Best photography books of 2015

The Importance of Elsewhere: Philip Larkin’s Photography by Richard Bradford
Considering his enthusiasm for it (if that’s the word), it seems extraordinary that Philip Larkin’s photography has not been published before. It was the perfect hobby for this detached, misogynist miserabilist — keeping himself at lens-length from the life he obsessively chronicled, in poetry and in pictures. And the images are as revealing as his words: his pal Kingsley Amis giggling in a Swansea garden; his unsmiling mother, Eva, posing below a rack of guns at a museum; his girlfriends shot, creepily, unbeknown to them, in identical poses. What a marvellous weirdo.
Frances Lincoln, 256pp, £25

Jane Bown: A Lifetime of Looking, edited by Luke Dodd

This mischievously edited book (the juxtapositions are lovely, such as a falcon in profile alongside W Somerset Maugham, Björk peeping through her fingers next to Barbara Cartland behind the mask of her own make-up) is a testament to The Observer photographer Jane Bown’s instinct for the perfect — and quick — picture. You forget how many of the genuinely iconic images of, well, icons, are actually hers. Samuel Beckett glowering out of the gloom; Jayne Mansfield on the phone clutching a chihuahua; Quentin Crisp, tea in hand, purple hair immaculately waved.
Faber, 289pp, £30

James Dean by Dennis Stock

I think my favourite picture of James Dean, that soulful rebel, must be Dennis Stock’s image of him in T-shirt and tights, trying manfully to keep up with Eartha Kitt at the back of her dance class. This book reprints the Life magazine article that accompanied the first publication of these candid, insightful photographs, all the more weighted with pathos for their having been taken only months before Dean died in a car crash in 1955. The unlikely friendship of the two men was recently made into a film, with Robert Pattinson as Stock. This is better.
Thames & Hudson, 144pp, £24.95

Julia Margaret Cameron by Marta Weiss

This is the 200th anniversary of the birth of the pioneering photographer, and she would have been delighted to find that two leading museums are honouring her — the Science Museum and the V&A, which has published this lovely book taken from its extensive holdings of Julia Margaret Cameron’s work. The museum (at the time the South Kensington Museum) collected her work from the first, and her letters to its director, Sir Henry Cole, reveal a gung-ho spirit with a cast-iron confidence and a blithe disregard for the stuffy technical prissiness of her fellow pioneers. Also, the pictures — mostly portraits or tableaux inspired by literature and art — are gorgeous.
V&A, 188pp, £20

India by Steve McCurry

The Magnum photographer Steve McCurry has been visiting India for more than 30 years. This collection, of 100 images from across his career, reveals the extreme contrasts of the world’s second most populous country. A worshipper, coated in green pigment, crowd-surfs his red-stained colleagues at the Holi festival in Rajasthan. A man stands up to his ankles in water, seeming to tend to a perfect reflection of the Taj Mahal. A wealthy hunter, in his pinstripe Jodhpuri suit, sits in his vast chintz drawing room surrounded by stuffed trophies. A Mumbai beggar, starved to sticks, lies dying on the platform as a train rumbles by. Humour and tragedy, vulgarity and spirituality sit side by side.
Phaidon, 208pp, £39.95
Rarely Seen: Photographs of the Extraordinary by Susan Tyler Hitchcock
You can’t do a photography round-up without the obligatory National Geographic book, and this one is a fascinating trove of secret and weird stuff. From the book in which state poisonings were recorded in 15th-century Venice and a phalanx of camera-wielding tourists snapping away at a single, tiny, irritated-looking penguin in an Antarctic landscape, to a bower bird’s carefully constructed nest in Indonesia and the spine of a dinosaur poking from the sands of the Sahara, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable romp from the bottom of the ocean to the top of the world.
National Geographic, 400pp, £25

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Louis Graves

I like pretty things and making myself, and others, pretty. Long time dog mummy and lover of beauty. Come and join me in my world.