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2010's best photography books

For this Sunday's Observer, I've gathered some of 2010's top popular releases. But here's an extra selection from my own personal cellar, featuring those that are slightly more difficult find

In this Sunday's Observer, and with an eye to Christmas lists everywhere, I have chosen seven photography books of the year – best music photography book, best fashion photography book, best compilation and so on. But I've some personal favourites, too: books I genuinely admire but which are harder to find (and/or expensive). I've thought long and hard about this selection, and have had to leave out some brilliant contenders – Mark Power's The Sound of Two Songs and Todd Hido's A Road Divided spring immediately to mind – but that's the nature of lists like this one. Feel free to offer your own suggestions below the line.

1. Inside Out by Bruce Davidson, Steidl, £220

This three-volume retrospective covers 50 years of Davidson's life as a documentary photographer. It includes the Brooklyn Gang series from 1959, which remains a landmark of youth-culture reportage, as well as striking images of the early civil-rights struggle in the American deep south. In the 70s, Davidson began chronicling what he called "worlds within worlds", producing the groundbreaking East 100th Street series, which focused on a single block in New York's East Harlem. All human life is here, reflected though the lens of a photographer who once described himself as "an outsider on the inside".

2. Before Colour by William Eggleston, Steidl, £40

A selection of Eggleston's early black-and-white photography, which provides an intriguing record of the birth of one of the defining visual styles of the last 50 years. The photographer's wilfully skewed way of seeing was there even before he discovered the power of colour, as these strange and wonderful monochrome shots attest. An oddly familiar glimpse of an American south Eggleston would go on to redefine in the most dramatic way.

3. Grimaces of the Weary Village by Rimaldas Viksraitis, White Space, £25

Viksraitis's photographs capture village life in his native Lithuania in all its surreal and sometimes sordid intensity. The 55-year-old disabled photographer travels through the countryside on his bicycle, recording the widespread decline after the local farming system's collapse. He cites Fellini as a prime influence but there is a darker, stranger vision at work here. "Slightly insane and wonderfully surreal" is how Martin Parr puts it.

4. New Topographics by Various, Steidl, £44

In 1975 the New Topograhics group exhibition, curated by William Jenkins in New York, redefined landscape photography. Thirty years on, the stark, almost mundane photographs of Lewis Baltz, Stephen Shore, Robert Adams, Frank Gohlke, Nicholas Nixon and Bernd and Hilla Becher remain incredibly influential, as I argued earlier this year. This austerely beautiful book of images of the "man-altered landscape" of America and Germany is a testament to the enduring power of a cool and detached collective vision.

5. Kanaval by Leah Gordon, Souljazz, £39.99

Gordon spent almost 15 years taking photographs of the annual pre-Lenten carnival in Jacmel for her book Kanaval: Vodou, Politics and Revolution on the Streets of Haiti. She captures the stock characters of the carnival tradition in all their exaggerated and often disturbing grotesqueness. Her portraits exude a sense of quiet stillness that amplifies the surreal nature of an event merging Vodou imagery and political satire. Dramatic and disturbing.

6. The Jazz Loft Project by Sam Stephenson, Random House, £25

From 1957 to 1965, W Eugene Smith took an estimated 40,000 photographs of the jazz scene in and around a rundown loft at 821 Sixth Avenue in New York City. The building was his home, his studio and, to an extent, his world. It was also became the home of the Jazz Loft, a rehearsal and performance space that attracted Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk and Bill Evans, as well as their retinue of musicians, hangers-on, dealers, girlfriends, visiting writers and photographers and various colourful characters from the city's demimonde. Sam Stephenson's book is a work of social archaeology and a testament to the artists whose music caught all the tumult and excitement of a fast-changing America.

7. Contraband by Taryn Simon, Steidl, £40

Taryn Simon is best known for her strange and wonderful book An American Index of the Hidden and Familiar, in which she documented the unseen government, industrial and religious sites of her native country. Now comes this inventory of contraband items seized by customs at John F Kennedy international airport in New York over a single year. It's not a new idea – Checked Baggage by Christien Meindertsma does much the same with items retained by security after 9/11 – but it is an intriguing book that will make you wonder at the ingenuity of those who illegally import ostrich eggs and cow manure tooth-powder, as well as those who smuggle fake Louis Vuitton bags.

8. A Million Shillings by Alix Fazzina, Trolley Books

Fazzina won this year's Nansen Refugee award from the UNHCR for the 10 years she has spent documenting the plight of the displaced in Kosovo, Angola, Sierra Leone and beyond. This book tracks migrants from war-torn Somalia who risk all to cross the Gulf of Aden in search of a better life. A heartbreaking and inspiring work of often intimate photographs that is almost novelistic in its narrative approach.

9. Yangtze – The Long River by Nadav Kander, Hatje Cantz, £55

For two years, Kander followed the course of the Yangtze along its banks from Shanghai to the rural Qinghai Province in the extreme west, a journey of 4,100 miles. He won the 2009 prix Pictet for the photographs collected here, which, according to Kander, reflect the unease he felt while travelling through a country that "feels both at the beginning of a new era and at odds with itself". A contemplative look at the new China and at a river whose banks are home to more people than live in the entire US.

10. See You Soon by Maxwell Anderson, Bemojake/Self Publish, Be Happy, £20

It feels important to include a book that reflects the best elements of the small but burgeoning self-publishing industry. Maxwell Anderson's See You Soon is a "photographic love letter" to his Japanese girlfriend, tracking their relationship from distance to intimacy to departure. A beautifully intimate work – the visual equivalent, perhaps, of one of those coy, lovelorn early songs by Orange Juice. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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