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While there’s no shortage of inspirational photography to be found online, nothing quite beats the physicality of a coffee table book that curates the best images caught on camera. Often focusing on a particular theme or topic, coffee table photography books are the perfect way to take a deep dive into your chosen niche or discover a new area of photography that’s always intrigued you.

In this feature, we’ve rounded up five of the best new coffee table books about photography which we think will inform and entertain creatives from all walks of life. If any of these books catch your eye, be sure to purchase them from the accompanying links for Bookshop.org, an online bookshop with a mission to support local, independent bookshops financially.

1. The Story of Looking by Mark Cousins

There’s more to the act of looking than meets the eye. In The Story of Looking, author and director Mike Cousins examines the untold tale of how our looking selves change and grow throughout our lifetimes.

Released to coincide with the launch of his film of the same name, The Story of Looking takes the reader on a lightning-bright tour of how the study of observing has evolved over the centuries. More than just a photography book, it’s also a deeply personal art gallery, a road movie, and a meditation on visual grammar.

Encompassing everything from holiday photos to propaganda, The Story of Looking illuminates how we construct and perceive the things that we see. Once you’ve read it, you’ll never look at the world around you in the same way again.

2. Araki by Taschen

Want to discover the work of a seminal photographer who might be new to you? Then it’s time to explore the work of Nobuyoshi Araki, a Japanese photographer and contemporary artist who has achieved cult status in his homeland.

This retrospective, re-released by Taschen as part of their 40th anniversary, is the ultimate look back on the provocative photographer who is renowned for capturing eroticism and bondage in a fine art context. Packed with hundreds of images chosen by the artist himself, this hefty 512-page tome will satisfy those who are new to Araki, as well as long-term fans.

Containing images that Araki is best-known for, including Japanese street scenes, suggestively sensual flowers and the Japanese art of Kinbaku, this curation is a welcome chance to pick up a Taschen classic that was previously only available as a limited edition.

3. Photography of Protest and Community: The Radical Collectives of the 1970s by Noni Stacey

There’s no one way to capture and distribute images, as this new book about 1970s London-based photographers who created collectives engaged with political protests examines.

Taking their inspiration from counterculture movements, the photographers featured in this meticulously researched book by Noni Stacey wanted to do things their own way. This included creating magazines and forming their own exhibition networks. From laundrettes to Working Men’s Clubs to nurseries, if the venue welcomed them, then these photographers would display there.

Packed with interviews, newly unearthed photos and ephemeral material, this book tells the story of collectives such as Exit Photography Group and Half Moon Photography Workshop. If you want to see how photographers make an impact from outside the mainstream, this could be the book for you.

4. Portrait of Britain Volume 3 by Hoxton Mini Press

Britain is constantly changing, and the events of the pandemic have only accelerated the country’s transformation. But what does Britain look like now? This book aims to find out through a series of portraits and accompanying stories.

The third in a series of books that attempts to capture the mood and personality of the country, Portrait of Britain Volume 3 focuses on the turbulent times that have been ushered in by Covid-19 and the change initiated by the Black Lives Matter movement.

Packed with 200 portraits of front line workers and families, this collection of photographs released in collaboration with 1854 Media/British Journal of Photography captures the individuals and tales that make up the country’s collective resilience. If you’re wondering what shapes and defines modern-day Britain, look no further.

5. Africa State of Mind: Contemporary Photography Reimagines a Continent by Ekow Eshun

For far too long, the Western colonial views of Africa have come to dominate our perceptions of the continent. Africa State of Mind challenges these ideas by gathering together the work of an emergent generation of photographers from across the territory.

Split into four sections, Africa State of Mind explores Hybrid Cities, Inner Landscapes, Zones of Freedom, and Myth and Memory. Each theme contains work from a new wave of African photographers, all of whom are exploring ideas of ‘Africanness’ which reveal it to be as much a psychological space as a physical one.

The result is a collection of photographs that capture “the experience of what it means, and how it feels, to live in Africa today”.

Creative Boom