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An open copy of "Sleeping by the Mississippi" by Alec Soth sits atop other photobooks.

OPINION: Top 5 photo books in UNM’s fine art library

There’s nothing quite as remarkable as holding a photo book in your hands; the feel of the gloss on the pages, the rich tones in each image and the knowledge that each photo was chosen carefully and arranged intentionally by the artist for the limited number of pages available to them. 

In the digital age of photography, it seems we’ve become accustomed to online portfolios and Instagram profiles. While on-screen displays have their place in the photographic landscape, nothing on a computer can truly compare to holding an artist’s finished work in your hands.

Luckily for students at the University of New Mexico, the Fine Arts and Design Library has a large collection of these masterpieces available to be checked out at this very moment. As a photographer who has drawn an enormous amount of inspiration from photo books, I’ve compiled a list of some of the most awe-inspiring books the library has to offer.

1. “Intimate Distance” by Todd Hido

Todd Hido is best known for his ethereal, moody photography of houses at night. Hido’s keen eye for light amidst a dark landscape allows him to create eerie images that induce an odd feeling of nostalgia. His first book containing such images, published in 2001 and titled “House Hunting,” is printed in a massive format to further immerse the viewer. The photos invite unanswerable and intriguing questions as to the lives led inside the houses pictured. Hido doesn't provide details of the inhabitants, leaving these questions up to the viewer’s own imagination. Hido’s subject matter has since evolved, but has kept its signature feel of aesthetic unease. “Intimate Distance” is a collection of not only Hido’s landscapes, but also his experimentation with photographing interiors and the occasional portrait.

2. William Eggleston: Portraits” by Phillip Prodger 

In “Portraits,” Phillip Prodger showcases photographer William Eggleston's unmatchable eye for capturing his subjects’ expressions. Beyond their faces, Eggleston expertly captures body language in both his candid-style work and his more composed photographs. His portraits are just revealing enough to get a glimpse of the subject’s inner thoughts without revealing too much about their context. Just as Hido creates mystery in his suburban landscapes, Eggleston too leaves much of the story up to the viewer. Unlike Hido, however, many of Eggleston’s photos are saturated, vibrant and warm. Eggleston seems to eagerly invite his audience into his subjects’ lives. Truly, “Portraits” is an unrivaled demonstration of how a photographer can capture so much of a person in a single portrait.

3. “Sleeping by the Mississippi” by Alec Soth

A perfect middle ground between Hido and Eggleston, Alec Soth is the master of environmental portraits. In “Sleeping by the Mississippi,” Soth documents the people and places he encountered during a series of trips along America’s second longest river. Soth balances his book with a mix of portraits, landscapes and photographs of miscellaneous interiors. One of his most iconic photographs, “Peter’s Houseboat,” is the first to appear in the book. It’s arguably one of the most amazingly framed landscapes in the photographic medium today. The house, full of various trinkets and hangings that give it a wealth of character, stands isolated in a sea of white snow, tethered somewhere offscreen by a clothesline full of brightly colored laundry. The result is something that simply becomes lost when attempting to translate it into words. “Sleeping by the Mississippi” is a body of work that must be seen and held to experience fully.

4. “Jeff Wall” by Jeff Wall

While much more text-heavy than the previous books, Jeff Wall’s self-titled collection is a masterclass in staged and cinematic photography. The book features excerpts from interviews with Wall alongside some of his most notable photographs. Epic, painterly images such as “The Vampires’ Picnic” and “Dead Troops Talk,” expertly produced and reminiscent of Gregory Crewdson’s discriminating selections within the frame, are printed in a scale that takes them to the borders of the pages. Renaissance-style compositions captivate the eye and demand thorough examination and deconstruction, and the surreal atmosphere of Wall’s work is bewitching.

5. “A Storybook Life” by Philip-Lorca diCorcia

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Another masterful portraitist, Philip-Lorca diCorcia presents his subjects in a range of curious scenarios in “A Storybook Life.” Unlike Soth, whose subjects are usually staring directly into the camera, diCorcia’s subjects are instead immersed in their environment — cutting vegetables, gazing out the window or engaged in other ordinary activities. In each photograph, the backgrounds provide a plethora of clues to the inner lives of the people pictured within. Seemingly everyday moments are transformed into incredibly moving works of art imbued with sentimentality. While Soth employs a more bleak color palette to convey a sense of cheerlessness, diCorcia’s uses vibrant colors and expressive subjects to create photographs that read as a romantic celebration of the everyday.

No matter which book you pick up, a treasure trove of inspiration and raw artistic talent can be found on every page, and this list is simply the beginning. Rows upon rows of books rich in exceptional photography await, available to all students and staff for free.

Liam DeBonis is the photo editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at or on Twitter @LiamDebonis

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