Like everybody I guess, I will say that this year has been a very difficult one. But somehow despite adversity, books have been published, and very good ones. As for me I bought fewer books this year, and maybe not all the good ones I should have. Making a list is always a heartbreaker for me but at least the following ones have a special place in my shelves and in my mind.
Ciprian Honey Cathedral by Raymond Meeks, Mack
Mack has produced a good number of impressive books in 2020, I could almost complete my list out of them, but this one comes first for me. Meeks is a favorite author for many years now, so this does not come as a surprise. This book ( there was a handmade, different edition in 2018 ) is about home, and the people and things close to us. It is about Adrianna, in a so beautiful and abandoned way. It is about changes and time, what we carry and what we leave behind. There is an incredible beauty in these pictures, with both weight and lightness, so much giving from the author and his muse, so much delicacy. Sublime is a word I do not often use, but I feel this book is close to it.
Galerna is a 10 years project by Jon Cazenave, nearly a life engaging. It speaks of identity and belonging to a land, the Basque Country, and about the author’s quest for finally finding himself and getting free. it is about the landscape around us and how it makes us who we are. Cazenave embraces the political conflicts, the mountains, the deep and mysterious forests and the furious sea, with all the symbolism and ancient rituals of the basque culture and soul. Looking further and deeper, the search takes him to the origin inside the cave. The wonderful images are inhabited and silent, dark and beautiful. Galerna is a long and intimate journey looking for the light, for the universal and to be connected to the world. It is also one that connects me to my homeland and makes me emotional.
Gloria seems to be everywhere this year, and it is so well deserved. Her new book is rich and deep dealing with gender, identity and feminism seen under the prism of Western colonialism. Archival material and text mix with Gloria’s gorgeous own pictures of African women, questioning all the clichés and stereotypes of our Western feminism. It’s an amazing and strong work, both in content and form.
Flow by Mariia Ermolenko, self-published
Maria Ermolenko is a Russian artist, and I think Flow is her first book, handmade in an edition of 50 and covered with fabric. It is a book dealing with memory and how this one changes with time and perception. Nothing is certain and remains the same, even the most cherished moments. This year has been a year of uncertainty, and maybe Flow, with its tactile quality, its tracing paper, its beautiful « uncertain » pictures and the voices’ echo, is a good example of how what we thought would last forever is actually so fragile.
I know nearly nothing about Tomoya Fujimoto, except that he is a french photographer and he has released this hypnotic and beautiful book (edition of 100). The book is mainly of pictures of the sea taken in Lanzarote, close-up monochromes of abstract textures. The water is thick, the light and the matter change with the movement of the sea and the wind. I could spend hours looking at the sea.
Another hypnotic book , this one made of sand. María Primo has worked on a project about the Dune of Valdevaqueros, near the Strait of Gibraltar. The Dune was originated by man, as a result of military intervention at the end of the Spanish Civil War. Man wants to dominate nature, but this is a lost battle, as the sand covers everything again and again. The pictures are soft and beautiful, as is the object itself, but the book also reminds us of the drama taking place there with all the migrants arriving to the shore. María ’s purpose is political, it deals with history and philosophy as well as environment issues. It is also very poetic.
Amazing new book by Yoshikatsu Fujii, following his project about Hiroshima. 75 years after the bombing, the book tells the story with the eyes and the voice of his grandmother, one of the survivors, severely injured by the explosion. With an abrasive paper cover and print, the book is a physical reminder of the exposure to radiation. With personal and familiar images as well as archival material, Everlasting flow is an intense and overwhelming testimony of the horror and touching tribute to his grandmother Hisako Fujii and all other survivors.
Awoiska’s new book depicts again an unspoiled nature, with pictures taken in the mountains of Tirol. What makes this book unique is that within the grandiose images we find the reproductions of a musical score by composer Thomas Larcher written for these pictures. The combination of both forms a wonderful and meaningful object. We feel both fragile and grateful for the beauty of nature and fear this could disappear one day. The design and choice of material and papers make a perfect whole.
Another Mack book, an another one dealing with environmental issues and the role of man in them. 12Hz goes deep into the earth and the rocks to tell us about the tectonics and the tides, the unstoppable geological forces. Humanity is absent from these images, or only an echo of what we are able to apprehend, only to remind us that the breath of the earth is something we have to be aware of. These are awesome images in a beautifully produced book.
But where is humanity in this uncertain year? In these books for example:
Hernie and Plume, by Katherine Longly, The Eriskay Connection
Cracks by Vincen Beeckman. Void with Recyclart.
These two books from Belgium share in community stories of people at the margin. An old couple living in a camp trailer for Katherine, a group of homeless people for Vincen. In both cases the authors become close or intimate with the protagonists. The stories of course are very different, but there is freedom and empathy in both of them. Sadness and honesty too. Cracks is an amazing project in which the homeless people living around Central Station of Brussels are given disposable cameras in order to document their lives, or just to tell their story their way. It is harsh, joyful, violent and tender. The couple depicted by Katherine Longly in Hernie and Plume is tender and joyful too, it tells us an amazing story you will have to discover in the book, mainly it talks of ageing, freedom and love.
It is a bit of a shame for me to speak about Novis Corpus, but I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t put it at the end of this list.This self edited book is a collective project I am lucky and proud to have been part of with other friends, made in the hardest days of confinement due to Covid 19 between the months of march and may. 48 authors of several origins, some professional, others simply amateur, responded to the idea launched by Teresa Uzeda on social media. Each one from the distance sent pictures that formed the book, a modest and small one, with the need to express our fears or anxiety together, collectively, and to give all profits of the sale ( 500 copies , all sold out ) to caregivers of a hospital in Algeciras. It may not be the best book of 2020 but it sure helped me and others getting through some hard times, and it showed that things could be made differently.
Gabriela Cendoya is a Spanish photobook collector, living in the Basque Country.
Images: top - Ciprian Honey Cathedral by Raymond Meeks, below - Galerna by Jon Cazenave