The best photography books for visual escapism

Two men in African tribal costume embracing on a bed.

Roy Rietstap, Amsterdam member and co-owner of the MENDO bookstore, shares his pick of coffee-table reads to feed your imagination

As told to Jess Kelham-Hohler    Images courtesy of MENDO (above: Pieter Hugo)    Tuesday 5 May, 2020    Short read

Perhaps now more than ever, our eyes are hungry for beautiful things. We have options – virtual art tours, pieces adorning the walls of our home, a scroll through Instagram to images of past travels – but for Roy Rietstap, the best escape comes in the form of photography books. 

As the founder and co-owner of MENDO, an Amsterdam-based bookshop, famed for its curated edit of beautiful books on art, fashion, architecture and more, Rietstap has a proven eye for images that provide visual indulgence. Here, Rietstap shares his pick of five books from MENDO’s award-winning web shop that’ll offer a welcome respite for your eyes, and your imagination.
A woman posing in front of fruit.
A photographic book cover.
Wolfgang Tillmans
A major survey of the photography from Wolfgang Tillmans, the contemporary German artist who revolutionised the medium of photography and became the first photographer to win the Turner Prize in 2000.

‘Beginning in the early 1990s, Tillmans documented the people and situations in his immediate surroundings in scenes from London, New York or Berlin, creating the portrait of a new generation in a style-defining manner. His shot for the Frank Ocean Blond album is one of the best covers around: simple, arresting and recognisable. It’s even more impressive that it’s recognisable as Tillmans’ work, despite his wide range of subjects.’

A boy carrying another boy in a wheat field.
A man in a suit with writing on his face.
A photography book with a model on the cover.

Pieter Hugo: Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea
This survey of the prolific photographer’s work features images from all of his major series, each seeking to capture the African continent with empathy and impartiality.

‘One of my favourite photographers, who really captures the beauty and dissonance of South Africa. Each project in this book goes to one extreme or another.’

A red photography book.
black and white image of woman lying next to a mask
Radical Eye: Modernist Photography From The Sir Elton John Collection
A selection of more than 150 images from Sir Elton John’s personal collection of international modernist photography. 

‘Sir Elton John’s collection is very impressive, but Dorothea Lange’s portraits stand out to me, personally, particularly this portrait of a boy with a “hard to read yet petulant” expression. Sir Elton John’s truly remarkable collection of international modernist photography stems from personal passion: since 1991, he has amassed more than 2,000 photographs, which include key figures from Europe and America, alongside many of the foremost photographers from Japan, Eastern Europe and Latin America.’
A boy holding a fish over his shoulders.
A grey photographic book cover.
An outdoor swimming pool with palm trees at sunset.
Joel Meyerowitz: Provincetown
A collection of 100 portraits from the Massachusetts beach town, a place long considered a safe haven for the queer community and a getaway for artists.

‘Joel Meyerowitz is a master of colour and light. His portraits are arresting and feel contemporary, giving an intimate portrait of a progressive community.’ 
An aerial shot of a city.
A yellow book with blue type.
Amsterdam Uncovered 
MENDO’s curated collection of images and essays on Amsterdam.

‘We can be proud of the art that comes out of Amsterdam. This book is beautifully designed and the variation in content unique. Amsterdam Uncovered is a collection of places, people and pictures curated by MENDO. A portrait of a metropolitan village, compiled by a group of tastemakers, talented photographers and artists who contribute to this city’s appeal, with in-depth stories, essays and interviews about all that Amsterdam has to offer.’