The Library

Books on visual culture, photographic theory, art history and other related things

A list of photography, visual culture and art-history related books.

When many people think of ‘photography books’, they often think about the technique books like ‘How to photograph X. However, while these do have a place, especially if you’re starting out in photography, they don’t really tell you the why of photography. This is where these books come into play. Many photographers may not be too concerned with this, and that is completely fine, but others may want to delve deeper into the theories that underpin and ground many aspects of photography.

From my point of view, reading the theories behind photography and learning about visual culture and art history, has given me a greater appreciation for photography and art in general. This will inform my own practice, leading on to creating better, more meaningful images.

I love books and started to build up a nice little collection for my own interest in photography and to extend my knowledge of art history when I stated my Open University study. My Masters degree has a huge reading list, but being an interdisciplinary course some books are not too relevant for photography, but does cover the critical side of things rather well (hence a lot of critical theory books).

My initial idea for this page was to post up the book along with a very short review, but this is a little too time consuming. I may add in a few descriptions for key books as time goes on, but I’ve split things into rough groups as not all the books would be useful to everyone. I have read if not the book a relevant chapter in all the below. (I’ve left out all the journal articles as they are very specific and would more than double the list)…

Pro Tip: many of them are available very reasonably second hand through Amazon (how I buy most of mine).


Art History & Theory

BRILLIANT, R.,1997. Portraiture. London: Reaktion

CAMPBELL, L., M. FALOMIR, J. FLETCHER and L. SYSON, 2008. Renaissance Faces: Van Eyck to Titian. London: National Gallery

D’ALLEVA, A., 2012. Methods and Theories of Art History (2nd ed). London: Laurence King Publishing

FARTHING, S. (ed), 2016. Art The Whole Story, London: Thames & Hudson

FOSTER, H., 1996. The Return of the Real: The Avant-Garde at the End of the Century. Cambridge, MA: MIT

GOMBRICH, E.H., 1995. The Story of Art (16th ed). London: Phaidon

Visual Culture & Culture

CORSANE, G. (ed), 2005. Heritage, Museums and Galleries: An Introductory Reader. London/NY:Routledge

CRANE, S. A. (ed), 2000. Museums and Memory. Stanford:Stanford University Press

EDWARDS, E. and J. HART (eds), 2004. Photographs Objects Histories: On the Materiality of Images. London/NY: Routledge

ROSE, G., 2015. Visual Methodologies (4th ed). London: Sage

STURKIN, M. & CARTWRIGHT, L., 2009. Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture, 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press *

TINKLER, P., 2013. Using Photographs in Social and Historical Research. London: Sage

DURDEN, M. and C. RICHARDSON, 2000. Face On: Photography as Social Exchange. London: Black Dog Publishing

SAID, E. W., 1994. Culture and Imperialism. London: Vantage

Photographic History & Photography

BATCHEN, G., 2000. Each Wild Idea:Writing Photography History. Cambridge MA: MIT Press

CHAUDHARY, Z. R., 2012. Afterimage of Empire: Photography in Nineteenth Century India. Minneapolis/ London: University of Minnesota Press

COTTON, C., 2004. The Photograph as Contemporary Art. London/NY: Thames and Hudson

SCOTT, C., 1999. The Spoken Image: Photography and Language. London: Reaktion

SEKULA, A., 2016. Photography Against the Grain: Essays and Photoworks 1973-1983. MACK

TAGG, J., 1988. The Burden of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories. London: Macmillan

TRACHTENBERG, A. (ed), 1980. Classic Essays on Photography. New Haven: Leete’s Island Books

HIRSCH, M.,1997. Family Frames: Photography, Narrative and Post Memory. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press

Critical Theory

BARRET, T., 2000. Criticizing Photographs (3rd ed). California: Mayfeild

BARTHES, R. and S. HEATH, 1977. Image, Music, Text: Essays selected and translated by S Heath. Fontana

BARTHES, R. and R. HOWARD, 2000. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. London: Vintage

BENJAMIN, W., 2008. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. London: Penguin

BERGER, J., 1977. Ways of Seeing. London: BBC/Penguin

BERGER, J., and G. DYER, 2013. Understanding a Photograph. London: Penguin

BOURDIEU, P., 1984. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Translated by R. Nice. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press

BOURDIEU, P., 1990. Photography: A Middle-brow Art. Cambridge: Polity Press.

BURGIN, V., (ed) 1982. Thinking Photography. London: Macmillan

BURGIN, V., 1986. The End of Art Theory: Criticism and Postmodernity. London: Macmillan

CLARKE, G., 1992. The Portrait in Photography. London: Reaktion

DEBORD, G., 1983. Society of the Spectacle. Detroit: Black and Red

ELKINS, J. (ed), 2007. Photography Theory. London/NY: Routledge

FRIDAY, J., 2002. Aesthetics and Photography. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Ltd

LA GRANGE, A. (ed), 2005. Basic Critical Theory for Photographers. Oxford: Focal Press

SONTAG, S., 1979. On Photography. London: Penguin

WELLS, L., 2015. Photography A Critical Introduction (5th ed). London/NY: Routledge **

ZIADY DeLUZE, R., and J. ELKINS, (ed), 2007. Landscape Theory. London/NY: Routledge


DERRIDA, J., 1987. The Truth in Painting Translated by G. Bennington and I. McLeod. London/Chicago: University of Chicago Press

FLUSSER, V., 2007. Towards a Philosophy of Photography. London: Reaktion

FOUCAULT, M., 1989. The Order of Things: An Archeology of the Human Sciences. London/NY: Routledge

KANT, I., 2009. Critique of Judgement. Oxford: Oxford University Press

ROSS, S. D., (ed) 1994. Art and Its Significance: An Anthology of Aesthetic Theory (3rd ed). New York: New York University Press ***

WALDEN, S. (ed), 2008. Photography and Philosophy: Essays on the Pencil of Nature. Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing


FORRESTER, F., 2000. Psychology of the Image. London: Routledge


* A very good introduction to Visual Culture, good Glossary and well written.

** A reader. Currently a University library book, but one I will be buying once I graduate.

*** This is a reader and has a lot of very useful texts on Aesthetic theory and philosophy, and surmises key works from Kant, Derrida, Foucault etc.