Aperture Magazine

The magazine of photography and ideas

13 Essential Photobooks by Women Photographers

From photography legends to unsung pioneers of decades past, our gift guide to Aperture photobooks by women photographers.

 - December 15, 2016

From Florence Henri’s little-known avant-garde photographs of the 1920s to Susan Meiselas’s piercing documentary photography of the 1970s, we’ve compiled a list of Aperture photobooks by women photographers that are sure to inspire.

Mickalene Thomas, Muse
Over the course of her storied career, Mickalene Thomas has worked in a variety of mediums, drawing inspiration from the women around her. From cultural icons like Beverly Johnson and Vonetta McGee to her family members and lovers, each of Thomas’s “muses” grapples with and asserts new definitions of beauty.

Justine Kurland, Highway Kind
Since 2004, photographer Justine Kurland and her young son, Casper, have traveled in their customized van across the United States. As Kurland balances life as an artist and mother, her son heavily influences her subject matter. Exploring the idea of the American dream juxtaposed against reality, the photographs in Highway Kind are equal parts raw and romantic.

Susan Meiselas, Nicaragua: June 1978 – July 1979
In the late 1970s, Meiselas traveled independently to Nicaragua to document the Somoza regime during its decline. The images she made would transform her career. Originally published in 1981, Nicaragua remains a seminal contribution to the literature of concerned photojournalism.

LaToya Ruby Frazier, The Notion of Family 
The Notion of Family, Frazier’s first book, 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—and her mother in particular—Frazier reinforces the idea of art and image-making as a transformative act, a means of resetting traditional power dynamics and narratives, both those of her family and those of the community at large.

Nan Goldin, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency
The Ballad of Sexual Dependency is a visual diary chronicling the struggle for intimacy and understanding between Goldin’s friends, family, and lovers. Aperture first published her irreverent and visceral images as a book in 1986. The influence of Ballad on photography and other aesthetic realms has continually grown, making the work a contemporary classic.

Jo Ann Callis, Other Rooms
Provocative, seductive, and surprisingly fresh, this collection of Jo Ann Callis’s work from the mid-1970s investigates the nude body and sexuality. Callis utilizes twine, belts, tape, and other everyday materials in an intimate exploration of pleasure and eros. Other Rooms is as beautiful and delicate as it is mysterious and disconcerting.

Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph
One of the best-known female photographers of her generation, Diane Arbus was already a legend among serious photographers when she died in 1971. In 1972, Aperture published Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph, and offered the general public its first encounter with her momentous achievements. The response was unprecedented. Universally acknowledged as a timeless masterpiece, this book will transform the way you see the world.

Mary Ellen Mark on the Portrait and the Moment
Mary Ellen Mark is renowned for the emotional power of her pictures. Though she died in 2015, she remains one of the most respected and influential photographers of our time. Mary Ellen Mark on the Portrait and the Moment distills over fifty years of Mark’s experience and wisdom, providing photographers with a unique chance to learn from Mark’s astonishing life and career. The book was printed just before she passed away.

Paz Errázuriz: Survey
During the height of the Pinochet dictatorship in the 1970s, Chilean photographer Paz Errázuriz was taking great risks to continue her work, which violated the regime’s strict regulations. She dared to visit brothels, psychiatric wards, and boxing clubs, where women weren’t welcome. In Paz Errázuriz: Survey, over 170 photographs by Errázuriz are compiled for the first time.

Sally Mann, Immediate Family
When Aperture first published Immediate Family in 1992, it was met with both acclaim and criticism. Though Mann’s extraordinary, intimate photos of her children caused an uproar among religious conservatives who deemed the work pornographic, the book has been lauded by critics as one of the great photography publications of our time.

Florence Henri: Mirror of the Avant-Garde, 1927–40
Florence Henri’s work occupied a central place in the world of avant-garde photography in the late 1920s, and Florence Henri: Mirror of the Avant-Garde pays homage to her essential but under recognized contribution. She remains an inspiration for photographers, artists, and design enthusiasts alike. 

An-My Lê, Events Ashore
An-My Lê’s Events Ashore is an exploration of the American military, a pursuit both personal and civic. “This work is as much about my perspective and personal history as a political refugee from Vietnam as it is about the vast geopolitical forces and conflicts that shape these landscapes.” With this body of work, Lê has assembled a visual narrative of that constitutes the American military experience—and influence.

Penelope Umbrico, Range
In Range, Umbrico examines the analog history of photography within the digital torrent that is its current technological manifestation. It is the latest iteration of Umbrico’s larger project Moving Mountains, in which the artist rephotographs a selection of canonical masters’ photographs of mountains—the oldest and seemingly most stable of subjects—with a variety of the newest smartphone camera apps.