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Elizabeth Avedon asks "What are the Top 3 Selling Photography Books of All Time?"



Elizabeth Avedon recently posted an interesting piece on her photo blog entitled "Top 3 Selling Photography Books of All Time." Keeping the focus on fine art photography, Avedon posed this as a question to a number of her fellows in the photo world and received an interesting variety of titles, along with plenty of like-minded answers.  photo-eye's Rixon Reed, Melanie McWhorter and Eric Miles were among those polled for their opinions.

It's a difficult thing to gauge -- drawing the line between photobook and fine art photobook is tricky and statistics don't appear to be forthcoming.  Just out of curiosity, I checked Amazon.com for their current list of best selling photography books (which is apparently updated hourly), moving down it for the first book that would qualify as fine art.  At number 30, Take Ivy by T. Hayashida, a powerHouse reprint of the 1965 fashion classic, walks the line. At number 45 was Infidel by Tim Hetherington, published by Chris Boot, which some might criticize as being more documentary than fine art, despite its brilliantly powerful images and thoughtful layout and design.  At number 52 I found Revealing Mexico with photographs by John Mack, also from powerHouse.

Avedon settled on The Family of Man curated by Edward Steichen, The Americans by Robert Frank  and Looking at Photographs curated by John Szarkowski as the top three.  It's fascinating to see the responses (there are some great thoughts in the comments as well), which I suspect also reflect some amount of wanting. There will always be a long list of books that many feel should have been best sellers, but just never were (which would be another interesting list to compile). Avedon's post makes me wonder how a book can merge financial success with artistic impact -- though it is perhaps arguable how much the quality of the images inside have to do with overall sales.  There are certainly plenty of astounding photography books published every year, what is it that makes one a best seller? And just when does the commercial success of a book preclude it from being well received in the fine art world?

Read Avedon's blog post here.

2 comments:

  1. You've asked the question all artists want to know the answer to:

    "how a [insert 'work of art' in place of 'book' here] can merge financial success with artistic impact."

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  2. Cape Light by Joel Meyerowitz comes to mind as a photo book that succeeds on both levels. This well-established street photographer's first published series using a large-format camera was a huge commercial success when initially released in the late seventies. At the time, color work was not always taken seriously, and the title was most likely marketed as a travel pictorial. Although this luminescent photo book has never received the respect it deserves, Cape Light has sold well enough to remain in print for over thirty years.

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