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Curator Book Club: When It Comes to Photo Books, Greg Harris Has You Covered with the Best

Browse phenomenal recs from the High’s Associate Curator of Photography and resident photography addict.

By Greg Harris, Associate Curator of Photography, High Museum of Art

Hi, I’m Greg Harris—the High’s Associate Curator of Photography, and I focus on most of the Museum’s contemporary photography collections and exhibitions.

Since joining the High in 2016, I’ve curated solo shows with Thomas Struth, Mark Steinmetz, and Amy Elkins as well as Look Again: 45 Years of Collecting Photography and Way Out There: The Art of Southern Backroads, both of which were drawn from the Museum’s permanent collection.

During the pandemic, I have been passing the time at home building Legos with my son Emmett, taking very long walks around Decatur, and gearing up for a large exhibition about photography in the American South that will open at the High in the next couple of years. I grew up in Massachusetts, and I’m longing for my beloved Red Sox to start their season.

Greg’s Photo Book Recommendations

Manifest by Kristine Potter
In her first monograph, Kristine Potter (who now lives in Nashville but grew up not far from Atlanta) deftly tackles the myth of the American West and the image of rugged masculinity that so often accompanies it in popular literature and film. In delicate black and white, Kristine photographed men, often loners, in a poignant manner that betrays a sense of closely guarded vulnerability. She intersperses these portraits with views of the natural world that express the fragility of the Western landscape rather than its grandeur.

Carnival by Mark Steinmetz
Mark is one of my favorite photographers, and I was lucky enough to work with him on an exhibition at the High in 2018. He works in a mode that is often called “street photography” — spontaneous images plucked from the flow of everyday life. Mark has a talent for capturing telling moments that give a sense of his subjects’ character by catching just the right gesture or facial expression. The pictures in this book are drawn from over a decade of shooting and convey the peculiar joy of a county fair or street festival.

Go Down Moses by Teju Cole and the Museum of Contemporary Photography
This book accompanied a fantastic exhibition curated by the writer Teju Cole from the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Photography (the first museum I ever worked at). Cole mined the MoCP’s incredible collection and created a dynamic sequence of images by numerous photographers that touched on themes of wandering, community, freedom, chaos and violence, and hope. Cole called the project a “visual tone poem,” which is a fitting way to describe the shifting, ambient emotions he elicits through photographs.

Landfall by Mimi Plumb
Mimi Plumb made most of the pictures in this book more than thirty years ago when the anxieties of the Cold War were palpable. In Plumb’s photographs, everything looks normal, yet something always feels a bit off. She skillfully strings together epic landscapes, raw still lifes, and slightly unsettling portraits to create a loose narrative of a world out of balance.

FloodZone by Anastasia Samoylova
Many photographers of late have tried to tackle the imminent threat of climate change. Anastasia Samoylova’s recent book is the first I’ve seen that makes the impending crisis startlingly present without wagging a finger or overromanticizing the human-altered landscape. Her photographs of Miami are packed with information, and her compositions are layered like dense visual puzzles. In vivid color, she makes the increasing heat and humidity palpable. You can feel the urgency.

Bonus classic pick since we’re all spending a lot of time at home:

Pictures from Home by Larry Sultan
This is one of the greatest photo books of all time. It was originally published in 1992 but was rereleased in 2017. For most of the 1980s, Larry Sultan photographed his aging parents at their home in Southern California. He weaves together his own photographs with selections from his family albums and home movies, excerpts from his journal, and bits of dialogue with his parents about the experience of being photographed. The book is an extended meditation on the truths and fictions contained in any family album and how we use photographs to tell a particular story about ourselves.

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