Photobooks of 2020: Blake Andrews

Sergio Purtell

With most exhibition spaces, travel, and photo meetings shut down this year due to Covid, books took on added importance for me. Of the ones I was able to see in person (a small fraction of the possibilities), here are several favorites in no particular order: 

Lunario by Guido Guidi, Mack

Over the course of several recent books, Guido Guidi and Mack have developed a symbiotic relationship. Guidi’s prints —loosely moon themed— are reproduced as-is with pencil jots, carrier marks, and yellowed edges to give them a vitality which belies their age, and are the next best thing to being inside Guidi’s head. A simple idea like “moon pix” might sink into facile sappiness if applied to any other photographer. But together Mack and Guidi have collaborated on a treasure. Guido Guidi is almost 80 and one has the sense he’s just getting started.

Passing Place by Sandy Carson, Yoffy

A handy little jack-knife of a book with all sorts of gadgets and doodads tucked inside. There are old family snapshots, interior booklets, facsimile covers, lace pages, leatherette binding, gilded edges, bookmark ribbon, a cleverly annotated hand-written index, and more. The contents threaten to spin out of control, but they’re ultimately held fast the central figure, Carson’s late mum Mary. She would be very proud of Passing Place.

The Atmosphere Of Crime, 1957 by Gordon Parks, Steidl

The most topical book on my list. Parks examined criminals, police, and the justice system of American cities for Life Magazine circa 1957. As the events of last summer have proven, police reform—or the lack of it—remains an open wound, largely unresolved more than 60 years later. This book might serve as conversation starter and/or potential inflection point, or just enjoyed for the sheer power of its images. Parks’ eye for mood and composition is helped along by superb color renditions.

Love’s Labour by Sergio Purtell, Stanley/Barker

Sergio Purtell has been a quiet force behind the scenes for the past few decades, printing for many top-tier photographers. With Love’s Labour he finally steps into the limelight on his own with this exquisite travelogue through serene 1980s Europe. The frames are languid, with a summery humid tonality, the perfect book for beach or poolside. Stanley/Barker once again proves their knack for discovering and rebirthing overlooked talents from yesteryear. Their books do not rely on fancy tricks, just solid photography, displayed simply and without fuss. Good stuff.

Mayflies by Dimitra Dede, Void

For me this book is more than the sum of its parts. The photos probably wouldn’t succeed on their own but they cohere together here toward an eerie triumph. Excellent subdued design on matte paper. I love the colophon page especially, a true work of art. Mayflies slots seamlessly into the Void catalog alongside Sleep Creek, 17 18 19, Hunger, Oyster, and others, all of which pull in the same direction, toward mystery, and all of which have gradually grown on me.

Rabbit/Hare by David Billet and Ian Kline, Deadbeat Club

This is ostensibly a road trip book and a buddy project. But the photos don’t feel like either one. Considering that the pictures are by two distinct people, the style is remarkably even throughout. They traipse through a range of odd situations, inventive framing, and sharp timing. Maybe this is Texas? Maybe wildlife? Or the highway? In any case, Deadbeat’s production is drop-dead gorgeous, with fine tones and an elegant softcover design. They’ve come a long way since their early zine days, and are now firmly in the upper ranks of photobook publishers. 

Event by Matthew Beck, J & L

Combining subway candids with an astronomy theme, all wrapped in current events, Event braids unlikely strands. But it ultimately works, helped along by the book’s outer space deep blacks and Beck’s nose for incongruity. A brash urban explorer, he has discovered some interesting objects on his interstellar adventures. Oh wait, you mean he was just in a deep tunnel this whole time? Welcome back to the surface. 

The Adventures Of Guille and Belinda and the Illusion of an Everlasting Summer by Alessandra Sanguinetti,  Mack

I came late to this series, so I missed out on the initial book about Guille and Belinda (it will be reprinted in 2021). The latest iteration catches up to the girls in their early teens, then follows them straight through to motherhood, the whole meandering journey captured beautifully by Sanguinetti, who keeps pumping out one stunning book after another. A multi-year tour de force on par with Richard Linklater’s Boyhood or Michael Apted’s Up.

Man Lives Through Plutonium Blast by Peter Brown Leighton, self-published

It was great to see Peter Brown Leighton pop up on Instagram earlier this year. We connected there, one thing led to another, and he soon sent me this mock-up book of his long-term photo collage project combining archival imagery with his street-savvy interjections. Since this is a one-off it won’t be found on other lists, or in any stores. At least for now. But it deserves to see daylight. Here’s hoping the publishing wheels can turn in Leighton’s direction, and get this to a larger audience. 

The Color Of A Flea’s Eye by Taryn Simon, Editions Cahiers d'Art

This one was just recently published so I have not yet had a chance to see it. But I’m going to bend my list slightly and include it anyway, because by all indications it looks stunning. A visual history of the New York Public Library’s photo collection, developed by Simon over 8 years. Coming in at 460 pages, 6 pounds, and exorbitantly priced, with an array of photo treatments, papers, and texts, it seems nearly as vast as the library itself. 

My list is somewhat premature because there are still a few weeks remaining in 2020, plenty of time for more books to be published. Here are few in the pipeline between now and year’s end which seem promising. I haven’t seen any in person yet, so I can’t offer much commentary.

Fingerprint by Jim Goldberg,  Stanley/Barker

Fairy Tales And Photography, Or, Another Look At Cinderella by Jo Spence,  RRB

Please Notify The Sun by Stephen Gill,  Nobody

Lastly, I’d like to give a shout-out to all the great reprints which came out in 2020. Perhaps it was the pandemic? Or advances in publishing technology? Or a rising tide of nostalgia? Who knows. For whatever reason there seemed to be more  reprints than ever this year: Robert Capa, Weegee, Geoff Winningham, Wendy Ewald, Paul Graham, Leonard Freed, Daido Moriyama, Jason Eskenazi, Mark Steinmetz, and Carl De Keyzer were among those who reprised old classics that had previously been rare and inaccessible. Now a new generation can enjoy them, hooray! I very much hope to see the trend continue. 

lake Andrews is a photographer based in Eugene, Oregon

Images: top - Love's Labour by Sergio Purtell, below - Rabbit/Hare by David Billet and Ian Kline

David Billet and Ian Kline