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The rarest photo books we wished we owned

Ed Templeton’s underage smokers, Larry Clark’s darker side of middle America and Helmut Newton’s marriage of fashion and sadomasochism

Good photography books are relatively easy to find these days – we are certainly in no shortage of images. But finding great ones – the kind that makes you feel, think and reflect – are a little harder to discover. Many of them now out-of-print or shockingly expensive, making it difficult for photo-enthusiasts to experience the gems that have changed, challenged and influenced photography today.

From the iconic Calvin Klein campaigns that shaped fashion advertising in the 90s, now found in a rare supplement photographed by Bruce Weber, to a real and raw look at youth culture in 70s Oklahoma, these photography books visually transformed photography, fashion and art for their daring, revolutionary and compelling images. That said, here are ten rare photography books that we wish we could own – if we had the bank account to back it up.


Known for his monochromatic images of Danish life in the 70s and 80s, documentary photographer Krass Clement explored the prostitution industry in one of his earlier books Med Sod Forstaelse. Published in 1982, this little-known photobook brilliantly documents the gritty reality of prostitution in Denmark at that time, giving the reader a behind-the-scenes look at the industry, from portraits of the Danish sex workers, to an intimate look at the spaces in which they lived, worked and played.


As a supplement to an issue of Vanity Fair in 1991, Calvin Klein Jeans by Bruce Weber features black and white images of the brand’s most memorable moments – from photographs of supermodels Christy Turlington and Linda Evangelista to iconic CK models Markus Schenkenberg and Carre Otis. After its release, the supplement was published as a limited edition of 10,000 copies, and became revered as an example of the brand’s ability to push sexual boundaries, and challenge what was considered acceptable during their provocative advertising reign. An image of Schenkenberg barely holding jeans in front of himself in a shower is a highlight.


SUMO is the photography books of photography books. The colossal tome serves as a monumental tribute to photographer Helmut Newton, looking back at his images exploring sexuality – including sadomasochism – and feminism. From the classic 1975 Yves Saint Laurent campaign of the Le Smoking suit, to his portrait of Italian model Elsa Peretti dressed in a bunny outfit for French Vogue in 1975, celebrity portraits of Nicolas Cage and Catherine Deneuve, and nude photography –  these iconic images serve as a look into Newton’s ever-evolving world and vision. While SUMO was initially limited to 10,000 copies, it continues to stand as one of the biggest and most expensive book produced in the 20th century, with an original cost of $15,000.


Ed Ruscha’s Twenty-six Gasoline Stations is considered seminal in the history of American art books, according to art critic Johanna Drucker who labelled it as one of the first photobooks to step away from the highly stylised images that “carried photography’s claims to art status forward on the double engines of fine art imagery.” Here, Ruscha documents 26 gasoline stations along Route 66, with each photograph accompanied by a caption referencing the station’s name and location. The simplicity of the images inspired a shift in America’s art book culture, with other photographers including Robert Frank’s The Americans releasing similar visual travelogues. As a result of Ruscha’s pioneering spirit – including his choice to distribute the book at the gasoline stations he photographed – the book became in-demand. Twenty-six Gasoline Stations was initially limited to 400 copies, with two subsequent editions of the book published – 500 copies in 1967 and 3,000 copies in 1969.


Detailing the work of Irving Penn’s early years as a fashion photographer, Moments Preserved is a retrospective look at his legendary photography. From his black and white portraits of Pablo Picasso and Sophia Loren, to his game-changing work for Vogue under the thumb of the then-art director, the late Alexander Liberman. Published in 1960 as Penn’s first book, it is broken down into eight sections which encapsulate the photographer’s career and travels. The accumulation of such images alongside written essays from both Penn and writer Rosemary Blackmon made this one of the first true examples of photographic literature for Penn’s ability to both analyse and bring context to 17 years worth of images within these eight essays. With an initial print of 20,000, Moments Preserved remains highly coveted today, celebrating the lengthy career of Newton and the vast volume of work that he produced.


Gathering over 1000 images of one of Japan’s most controversial photographers is no easy feat — however publishing giant Taschen was able to do so with their limited edition book Araki by Araki. The retrospective book looks back at the work of Nobuyoshi Araki – a photographer known for his nudes, documentation of Tokyo Street scenes, flowers and the Japanese art of Kinbaku – a well-known icon in not only the Japanese art world but globally. While Araki was published in 2003, it ran only 2,500 copies with each issue signed by Araki himself.


Welcome to 1970s Tulsa – a world of sex, drugs, and violence, all brilliantly documented in a raw and explicit state by photographer Larry Clark. Here he exposes us to the darker side of the mid western city in the 1971 photo book, which explores the youth culture of Oklahoma and their many vices during his drug-shooting coterie from 1963 to 1971. From drug abuse and a fondness for guns to images of sex and graphic violence — Tulsa created a lot of controversy during its release and gained more momentum after being published. Originally, Tulsa was a limited paperback version and republished in 1983, which now sells for more than £1,000 — if you are able to encounter the rare book dealers who possess it.


When smoking was still heartbreakingly cool, photographer Ed Templeton based an entire exhibition around it, and subsequently released this photo book Teenage Smokers in 1999. The book documented various teen smokers of the 90s, puffing away as they stood against school gates, with their slogan t-shirts and butterfly clips. The book initially ran 2,000 copies in 1999 and is now considered a cult classic which can be purchased for around £1,250, while providing an insight into our blissful 90s ignorance.


Published in 1988 by Vis a Vis in Berlin, The Bangy Book / New Yorker Street Boys opens a window into a fashion subculture, photographed by Vincent Alan W. This book presents a series of portraits of street boys and the clothes and accessories that made the ‘homeboy look’ — from trainers, caps, gold chains, to hair and giant stereos – The Bangy Book fully encapsulates key fashion references to this signature style created by boys of colour in 80s New York.


Rei Kawakubo's early designs defined innovation. Known for her “anti-fashion” approach to clothing, she created garments that incited a fashion revolution in Paris, courtesy of a subversive style of monochromatic clothing in “never before seen” silhouettesultimately inspiring a global cult following that continues today. These designs and her earliest campaigns can be found in the photo book Comme des Garçons 1975-82 – which features the brand's’ earliest campaigns from the 70s-80s, and can only be purchased at IDEA Books. Many rare visuals can be found in this book, from the 1976 campaign shot by Kazumi Kurigami, to the 1982 campaign photographed by Bruce Weber. What you really get from Comme des Garçons 1975-82 is a remarkable look at Kawakubo’s early work and a visual display of how the Japanese avant-gardist changed the landscape of fashion. At a time where women were dressed for seduction and femininity by the likes of Thierry Mugler and Versace, Kawakubo ditched the stale status quo.