Books that made me stop and think in 2020
The sheer number of hours I’ve spent online since March has made the time spent sitting down with real books all the more precious. I’ve been lucky enough to see a lot of beautiful publications this year, but the ones listed below have really made me stop and reflect on the how and the why of photobooks, and the simple pleasure of looking.
Artist Ben K. Voss made some strange, hieroglyphic drawings in sand and snow; Midge Wattles photographed them to look like anything from star charts to the trails left by burrowing insects. Lillian Wilkie at Chateau International assembled the resulting images into a modest, perfectly-designed book.
Four-colour risograph meets digital offset printing in a full-scale visual assault. Williams elevates his mundane subject matter into a candy-coloured stratosphere where the real world dissolves into hi-viz hallucination. It’s like having Pixy Stix hammered into your eyes. The ‘x’ in the title is a cheeky middle finger to subtlety and restraint.
Arimoto spent eight years travelling to the farthest reaches of Tokyo Prefecture to photograph insects. He also photographed abandoned architecture in the region. The resulting book combines the geeky fascination of the amateur entomologist with a haunting look into a possible and not-too-distant future where the earth is inhabited by enormous velvety arthropods.
The Parameters of our Cage by C. Fausto Cabrera and Alec Soth, Mack
We’ve spent a lot of time this year asking what photography can do to help us find a way out of our present state of perpetual cascading crisis. To ask what photographers can do puts an entirely different spin on the question. The Parameters of Our Cage – a transcript of the correspondence between Soth and prison inmate Cabrera – delivers an answer that is simple in principle but far more difficult in practice: be generous, be humble, be human.
The subject of this book is the fiber optic cables that carry data between Europe and North America, but Sewell’s non-linear approach to shooting, editing and sequencing pulls on the unexpected ways that technology touches our lives. His obscure, poetic logic, along with his beautifully understated images, makes for a compelling combination.
As close as it’s possible to get to a perfect collaboration: a photographer whose work is as much about an intricate and mostly invisible process as it is about the resulting images, and a designer (Hans Gremmen) who is at his best when dealing with complex visual information.
Whitefield considers himself more of a land artist than a photographer. His zines (hand-made on a riso machine in his Cornwall studio) are simple but incredibly satisfying documents of his performative engagements with place.
It’s not easy to explain why rock is so engaging as a photographic subject, nor why photographs so often fail to fully register this elusive quality. Blanco manages to embody not just the visual intensity of the Carrara marble quarries that are its subject, but the spatial/tactile appeal of these massively altered landscapes.
NASA’s photographic archive of the last thirteen Apollo missions includes over 33,000 images. Part catalogue, part graphic novel, La Mer de L’Intranquilité combines a selection of these photographs into lavishly beautiful panoramas of the lunar landscape that also hint at the human stories behind the iconic images.
Eugenie Shinkle is a writer and photographer based in London, UK. She is co-editor (with Callum Beaney) of the online photobook platform c4journal
Images: top - Known and Strange Things Pass by Andy Sewell, below - Constructed Landscapes by Dafna Talmor