A Survey of the Rubenstein Library's Photobook Collection

July 8 - December 20, 2019

Exhibit Space: Mary Duke Biddle Room in the Rubenstein Library

Curated by Lisa McCarty

Full Essay | List of Books by Theme | Additional Information

List of Books by Theme

(Ordered chronologically within each theme)


Talbot, William Henry Fox. The Pencil of Nature. 1844-46. Da Capo Press, 1968.


lyr·​ic adj. expressing direct usually intense personal emotion especially in a manner suggestive of song
doc·​u·​ment n. something (such as a photograph or a recording) that serves as evidence or proof

Ogle, Thomas (Images) and William Wordsworth (Text). Our English Lakes. Provost & Co., 1870

Dunbar, Paul Laurence (Text), Hampton Institute Camera Club (Images). Candle-Lightin' Time. Dodd, Mead & Company, 1901

Nettles, Bea (Images) and Connie Nettles (Text). The Nymph of the Highlands. Self-published, 1974.

Billops, Camille (Text), Owen Dodson (Poetry), and James Van Der Zee (Images). The Harlem Book of the Dead. Morgan & Morgan, Inc., 1978.

Matheson, Elizabeth (Images) and Michael McFee (Text). To See. North Carolina Wesleyan College Press, 1991.

Mann, Sally. Sally Mann: Photographs and Poetry. 21st Editions, 2005.

Schorr, Collier. Jens F. Steidl and MACK, 2005

Willis, John. Views From the Reservation. Center for American Places at Columbia College Chicago, 2010.

Henkin, Lauren (Images), and Kirsten Rian (Text). Silence Is An Orchard. Vela Noche, 2010.

Bosworth, Barbara (Images) and Margot Anne Kelly (Text). The Meadow. Radius Books, 2015.

Dudik, Eliot (Images), Arielle Greenberg (Text). Country Made of Dirt. 9mark Press, 2017.


self-pres·​er·​va·​tion  n.  1 preservation of oneself from destruction or harm. 2 a natural or instinctive tendency to act so as to preserve one's own existence

Plachy, Sylvia. Self Portrait With Cows Going Home. Aperture, 2004.

Norris Webb, Rebecca. My Dakota. Radius Books, 2012.

Frazier, LaToya Ruby. The Notion of Family. Aperture, 2014.

Bradley, Andre. Dark Archives (1-41). Image Text Ithaca Press, 2015.

Cole, Teju. Blind Spot. Random House, 2016.


doc·​u·​ment n. something (such as a photograph or a recording) that serves as evidence or proof
fic·​tion n. something invented by the imagination or feigned

Bourke-White, Margaret (Images) and Erskine Caldwell (Text). You Have Seen Their Faces. The Viking Press, 1937.

Morris, Wright. The Home Place. Charles Scribner's Sons, 1948.

DeCarava, Roy (Images) and Langston Hughes (Text). The Sweet Flypaper of Life. Simon & Shuster, 1955.

DeCarava, Roy (Images) and Langston Hughes (Text). The Sweet Flypaper of Life. Hill and Wang, 1967.

DeCarava, Roy (Images) and Langston Hughes (Text). The Sweet Flypaper of Life. Howard University Press, 1984.

de Middel, Cristina. The Afronauts. Archive of Modern Conflict (London), 2016 (2nd ed.)

Ashcom, Morgan. What The Living Carry. MACK, 2017.

Muellner, Nicholas. In Most Tides An Island. Self Publish, Be Happy Editions, 2017.

DeCarava, Roy (Images) and Langston Hughes (Text). The Sweet Flypaper of Life. First Print Press, Inc., 2018.


el·​e·​gy n. a song or poem expressing sorrow or lamentation especially for one who is dead

Avedon, Richard (Images) and James Baldwin (Text). Nothing Personal. Atheneum Publishers, 1964.

Smith, W. Eugene and Aileen M. Smith. Minamata. Alskog-Sensorium Books, 1975.

Burley, Robert. The Disappearance of Darkness: Photography At the End of the Analog Era. Princeton Architectural Press, 2013.

Elkins, Amy. Black Is The Day, Black Is The Night. Self-published, 2016.

Gonzalez, Orestes. Julio's House. Kris Graves Projects, 2017.

Mendel, Gideon. Dzhangal. GOST Books, 2017.


in·​ves·​ti·​ga·tiv adj. to observe or study by close examination and systematic inquiry

Abbott, Berenice (Images), Elizabeth McCausland (Text). Changing New York. E.P. Dutton & Co., 1939.

Lange, Dorothea (Images) and Paul Schuster Taylor (Text). An American Exodus: A Record of Human Erosion. Reynal & Hitchcock, 1939.
Muholi, Zanele. Faces and Phases: 2006-14. Steidl, 2014.

Asselin, Mathieu. Monsanto: A Photographic Investigation. Verlag Kettler, 2017.

Cornwall, Debi. Welcome To Camp America. Radius Books, 2017.

Greenfield, Lauren. Generation Wealth. Phaidon, 2017.

Abril, Laia. On Abortion: And the Repercussions of Lack of Access. Dewi Lewis Publishing, 2018.


per·​son·​to·​per·​son adj. or adv. 1 involving two people or going directly from one person to another person

Agee, James (Text) and Walker Evans (Images). Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Houghton Mifflin, 1941.

deBuys, William (Text) and Alex Harris (Images). River of Traps. University of New Mexico Press in association with the Center for Documentary Studies, 1990.

Sayre, Maggie Lee. Deaf Maggie Lee Sayre: Photographs of a River Life. Edited by Tom Rankin, University Press of Mississippi, 1995.

Sligh, Clarissa. Wrongly Bodied Two. Women's Studio Workshop, 2004.

Mark, Mary Ellen. Tiny: Streetwise Revisited. Aperture, 2015.

Dooney, Phyllis B. (Images) and Jardine Libaire (Text). Gravity Is Stronger Here. Kehrer Verlag, 2017.

Pond, Lauren. Test of Faith: Signs, Serpents, and Salvation. Duke University Press in association with the Center for Documentary Studies, 2017.


Full Essay

This exhibition surveys the Rubenstein Library’s collection of photobooks. For the last five years the Archive of Documentary Arts has focused on building this collection which now includes over s thousand volumes. Much like artists’ books, photobooks are “conceived as artworks in their own right”1 and are often the primary medium for a series of photographs. Unlike an exhibition catalog or a monograph authored by a curator or scholar, the photographer is the principal author of a photobook. As such, photographers not only make the images but also become highly involved in all aspects of the book making process. In the photobook genre overall, the selection and arrangement of photographs and text are carefully and painstakingly considered by the artist, who usually works with an editor. Meaning accumulates through the interaction of successive images and text, much like in other forms of sequential art, such as films, graphic novels, or comic books.

The history of photobooks is almost as long as the history of photography itself. Books with original photographs emerged soon after the advent of photography was first publicized in 1839. Anna Atkins’s handmade book Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions from 1843 is credited as the first book of photographs, with William Henry Fox Talbot’s The Pencil of Nature following soon after in 1844. Both of these self-initiated projects fostered “the conception of photographs in book form.”2 Atkins’s and Talbots’s books established many traditions that artists have revisited for the last 175 years. This exhibition traces one such tradition, namely, that of the “Photo-Text.”

A Photo-Text is a book that fully integrates and gives equal weight to photographs and text. To quote writer and curator Federica Chiocchetti a Photo-Text is “a book where photographs and words share equal ontological dignity, or, less academically, equal importance in contributing to the narrative of the project—and where text is not a mere introduction, postface, or essay on the photoworks.”3  Chiocchetti addresses one of the main distinctions of the Photo-Text, namely that text is not secondary to the photographs. Similarly, the photographs cannot be ancillary to a larger textual project. Walker Evans articulates this concept in the introduction to his collaborative Photo-Text with James Agee Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, “The photographs are not illustrative. They, and the text, are coequal, mutually independent, and fully collaborative.”4 The Photo-Text prioritizes the union of photographs and text.

Why address this distinct subgenre within an already niche genre? As an Archive of Documentary Arts housed within a research institution, the preservation of the context for photographic projects has always been a priority in our collecting. Without context—often in the form of text—photographers’ identities, their subjects, and their stories are lost or become anonymous over time. However, text not only preserves context, it also affects the interpretation of photographs. When text and image are combined, they create what theorist Roland Barthes describes as the “Third Meaning,” an allusion to filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein’s theory of a “third something” created through montage in film. To quote Barthes, “The third meaning—theoretically locatable but not describable—can now be seen as the passage from language to significance.”5 In the most affective films and Photo-Texts, text and image work together as point and counterpoint, juxtaposing ideas in a manner that resists didactically telling a story, and that allows readers to actively create meaning and significance in their own minds. Photo-Texts, much like films, can operate in this gulf between what is seen and what is felt, engendering empathy and creating space for reverence. Many documentarians hope to create social change or memorialize under-represented stories through their work. Neither change nor memorialization is possible without empathy and reverence.

The Archive of Documentary Arts is also committed to expanding the perceived expectations of documentary practice and to creating a diverse collection that reflects the multitude of viewpoints and voices constituting the documentary arts today. Documentary artists can be self-taught or holders of graduate degrees; they draw from a variety of cultural traditions, academic disciplines, artistic techniques and their own life experiences to tell stories. They are hybrid practioners— simultaneously working as writers, oral historians, community organizers, lawyers, natural philosophers, teachers, photographers, filmmakers, book makers, designers, painters, sculptors, and much more. Documentarians traffic in first-person narratives and poetry. This exhibition foregrounds this continuum of approaches to documentary storytelling.

This survey of the Library's collection is a wide-ranging, but incomplete representation of our holdings of Photo-Texts dating from 1844 to 2019. Forty-three books from forty publishers and self-publishers are featured here, with an emphasis on books published since 2010. The exhibit is divided into six themes within documentary practice and highlight a spectrum of approaches to writing and imagemaking. The labels that correspond to each book in the exhibit provide descriptions and interpretations of the works. Wherever possible the voices of the artists themselves or their publishers are utilized in these labels. In some cases, the voices of scholars and art historians provide context. Finally, while this show serves as an introduction to our vast photobook collection, the volumes currently on display are not accessible in their entirety until the exhibit concludes. Over 900 additional photobooks are available by request in our reading room.

—Lisa McCarty, Curator, Archive of Documentary Arts

1) “Artist Book.” Printed Matter, www.printedmatter.org/about/artist-book.
2) Parr, Martin and Gerry Badger. The Photobook: A History, Volume 1. Phaidon, 2004.
3) Chiocchetti, Federica. “What Is a Photo-Text Book?.” The PhotoBook Review, Spring 2019, pp. 9.
4) Agee, James and Walker Evans. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Houghton Mifflin, 1941.
5) Barthes, Roland. Image Music Text. Translated by Stephen Heath, Hill and Wang, 1977.

Citation for Dictionary Definitions in the exhibit: Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, 2011. Web. 9 June 2019.