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Compiled by Suzanne Révy and Elin Spring
It’s award season in the Photobook world and, perhaps even more delightfully, it’s gifting season in our world. Since there’s hardly anything more deliciously gift-worthy than a photobook, we’re weighing in with our favorites published in the last year, with an eye toward both availability and affordability. Our choices are eclectic, ranging from fun to unusual to deeply moving. We have broken things down into three easy to digest sections: our favorite picks, with a snippet about why we think so; important re-issues or retrospectives that everyone should know about; and the books that we loved so much that we wrote themed, comparative reviews throughout this past year. We’re including links to those reviews, so you can share our excitement and also access purchasing options. All of our listings include links to sites where you can purchase the books we feel are so worthy. Happy reading!
OUR FAVORITE BOOKS FROM 2017 (Listed alphabetically)
By John Chiara
Essay by Virginia Heckert
Co-published by Aperture and Pier 24 Photography
Everything about John Chiara’s much anticipated first monograph is amazing. A veritable road trip through his native California, Chiara’s truck-mounted camera obscura defines the physicality of his photographic process, giving birth to dreamy, cinematic evocations, fantastical multiple exposures or intense, otherworldly negative prints that create a rush of trippy visual associations and memories (even if “collective”). The book does Chiara’s enormous, shiny and (paradoxically) intimate photographs proud, with a selection of vertical(!) gatefolds and one astounding “conventional” double-gatefold overlooking Oakland that is anything but ordinary. And the essay by the Getty’s photography curator Virgina Heckert knocks this book out of the park.
By Sam Contis
Without any words, Sam Contis manages to convey the sheer volume of work and brutal stress on the body that taming the western United States must have taken. Deep Springs explores a pocket of California in the eastern Sierra Nevada where a small all-boys college runs an alfalfa farm and cattle ranch. A sequence of vast landscapes, intimate figure studies, young men working with cattle and horses are interspersed with vernacular snapshots from this unusual educational institution. Contis visually references the making of the mythic west through this isolated yet close-knit community, leaving the reader with a charged sense of desolation and solitude.
Welcome to Camp America
Photographs and essay by Debi Cornwall
With texts by Moazzam Begg and Fred Ritchen
In this unusual book, Debi Cornwall probes the consequences of compromises between our security and our humanity in a post-9/11 world. Cornwall photographed several aspects of Guantanamo Bay: the recreation areas, gift shop items, prison cells and some of the American soldiers who serve there. No faces were allowed to be shown in the pictures. She also photographed and interviewed former prisoners, and she chose to not show their faces in keeping with Guantanamo’s strict photography rules. This conceptual documentary book with it’s unusual binding, loose leaf portraits and ephemera seeks to find empathy and common ground among citizens whose nations are in conflict.
I love you, I’m leaving
Photographs by Matt Eich
This small hand-bound book features tender black and white images of family that are infused with a sense of vulnerability. Taken during a time of personal transition, Eich’s pictures meditate on the fragile nature of familial bonds between moments of closeness or isolation, and between interior spaces or the natural world. He concludes with a poem about driving away, yet his mind wanders home; this intimate book is a comforting reflection of love.
By Lucas Foglia
Foreword and Afterword by the Author
Lucas Foglia’s Hurricane Sandy-induced epiphany frames this multi-continent, eleven year photographic exploration: “I realized that if humans are changing the weather, then there is no place on Earth unaltered by people.” In a rare twist, Foglia probes not only the ways in which people alter the Earth, but nature’s profound effect on us. His color photographs astonish with their brilliant beauty and passion, whether a cluster of bird nests clinging to the underside of a Nevada highway overpass or a woman perched precariously inside a melting Alaskan glacier.
Reading Raymond Carver
By Mary Frey
Like Sage Sohier’s Seeing America and Bill Yates’ Sweetheart Skating Rink, which we reviewed last summer, Mary Frey’s Reading Raymond Carver is a series of images she revisits today, but were made in 1979 when she was at a threshold in her life. Frey photographed family and neighbors in constructed scenes of mundane domestic rituals using a large format camera with an interest in a 50’s ideal of what our family lives should look like. She recalls that she was reading Raymond Carver’s stories at the time, and like his prose, she imbued significance in the details of the everyday. Leafing though the pages there is a kind of nostalgia that is neither idealized nor romanticized, but authentic and natural; an honest capsule of time.
by Rinko Kawauchi
Poem and essays by the author
Perhaps no one captures our ethereality in the natural world more eloquently than Japanese photographer Rinko Kawauchi. In images shot at various wintertime festivals, Kawauchi’s minimalist eye finds spirit in the flight of birds, eternity in the sea, and splendor in the sparks and halos that humans ignite. Elegantly produced with matte black pages and a silver and black embossed cover, the images and flow created in Halo are simply breathtaking.
By Kerry Mansfield
Essays by Heather Snider and Matt McCann
Kerry Mansfield’s tribute to library books that have been literally loved to death is more than a trip down memory lane. Her acute sense of composition, detail and lighting create sumptuous, eye-popping tactility of the beloved covers and bindings, dog-eared pages and library checkout cards bearing the scrawled names and notations of booklovers of all ages. Mansfield’s images recall a disappearing analog age of bustling libraries, cozy reading nooks and the sense of community they embodied. These are intensified by the special details of her handsome volume, with a leather wrap spine on an embossed linen cover, red page marker ribbon and, my favorite, an actual library checkout card in the back of the book.
In That Land of Perfect Day
By Brandon Thibodeaux
Red Hook Editions
Brandon Thibodeaux’s first monograph is an ode to the human spirit. Borne of the warm relationship he forged over an eight year period with an isolated, close-knit, African-American community in the Mississippi Delta, In That Land of Perfect Day hits that rare, perfect pitch: subdued but not sad, dignified but not prideful, caring but never cloying. Thibodeaux’s eloquent B&W photographs are a tribute to human faith and perseverance. Several interspersed pages of the author’s words, along with the poem referenced in the book’s title and a few apt quotes elucidate how the photographer’s exploration conferred an unexpected gift of his own deliverance.
by Victoria Will
Foreword by Jason Momoa
Poised in a pop-up studio at the Sundance Film Festival, photographer Victoria Will nabbed the drama kings and queens of the world to sit for solo portraits made with the vintage wet-plate collodion process, imbuing each plate with its own unique expressive character that visually and metaphorically complements the remarkably genuine emotionality she inspired in her subjects. Will is a gifted portraitist and this small volume is a production marvel, with just the right hint of silver toning in the midrange to capture the essence of a real tintype and spot-on design by Elizabeth Avedon.
The Disappearance of Joseph Plummer
by Amani Willett
Two images of an anonymous figure – or is it an apparition? – lost in the snow set the tone in the opening pages of this mysterious narrative. Amani Willett tracks the life of an enigmatic hermit who inhabited, centuries ago, the land now owned by his father. Intriguing parallels between the two lives lead father and son into the haunting journey and evocative photographs that follow. Willett’s enchanting images become an ode to the art of disconnecting, the allure of being lost and the strange ways our lives circle each other.
30 Photographers Re-Picturing a Continent
Introductions by Nana Kofi Acquah; Austin Merrill and Peter DiCampo
Essays by Maaza Mengiste and Stephen Mayes
This is powerful imagery. Everyday Africa is a popular feed on Instagram maintained by a number contributing photographers living and working there. It’s goal is to depict a vast continent beyond the many tropes of war, famine and disease so familiar to consumers of western media. Instead, it revels in the everyday: family, dinners, work and play. This thick square book is a collection of these Instagram images along with several comment threads from followers that run the gamut from light-hearted humor to biting hostility. There are several accompanying essays that explore the nature and history of photography in Africa and beyond. The ink, paper, and solid feel of this book offer a sense of permanence to images that once flickered briefly across our screens.
RETROSPECTIVES AND RE-ISSUES (Listed alphabetically)
By William Eggleston
Preface by Lloyd Fonvielle
“On the eve of the election, when nothing had yet been decided, when everything — whatever that everything was — hung in the balance, Eggleston made an elegy…a statement of perfect calm.” — Lloyd Fonvielle
In 1977 William Eggleston released Election Eve, his first and most elaborate artist’s book, containing 100 original prints in two leatherbound volumes, housed in a linen box. Published by Caldecot Chubb in New York in an edition of only five, it has since become Eggleston’s rarest collectible book. This new Steidl edition recreates the full original sequence of photos in a single volume, making it available to the wider public for the first time.
by Larry Fink
Essay by Laura Serani
This book explores Fink’s recent works, with a selection of pictures taken over the past five years, it examines a broad series of subjects. It is divided into four sections – “In Politics,” “Countryside Stories,” “In Town,” and “At Home.” The reader is offered a chance to follow Fink from Washington, New York, Panama City and rural Pennsylvania. The portrait of American society that Fink sketches out starting in the 1950s continues as he narrates the story of modern America with its the radical changes between the Obama years and the arrival of Trump, a society of the spectacle – in which “the show must go on” – and the continuing divide between urban and rural cultures.
By Masahisa Fukase
Mack Publishing (Third Edition)
Essays by Akira Hasegawa and Tomo Kusaga
Dark and ominous, but “Consistently proclaimed as one of the most important photobooks in the history of the medium, Solitude of Ravens by Japanese photographer Masahisa Fukase was first published in 1984 and the two subsequent editions have both been short runs and have sold out immediately. This bilingual facsimile of the first hardback edition is accompanied by a booklet positioning the body of work in the history of Japanese photography and Fukase’s oeuvre.”
William Gedney: Only the Lonely, 1955-1984
by Giles Mora
Essays Margaret Sartor and Lisa McCarty
(University of Texas Press)
This retrospective book offers the only comprehensive survey of William Gedney’s work. It features images from several portfolios including work from eastern Kentucky, San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury district, self-portraits and views from his Myrtle Avenue apartment in Brooklyn, images from India, Gay Pride Parades from the early 80’s and street scenes in New York. It also features an essay on the journals and hand-bound books of this somewhat overlooked photographer whose empathy for the marginalized is apparent in his beautiful photographs.
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
By Pieter Hugo
Edited by Ralf Bell and Uta Ruhkamp
Bringing together more than a decade of work, this softbound volume is a comprehensive survey of South African Pieter Hugo’s wild, mesmerizing and sometimes disturbing views across the African continent, from the aftermath of genocide in Rwanda to electrical waste dumps in Ghana to Nigeria’s dynamic film industry, Nollywood. Also includes some of Hugo’s most recent work in the US and China, accompanied by the photographer’s personal commentary.
The Subway Photographs of Helen Levitt
Edited by Marvin Hoshino and Thomas Zander
Introduction by David Campany
Around 1978 Helen Levitt returned to the New York City Subway, a full four decades after accompanying Walker Evans on several forays to photograph there. This book is the most comprehensive collection of Levitt’s subway pictures, some from the late thirties, but most made in the late seventies. The later pictures are looser, similar to her street images, with many of them published for the first time in this small, beautiful book.
On The Frontline
By Susan Meiselas
Photographs and text by author, Edited by Mark Holborn
President of the Magnum Foundation and a MacArthur Fellow, Meiselas is a heavy-hitter in the evolution of documentary storytelling. This comprehensive retrospective includes over one hundred of Meiselas’ often unsettling but arresting photographs along with her own commentary on ideas, practices and decision-making across the trajectory of her eventful career.
by Nancy Rexroth
Essays by Alec Soth, Anne Wilkes Tucker and Mark L. Power
University of Texas Press
Rexroth’s ability to fashion a world of surprising aesthetic possibilities using a simple, low-tech Diana camera was initially published forty years ago. It anticipated the interest in the toy camera aesthetic decades before it became prevalent among so many digital options of the early oughts. Long out of print and highly prized by photographers and photography book collectors, this new hardcover edition includes twenty-two previously unpublished images and three essays that reconsider these pictures in the years since it was first published.
Sleeping by the Mississippi
by Alec Soth
Essays by Patricia Hampl and Anne Wilkes Tucker
Initially published in 2004 by Steidl, this book became an instant classic. The Mississippi River is less the subject of the book than its organizing structure. Not bound by a rigid concept or ideology, the series is created from a quintessentially American spirit of wanderlust. Featuring a new linen-bound cover with a tipped-on image, this is the third print run of a volume which has become one of the most widely collected and highly acclaimed photo books of recent times.
Photographs and text by Rebecca Norris Webb
Edited with Alex Webb and Darius Himes
Radius Books (Second Edition)
Set in her home state of South Dakota, photographer and poet Rebecca Norris Webb intertwines harsh, expressive landscapes with spare, pining text for her brother’s unexpected death in this intimate journey. Norris Webb’s sinuous handwritten words harmonize gracefully with her nuanced images in a poignant elegy.
Approximately every other month, we publish themed, comparative reviews of books we find particularly compelling. Most of the books reviewed in the past year have a 2017 publication date and all have been published fairly recently. Our reviews offer deeper analysis (although still brief!) and present images from each book. The title and link to each of our reviews is listed below, with links to the individual books from that review directly beneath.
BOOKS WE REVIEWED IN 2017 (Listed in order of publication)
WHO IS THAT MASKED MAN?
Horace and Agnes
by Asia Kepka and Lynn Dowling
published by Blue Rider Press, 2016
by Ashley Stohl
published by Peanut Press, 2015
THE POWER OF SUGGESTION
In a Box Upon the Sea
2015 © Philip Perkis
Published by Anmoc
Summer Days: Staten Island
2015 © Christine Osinski
Essay by Paul Moakley
Interview by A.H. Data
Published by Damiani
MOTHER MAY I?
Witness to Beauty
by Sage Sohier
with an essay by Marvin Heiferman
Published by Kehrer Verlag, 2016
Frozen in Time
by Sarah C. Butler
with a forward by Vicki Goldberg
and an afterword by Alison Morley
Published by Glitterati Incorporated, 2016
Pictures from Home
by Larry Sultan
Published by Mack, 2017
Photographs by SB Walker
Essay by Alan Trachtenberg
Published by Kehrer Verlag
THE DISCREET CHARM OF LOOKING BACK
Sweetheart Skating Rink
by Bill Yates
Essay by Alexander Nemreov
Published by Fall Line Press
by Sage Sohier
Published by Nazraeli Press
Selected Works: Stephen Shore 1973-1981
Published by Aperture
WHAT BECOMES A LEGEND MOST?
The Notion of Family
by LaToya Ruby Frazier
Published by Aperture
My Last Day at Seventeen
by Doug Dubois
Illustrations by Patrick Lynch
Published by Aperture
by Jungjin Lee
Published by Nazraeli Press
by Robert Frank
Published by Steidl
27 Contexts: An Anecdotal History of Photography
by Mark Alice Durant
Published by Saint Lucy Press
by Teju Cole
Published by Penguin/Random House
By Rebecca Norris Webb and Alex Webb
Published by La Fabrica
You and Orchestra you a Bomb
by Cig Harvey
Essays by Jacoba Urist and Vicky Goldberg
Published by Schilt Publishing
Feature Image: Suzanne Révy and Elin Spring in Photobook heaven (photo courtesy Ned Kaufman).