Best Photography Memoirs

If you’re looking for good weekend reads within photography – enjoyable publications that also serve as training and inspiration – this particular list is for you. The books I cover listed here are all memoirs by photographers detailing their creative, photo taking, and artistic journeys. Some read like novels as well as others are crash courses in living a creative life. All of them are exceptionally inspiring for photographers and photo enthusiasts.

Desk of Contents


If you have ever wondered exactly what it’s like to work as the photojournalist covering some of the largest military operations and clashes in modern history, or even if you’re just curious about exactly what would drive someone to continually put themselves in danger in pursuit of a photograph, then It’s What I Do by Lynsey Addario is a must-read book. This book reads like a novel. This starts with the kidnapping of Lynsey and some of the girl New York Times colleagues in Afghanistan, and it really does not slow down from there. Addario spends the book attempting to answer the question, “Why? Why go to the most war-torn and dangerous corners of the earth to take pictures? ” But her answer – the book’s title “It’s What I Do” – isn’t flippant, so when you read the book you will understand that it is a deeply honest answer.

This book reads like it is authored by a journalist rather than a good artist. That’s not an insult but more a comparison in order to Sally Mann’s deeply private work Hold Still (reviewed below). While Addario is certainly bluntly honest about the human toll of her work, both on herself, the girl life, and the people close to her, for the most part, it’s some thing she just accepts. We can’t decide whether this book makes me want to hop on a plane to dangerous areas with a Domke full of camera gear, or whether or not I’m deeply thankful to be reading it from the comfort of my living room couch, but either way, this book will make you appreciate the sacrifice Lynsey and her colleagues make to bring us images through the front lines.


As the title therefore aptly explains, Annie Leibovitz At Work offers us the behind-the-lens look at one of America’s most iconic photographers. Even when Leibovitz weren’t the icon she is today, this book would be an enjoyable read just for the amazing experiences and moments of history she experienced (and of course photographed). This isn’t an especially specialized volume. Leibovitz share ideas behind many of her pictures, and there is a section around the equipment she uses, however the anecdotes and stories mix to tell the greater story from the experiences that came out of her life behind the lens.

As Annie Leibovitz takes us by way of a handful of her amazing images, we experience some of the most critical moments and people in United states history through the eyes from the woman who photographed all of them. From her coverage of the Rolling Stones to the OJ Simpson trial and the photograph associated with John Lennon and Yoko Ono made just hrs before the musician’s death, Leibovitz takes us behind the scenes of several of her most famous photographs. She shares how the images came to be, how they evolved, and, in many cases, how the subjects on their own influenced the final images.

This book is an exciting and often entertaining read. Put culture, politics, celebrities, musicians… Leibovitz has photographed them all, and her experiences are perfect to read about. The images in the book are of course fantastic, and while many of them are likely ones a person already recognize, they come to our lives when we have the opportunity to be “in the room” with Leibovitz while she take them.


Sally Mann’s work often examines the particular relationships surrounding families, areas, and personal history, and this guide is essentially an extension of that work. She delves deep straight into her own family history and shares the story of her existence in a way that gives you a greater understanding of her art. The story meanders at times; it’s not necessarily the chronological autobiography of her life as a photographer. Instead, Mann explores the same styles in writing that she has used images to explore. She defends her controversial “Immediate Family” series and shares the sometimes shocking story of what her family suffered as a result of that work, while diving into her thoughts on what it means to be a mother and an artist. She shares her personal history with blunt honesty, and she attempts in order to reconcile her “feral” years as a child, her deeply southern root base, and the racism of the American South she loves and was raised in, with the individual and artist she will become.

Sally Mann’s work has always been deeply private, and Hold Still   sheds light on just how much therefore. As such, I believe this book is ideal for photographers who already like Sally Mann’s work. While this is not always true along with photography memoirs, in this specific case, I think you are more unlikely to appreciate the book if you don’t appreciate her photography. But if you are a fan of Sally Mann’s images, this book will give you a deeper understanding of the photographer and what goes into her images.


As Jack Dykinga takes you via his 50 year career – Pulitzer-prize winning photojournalist, photo editor, and panorama photographer – the unifying thread to his life’s work is a camera and a desire to keep evolving. A Photographer’s Existence   begins about what could have been the end of Jack’s story: a near dying experience that leaves Dykinga with a better understanding of whom he is and what is important. As he explains, “I reflected upon my life, seeing it like a journey filled with people who quietly and sometimes abruptly, transformed my life… These changes along my life’s journey have often been reflected in the images I create. ” As he generously moves us through that trip, we get to share not just his fabulous images (the book is filled with them) but the story of such a photographer’s life can be.

Jack Dykinga’s photo taking journey is fascinating because it spans the extreme conditions of the craft, from the chaotic and busy life of a daily news photographer to the fastidious work of a scenery photographer. “My journey in photography has run parallel to my life’s journey, ” Dykinga writes, “at situations intersecting and at times diverging. Balancing the two can be immensely difficult for a committed professional photographer. ” With simple integrity, he shares how his life influenced his photography and, likewise, how his photography influenced his living. This book is worth buying for that photographs, it’s worth reading for the story, and it’s worth savoring for the intelligence he shares both about life and photography.


Road to Seeing by Dan Winters is a brilliant memoir by an even more brilliant photographer. This autobiographic treatise starts with Dan’s childhood and high school years and takes us on a (roughly) 700 page journey through his life, a brief history of photography, the life plus work of others who affected him, and of course his own work. If that sounds tedious, this book is anything but. It’s interesting, insightful, educational, and inspiring.

“Every individual instance of life is a function of the whole universe. ” Dan Winters tells us, and that is in essence the particular central theme around which this book is written. He or she starts with his high school yrs and shows us, with the benefit of hindsight, how all of the seemingly disparate experiences, passions, and influences in his lifetime come together to make him the person and photographer he became. He walks us by means of his early years and work in New York, behind the scenes in his act as a photojournalist, and he requires us through the thought procedures behind many of his superstar portraits taken in his business in Hollywood. (As a side note: when Lalu Winters walks us via his celebrity portraiture, the book reminds me a lot of Gregory Heisler’s 50 Portraits ). Winters shows us just how all of these experiences influence their personal work and then takes us on a journey though the history of photography, drawing cable connections and parallels between additional photographers and their work and also relating it back to his own life and function.

This is probably the most interesting books I have actually read. It is one of the best but also one of the hardest to explain. Road to Seeing   is a massive undertaking, but regardless of the sheer volume of what Serta Winters tackles here (memoir, philosophy, behind the scenes of specific images, history of photography) it really is somehow cohesive. At 1 point, Winters makes a comment about how he sees their portfolio as one body of work despite the breadth plus variety it contains, and I think this book is the same. He discusses so many things here but the root thread is his own creative journey. Winters is extremely informative. It’s a rare thing to be able to see, let alone explain, the particular creative journey with this kind of clarity.

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