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Images à la Sauvette (The Decisive Moment) is a monograph of Cartier-Bresson’s best work, but it has overriding unifying factors that elevate it into a great photobook. The first is the concept of the ‘decisive moment’ itself, which defines the elegance of Cartier-Bresson’s imagery… No one achieved it more often or better, but allied with it was Cartier-Bresson’s thoroughly clear-eyed view of the world-astute, non-sentimental, beautiful, profound… Images à la Sauvette is one of the greatest of all photobooks

Parr & Badger, The Photobook: A History, Vol. I, p.208

Last year, I mentioned the time I found one of the greatest photography monographs of all time in a bin full of donated books at Seattle’s Books to Prisoners program.

Well, now it’s up for sale on eBay. At $850 (or buy it now $1,300) it’s an absolute steal.

So, if you’ve got some spare change and fancy covering the postage on 400 packages of books to US prisoners, then pop on over and buy it.


If you are in Seattle this Friday, think about dropping in at the Books To Prisoners‘ Art Auction; CREATIVE RELEASE.

Heck, if you turn up with a paperback dictionary you get in for free. I have some inside information that the quality of art is high. Loads of lithographs and a bunch of Just Seeds prison-specific prints!

Photo by Sang Cho.

I volunteer with the Seattle organisation Books to Prisoners. It’s a pretty awesome initiative; in 2009 it mailed 12,000 packages to prisoners across the US.

Seattle is helped by satellite groups in Bellingham and Olympia in Washington, and Portland in Oregon.

Books to Prisoners has just been presented with a generous 2:1 matching grant by a local family foundation. That means if you donate $20 it is actually a $60 donation.

If there was ever a time to donate it is now!

Books to Prisoners engages volunteers from all walks of life and has lasting relationships with student volunteers from Mercer Island High School, Seattle University, Shoreline Community College and the University of Washington.

The UW Daily just published this article – quoting my buddies Andy and Kerensa – which explains a little more about the BTP community.

The tasks are simple, the impact huge.

Books to Prisoners is a very slim and simple operation; all donations go directly to operating costs (postage, wrapping paper, tape, and occasionally purchasing dictionaries). It is an all-volunteer staff, so no money goes to salaries, staffing or admin.

There are 2.3 million prisoners in the US, a quarter of the world’s prison population. Ignoring them doesn’t make a society safer, engaging their minds does. 95% of prisoners in the US will be released at some point. It is in all our interests to treat them with dignity and provide simple tools for them to aide their own rehabilitation.


Thank you

Some of you might know that I volunteer for Books to Prisoners. Our book donations fall into a few categories: the majority go on the stacks for future dispatch to prisoners; other books not suitable/requested in prisons go to the bargain bins (25c-$1) at Left Bank Books; and good quality titles we sell online (I think?) for the $5 or $10 we anticipate. This third scenario crops up infrequently.

All monies raised from book-sales goes toward postage … and it is postage that accounts for most of BTP expenditure.

Last night, I was sorting some old donations – the usual suspects were there (Alice Walker, Louis L’Amour, John Le Carre, James Patterson) as were the much-needed non-fiction (Spanish dictionaries, parenting books, American history titles, etc.)

I did not expect to come across an original edition fine art photography book. I put Images a la Sauvette, Photographies par Henri Cartier Bresson aside while I sorted the thrillers from the biographies from the media studies text books.

At the end of the night I picked Images a la Sauvette up again. It was obviously too large and too heavy to go on the stacks. During my induction, I remember high end monographs were mentioned specifically as candidates for sale rather than dispatch. I new this was a special book, but I didn’t realise it was Cartier-Bresson’s foundational work, fully illustrating his ‘Decisive Moment’ philosophy.

The book is beautiful. Published by Editions Verve, Paris in 1952. The cover was designed by Matisse purposefully for the book. There are 126 pages of full-sized (37 x 27.5 cm) black-and-white gravure reproductions. The cover is strong, the spine a little discoloured. The pages are in fine fettle. The pages are bound to one another tightly but as a group have come away from the spine. Still, gorgeous.

I instantly thought it might be worth more than your average book – I hoped maybe $100, perhaps even $200. That amount would pay for a fair whack of postage, right? A few hundred books, right?

After getting home, I checked out the specifics. The proceeds from the sale of this book are to pay for postage on thousands rather than hundreds of books. Depending on which source you credit, make allowances for the condition of this copy and factor in the state of the book market, it could be worth anything between $1,000 and $3,200.

Antiqbook pegs it at $1,053; AbeBooks start it at $1,260 running it up to $7,700 (for what I guess is a pristine copy); Franklin Books values it at just shy of three grand and Bauman Books pushes it a little further to $3,200. In 2007, PhotoEye auctioned a copy for $2,250.

Books to Prisoners has never sold a book of such high value before so we’re a little stumped. I guess we’ll get a local dealer to stick a valuation on it and then carefully search out buyers. We’ll likely use AbeBooks. I’ll let you know in due course. If you have any advice or interest, please drop me a line.

In the mean time, salivate over these images:


prisonphotography [at] gmail [dot] com


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