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12 Inspiring Photobooks by Women Photographers
From seminal first monographs by Diane Arbus and Nan Goldin to modern classics by Deana Lawson, Rinko Kawauchi and more.
Since its founding in 1952, Aperture has elevated the voices of women artists and published important works by female photographers. Our publishing history includes seminal volumes by Diane Arbus, Nan Goldin, and Sally Mann, and monographs by today’s leading contemporary artists, including Rinko Kawauchi and Deana Lawson. In celebration of Women’s History Month, we’ve gathered some of Aperture’s most inspiring photobooks by women.
A central figure at the Bauhaus and an active photographer in the decade before World War II, Florence Henri was a forerunner of photography in the 20th century. Her experimental photographs pushed the medium forward with their highly original use of light, composition, and portraiture. In 1928, supporter and contemporary László Moholy-Nagy wrote: “With Florence Henri’s photos, photographic practice enters a new phase—the scope of which would have been unimaginable before today.” Florence Henri: Mirror of the Avant-Garde, 1927–40 pays homage to her essential, but under-recognized, contributions to photography.
Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph, 2011 (First published 1972)
One of the best-known photographers of her generation, Diane Arbus was already a legend in the photography community when she died in 1971. The following year, Aperture first published Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph, featuring eighty of Arbus’s now-iconic portraits, which offered the general public its first encounter with her momentous achievements. The response was unprecedented. Now, nearly fifty years after its original publication, the monograph is universally acknowledged as a timeless masterpiece and remains the foundation of Arbus’s international reputation.
Nan Goldin, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, 2012 (First published 1986)
Nan Goldin’s iconic visual diary, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, chronicles the struggle for intimacy and understanding between her friends, family, and lovers in the 1970s and ’80s. Goldin’s candid, visceral photographs captured a world seething with life—and challenged censorship, disrupted gender stereotypes, and brought crucial visibility and awareness to the AIDS crisis. Over thirty years later, the influence of The Ballad on photography and other aesthetic realms can still be felt, firmly establishing it as a contemporary classic.
Sally Mann, Immediate Family, 2014 (First published 1992)
When Aperture first published Immediate Family in 1992, it was met with both acclaim and criticism. Mann’s intimate portraits of her children captured the sublime dignity and feral grace of family life—but at the time of publication, the book caused an uproar among religious conservatives who deemed the work pornographic. Today, Mann is firmly established as a preeminent American photographer, and Immediate Family is lauded by critics as one of the great photography books of our time.
Paz Errázuriz: Survey, 2016
Chilean photographer Paz Errázuriz is known for her steadfast commitment to her subjects, spending months or years with a community in order to build trust and carefully study social structures. During the Pinochet dictatorship in the 1970s and ’80s, Errázuriz photographed brothels, shelters, psychiatric wards, and boxing clubs—all places where women were not welcome. One of her series, Adam’s apple, documents trans prostitutes working in Santiago and Talca. As Julia Bryan Wilson writes, “Decades before the rise of the phrase trans feminism and the increased mainstreaming of (some) trans bodies, Errázuriz . . . sought to capture Chilean trans women without shame or stigma.”
One of the earliest women members of Magnum Photos, Susan Meiselas is an immensely influential photographer and an important contributor to the evolution of documentary storytelling. On the Frontline explores the trajectory of Meiselas’s career—from her series Carnival Strippers, to her renowned coverage of the Nicaraguan Revolution in 1979, to her six years documenting the Kurdish people—offering key insights into her ideas, processes, and experiences as a photojournalist.
Latoya Ruby Frazier, The Notion of Family, 2014 (Paperback 2016)
The Notion of Family, LaToya Ruby Frazier’s award-winning first photobook, offers an exploration of the legacy of racism and economic decline in America’s small towns, as embodied by her hometown of Braddock, Pennsylvania. Enlisting the participation of her family, her mother in particular, Frazier reinforces the idea of art and image-making as transformative acts, a means of resetting traditional power dynamics and narratives—both those of her family and of the community at large. ARTnews named The Notion of Family one of the best art books of the decade.
Known for her utopian photographs of American landscapes and their fringe communities, Justine Kurland has spent the better part of the last twelve years on the road. Since 2005, Kurland and her son Casper have traveled across the country. Kurland’s deep interest in the road, the Western frontier, escape, and ways of living outside mainstream values pervade Highway Kind, which showcases her vision in equal parts raw and romantic, idyllic and dystopian.
Rinko Kawauchi: Halo, 2017
In recent years, Rinko Kawauchi’s photographs of the tender cadences of everyday living have begun to swing further afield from her earlier work. In Halo, Kawauchi expands her inquiry, photographing three main themes—Lunar New Year celebrations in Hebei province in China (where a five-hundred-year-old tradition calls for molten iron hurled in lieu of fireworks), the southern coastal region of Izumo in Japan, and an ongoing fascination with the murmuration of birds along the coast of Brighton, England. The resulting images knit together a mesmerizing exploration of the spirituality of the natural world.
Magnum photographer Bieke Depoorter has traveled to Egypt regularly since the beginning of the Egyptian Revolution in 2011, making intimate pictures of families in their homes. In 2017, Depoorter revisited the country with a first draft of her book, returning to the people she photographed and inviting them to write comments directly on its images. The resulting book, As it may be, offers a direct dialogue between photographer and subject rarely found in documentary work, exploring contrasting views on the country, religion, and society between people who may never cross paths in real life.
Over the last ten years, Deana Lawson has portrayed the personal and the powerful in her large-scale, dramatic portraits of people in the US, Caribbean, and Africa. One of the most compelling photographers working today, Deana Lawson: An Aperture Monograph is the long-awaited first photobook by the visionary artist. “Outside a Deana Lawson portrait you might be working three jobs, just keeping your head above water, struggling,” writes Zadie Smith in the book’s essay. “But inside her frame you are beautiful, imperious, unbroken, unfallen.”
For five years, Chloe Dewe Mathews traveled through the beguiling region surrounding the Caspian Sea, creating a record of the ways materials such as oil, fire, uranium, and water are integral to the mystical, economic, religious, and therapeutic aspects of daily life. Winner of Harvard University’s 2014 Robert Gardner Fellowship in Photography, Dewe Mathews’s photographs range from stark and elemental to lush and mysterious—capturing the ways humans are inextricably linked to the enigmatic and much-coveted landscape of the Caspian region.
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