Photobooks of 2020: Rémi Coignet

Hernie & Plume by Katherine Longly, The Eriskay Connection


As for many of us, it was impossible for me this year to see as many books as usual. I missed reunions with friends and discoveries of unsuspected nuggets at festivals and fairs, as I am sure many people do. Producing a collective knowledge as Photobookstore invites us to do, therefore, takes all its meaning in our common isolation. Here is my contribution, in no particular order.


Virus by Antoine d’Agata, Studio Vortex

Virus responds to a situation: the pandemic. Through a relentless frequentation of the field (from the streets of Paris to the morgue and the hospital) during the two months of the lockdown in France, d'Agata takes a stand and realizes two things whose photography is a priori incapable: represent the general and not the individual but also make the presence of the invisible “enemy”, that elusive coronavirus that is everywhere and nowhere. He achieves this by breaking the conventions of photographic realism through the use of a thermal camera. But this is by no means the fantasy of an aesthete, the means used being in perfect adequacy with the purpose. By slightly shifting the technique of the reporter he produces a work. The ghostly images of Virus testify with an immense economy of means, but not of effort, of a post-industrial civilization abruptly brought to a halt by a pandemic. And I can't help thinking that these images will be the ones that history books will retain to characterise the period we are living through.


Yangoon Fashion 1979 by Lukas Birk, Fraglich

In the 1970s, Myanmar experienced a severe socialist dictatorship. Following Western fashion, asserting one's individuality and posing in the studio to bear witness to it were a form of resistance. Lukas Birk edited this archive. The layout is sumptuous: printed on tracing paper, the silhouettes (individuals) appear by transparency in the crowd of images. The editing and cropping imposed by the book's oblong format create a dynamic echo of the subject. But far from frivolity, like any archive, these images are bearers of melancholy: what has become of these faces and this optimistic youth?

Équation du temps by Raphaël Dallaporta, The Eyes

Just published, Équation du temps (equation of time) retraces an artistic and scientific experience. In short, it involves measuring the difference between real solar time and that measured by clocks. For 365 days Dallaporta photographed at noon the image of the sun entering the Cassini room of the Paris Observatory. It may seem atrociously austere, but the book designed with Kummer & Herrman, with a hole in the centre, is like a flipbook that allows you to experience the equation of time in accelerated form.  The light, the duration... Any connection with the concept of photography is obviously not fortuitous.


A les 8 al Bar Eusebi by Salvi Danés, Dalpine

Published in 2019, in an edition of 100 immediately out of print, and noticed here at the time by Gabriela Cendoya, this book reissued by Dalpine is now more widely available. The now disused Barcelona prison La Modelo and its surroundings are the setting for Salvi Danés' brilliant book. I deliberately use the word set because this work is profoundly cinematic in its use of light and editing. As in a film too, duration is an essential factor in penetrating the universe created by Salvi Danés.


Los Angeles Standards by Caroline & Cyril Desroche, Poursuite

No doubt because I feel incapable of such rigour, I admire any encyclopaedic enterprise. Unless it is because I perceive its vanity. Either way, Los Angeles Standards is a wonderful architectural and urban typology. It is equidistant from the attempt of exhausting a place by Georges Perec, the Becher and Learning from Las Vegas by Venturi and Scott Brown. By observing ”differences and repetitions” one can spend hours learning from Los Angeles.


Day by Day by JH Engström, Éditions Bessard 

When a book is part of a consistent and coherent bibliography, it must be considered as a brick brought to a work. Thus Day by Day produced in Montreuil (a a working-class suburb of Paris where Engström resides) can be compared both to Far from Stockholm through the humane representation of a close environment and to La Résidence through the introspection that the use of words allows. Thus the sentence inscribed on the back of a Fuji Instant Film: "The banal is the true sublime" which could sum up the ambition of this volume.


The Awful German Language by Jeffrey Ladd, Spector

The gorgeous title of this photo-text book is not just a joke. It reflects the experience of the photographer, critic and publisher Jeffrey Ladd who has been living in Germany for years now. For those of you who, like me, do not speak German, a mysterious alchemy plays out between typography and photos. The sharp and allusive images are nourished by a virtuoso photographic culture but always a little twist avoids pedantry. The editing is brilliant especially as it is playing with the constraint of folding two papers. This element drives to a unique sequencing. This book is a jubilant lesson in the art of using knowledge to address personal issues.


Hernie & Plume by Katherine Longly, The Eriskay Connection

Narrative book, photo-text book, Hernie & Plume is deeply a love story, a tale of old age and a suspense that I will not reveal. Far from stereotypes, Katherine Longly’s book is profoundly Belgian in its characters, good humour and modest seriousness. Like the cover made of oilcloth.

Two historical books:

A1 - The Great North Road by Paul Graham, Mack

Re-edition of Paul Graham's first self-published book in 1983, an essential book in the history of photography (and not only British!).


Photographs 1965-2014 by Michael Schmidt, Walther Koenig

Catalogue of the retrospective at the Hamburger Bahnhof for all those who, like me, were not able to go to Berlin this year.


Rémi Coignet is a freelance author and editor living in Paris. His latest book Conversations 3, a collection of interviews with authors such as Sophie Calle, William Klein, Sophie Ristelhueber or Antoine d'Agata was published in June 2020 by The Eyes.

Images:  top - Hernie & Plume by Katherine Longly, The Eriskay Connection, below A1: The Great North Road by Paul Graham

Paul Graham