of street style is sorely missing the legend. Luckily, we can now reminisce and reflect on his vast output of images of New York City, and Paris, residents. Although known primarily as a fashion/street style photographer, Cunningham’s images did more than just capture outfits — his images speak to shifts in history and culture as a whole. Regardless of one’s interest in fashion or clothing, On the Street is for anyone who appreciates beauty in the ordinary.
Hi-Fi: The History of High-End Audio
Calling all audiophiles. For those who pride themselves on their superior knowledge and taste in audio equipment, this book offers an in-depth history of the evolution of audio equipment, from the 1950s to the present, detailing how equipment such as record players became a mainstay in people’s homes, and how the look and design of equipment changed as a result.
The NASA Archives: 60 Years in Space
Space is vast, and much of it unknowable to us, but NASA has managed to capture some of space in this 468 page behemoth from Taschen. 60 Years in Space manages to examine the long and complex history of NASA through both photographs and rarely seen concept renderings. It’s doubtful that many of us will ever get to experience space (unless SpaceX actually comes to fruition) but the panoramas of Mars and images of satellites hurtling through space allow us for the briefest moment to experience the final frontier.
A is for Archive: Warhol’s World from A-Z
The amount of photo and coffee table books about Andy Warhol is practically infinite. What makes A is for Archive stand apart from the rest is the way it’s structured — alphabetically. Author Matt Wrbican has curated the works solely from Warhol’s personal collection, so instead of getting yet more images of Warhol’s most famous works, you’ll find a collection of signed objects (“A is for Autograph”) or even clothing and accessories from Warhol’s wardrobe (“F is for Fashion”). Warhol’s personal life has long been shrouded in mystery, but this book offers a glimpse.
Roy DeCarava: the sound i saw
Jazz is often deeply personal and deeply emotional. Photographer Roy DeCarava managed to capture the emotions of jazz musicians through his black-and-white photographs of the New York jazz scene. There’s no need for color in DeCarava’s images; a close-up of a Billie Holiday’s face as she closes her eyes and looks to be almost grimacing is powerful enough to convey the message. These portraits of musicians juxtaposed against scenes from New York, primarily Harlem, offer a look at how the two will always be inextricable from one another.
Atlas of Furniture Design
Atlas of Furniture Design might be the coffee table book to end all coffee table books. It’s 1,008 pages promises hours, if not days (maybe even months!) of content to consume. The book is a result of more than twenty years of research, which is immediately evident in the degree to which the book documents specific pieces of furniture, including descriptions, as well as how the pieces fit into and reflect the time in which they were created.
The Definitive Jacques Tati
Viewing a Jacques’ Tati film is a surreal experience. The famed French filmmaker (who also happened to be a mime) took pleasure in the unusual and preferred to let other aspects of the film, such as costumes or props, stand in for dialogue. The Definitive Jacques Tati is just as the title suggests — definitive. The six volumes included in the set cover everything from themes in Tati’s films to stills from six of his films.
Great Women Artists
This is a book that is long overdue. If you truly pride yourself on being an artlover, then you should have this book. Although there might not seem like much of a scarcity of women artists, the art world still has major strides to take to stop overlooking female artists, and this book is a step in the right direction. Featuring more than 400 artists, the book will alert you to artists you’ve probably never heard of, and will make the disparity between female and male artists shown in museums and galleries all the more apparent.
The Irishman: The Making of the Movie
Martin Scorcese’s The Irishman is a film that was long in the making, and rightly so as it manages to capture decades of history and events in relation to union boss Jimmy Hoffa and his strange disappearance. For those that couldn’t get enough of the 209 minute film, The Making of the Movie by Tom Shone captures the behind the scenes of the movie and portraits of the cast, in addition to interviews with them and those who worked creatively on the film. More than just an ode to the movie, the book is an homage to Scorcese’s long and expansive filmography, and the work he’s contributed throughout the years.
Midcentury Memories: The Anonymous Project
Sometimes you just wanna look at pictures. If that’s the case then we highly recommend you pick up The Anonymous Project. The photos are a bright and vivid recollection of the midcentury, all taken by people who are unknown. Despite the anonymity of the photographers, if anything their lack of identity imbues the photographs with even more sentimentality and makes it easier for one to relate and identify with them, projecting their own memories onto those of the anonymous.
A24 Moonlight Screenplay Book
There’s something to be said for reading a screenplay of a film you love. It allows you to pick up on things previously unnoticed and makes for watching an even more rewarding experience. The production company A24 has created books featuring the screenplays of three of their most beloved films: Moonlight, The Witch and Ex Machina. Interspersed throughout the dialogue are photos and stills from the film, as well as essays (Moonlight features essays from Frank Ocean and Hilton Als). It’s a supremely unique and beautiful way of exploring the vision and development of a film, from script to screen.
Nan Goldin: The Other Side
Perhaps one of the most well known photographers, Nan Goldin is not afraid to get personal. Much of her work is about the personal, specifically her personal life, and The Other Side is no different. Taken in the 1970s to 1990s, Goldin’s photographs are a documentation of her friends throughout the years, many of whom were apart of the LGBT community and many of whom she lost. This revised version features an introduction by Goldin herself, which lends context and a voice to those represented, and places the book in relation to the struggles surrounding sexuality and gender that are still pervasive today.
Watches: A Guide by Hodinkee
Watches say a lot about their wearer. A Cartier tank watch says classic, a Apple watch shows you care about functionality, a Patek Philipe indicates a certain status. But if you don’t know particularly a lot about watches, or maybe don’t even wear one, yet are interested in learning more (or maybe you consider yourself a horologist) it’s worth checking out Watches: A Guide by Hodinkee. The book covers both new and vintage styles, and delves into some of the most iconic watches in history and culture, such as the Heuer Monaco Steve McQueen sports in Le Mans and the Omega Speedmaster, the first watch on the moon. It’s a book worth your time.
Bob Dylan: A Year and A Day
Bob Dylan’s a musical icon, but what was his rise to fame like? Photographer Daniel Kramer spent a year with Dylan, from 1964-65, the year considered to be most transformative to Dylan’s career. Bob Dylan: A Year and a Day captures Dylan at some of his the most important moments in creating the Bob Dylan we know today, from his concert with Joan Baez at the Lincoln Center Philharmonic Hall, to his Forest-Hills concert, where Dylan made the switch to electric guitar, inviting controversy. Daniel also manages to capture Dylan in states of reflection amidst all the stardom being thrust upon him.
Axel Vervoordt: Portraits of Interiors
Look no further for interior design inspiration than Axel Vervoordt’s Portrait of Interiors. The book is most likely going to incite envy with the residences on display (a Manhattan penthouse and a Bordeaux wine château being among them). It’s a lavish book, almost absurdly so, but it makes for a fun indulgence, and something to aspire to. Plus, it’ll look great in even the humblest of abodes.