Photobooks of 2020: Robin Titchener


Fordlandia 9 by JM Ramirez Suassi, self-published

The second release from the creator of One Eyed Ulysses, carries the same elegiac qualities. However, with the addition of a deliciously beguiling narrative thread, Fordlandia 9 not only equals, but surpasses Its predecessor. That difficult second “album”?  It would appear not.

The Disarray, Olga Karlovac

My late arrival addition to the list. The Disarray is Karlovac’s second self published title, and was released late in 2019. I first encountered it in the early part of this year. Impressionistic, monochrome, otherworldly. This is street photography as I’ve never seen it before. I see romance, the deceit of memory and the feeling of waking from a dream that dissolves and fades, just as you step back to consciousness.

A Gap In The Landscape by Keita Kusaka, Self-published

A refreshingly cheery and heart warming collection combining street photography and stolen moments, all culled from Keita Keitata’s long running blog. Each image is accompanied with witty annotations by Kusaka (Keitata). The icing on the cake for this book is that Keitata binds each copy using recycled cardboard, photographs and packing material, making each copy unique.

Some Kind Of Heavenly Fire by Maria Lax, Setanta

Maria Lax’s blend of original work and archival images impart the story of the small town in Northern Finland where she grew up. What makes her narrative so intriguing is that during the sixties the town was a hotspot for UFO sightings. This beautiful book is wonderful blend of fact and fiction that presents the artist’s interpretation of tales and memories inspired by a book written around the time by her late grandfather.

Pleasant Street by Judith Black, Stanley/Barker

After enrolling in a graduate photography program at MIT in 1979, single parent, Black found her attempts to make photographs were forced to take second place to bringing up her children. Undeterred, she instead turned the camera inwards, recording herself, her children and their home for this wonderful document of evolving family life spanning twenty years. My personal favourite from Stanley/Barker this year.

Prologue by Kamil and Urszula Sleszynski, Galeria im. Sleńdzińskich w Białymstoku

Prologue is a frank and unflinchingly honest documentation of Urszula Sleszynski‘s turbulent pregnancy and birth of the couples’ son. Last year I included Kamil’s handmade book Wolka as a special mention. I am so happy that I have been able to include Prologue on this years main list. As with Wolka, the written contributions  from his wife Urszula have been indispensable - quite literally with Prologue, as it is her pregnancy that is being chronicled - and her nakedly honest commentary is easily as powerful as Kamil’s intimate photography.  So justifiably, Prologue is credited to both of them. A truly formidable team to watch.

The Atmosphere of Crime, 1957 by Gordon Parks, Steidl

Steidl’s faithful reproduction of a sequence originally shot in 1957 for Life magazine. In true Parks tradition, he assembled an elegant portfolio which presented the American public with a refreshingly unsentimental study of those on both sides of the law. It is also a rare opportunity to enjoy some magnificent examples of Parks’ lesser seen colour photography.

Mélaina Chole by Cristiano Volk, Yoffy Press

Volk’s second book, is a beguiling intellectual conundrum of a thing. An exploration through photography, of Hippocrates’ theory of humoral medicine. Printed without a word of explanation, save the title itself, this is most assuredly a book that requires a little time and investigation. However once that commitment has been made, Melaina Chole is definitely a book that worms it’s way into your brain.

I Can Make You Feel Good by Tyler Mitchell, Prestel

Mitchell’s interpretation of what he has described as “a black utopia”, is indeed a beautifully designed and colourful celebration of black youth and culture. Fabulous design, printing and binding from Prestel.

The Community by Eli Durst, Morel

Enter the world of religious cults and sewing circles. What began as a project to photograph the basement rooms of churches in American towns, transformed into something altogether more profound as Durst realised that the way in which these spaces were being used helped to define, and even construct the notion of community within the multitude of disparate (and shall we say idiosyncratic) groups that used them. Neutral, yet ominously pervasive, The Community is a book that quietly has me going back to it again and again. A beautiful slow burner.

Zaido by Yukari Chikura, Steidl

Chikura’s desire to fulfill a bequest received in a dream, from her late father, saw her travel north to a small town in her home country of Japan. There she witnessed and recorded the centuries old festival of Zaido, set amongst the area’s stunning locations, with it’s winter snowfall and frozen landscapes.  However, whilst the festival may take centre stage, we are left  the underlying feeling that Zaido is ultimately a love letter to her father. Quite beautiful. A stunning and intricately designed production from Steidl.

The Locusts by Jesse Lenz, Charcoal Press

In his debut book The Locusts, Jesse Lenz’s camera seeks to preserve a window in time where children are free to be children, to envelop them in a blanket of warm sunny days and twinkling infinites. The times before innocence is tarnished by a world of realities, and life leans down to whisper unwelcome truths in delicate ears. A truly beautiful book with which to close the year.

Special mention:

Dancing With A Cobra by Alison McCauley, Self-published
Alison’s books are becoming too beautiful not to be acknowledged, but as they are each made by hand in minuscule quantities, it is almost too cruel to mention them. However if you are lucky enough to be around when one is announced, then do not hesitate. She has produced four this year, and I would highlight the first, “Dancing With A Cobra”, a dreamlike meditation on her childhood years growing up in South East Asia. She deserves every success, even if it means I risk losing a copy!

Robin Titchener is a photobook collector of some thirty years. He is a regular contributor to both Photobookstore Magazine and The Od Review, as well as running his own review blog.

Images: top - Zaido by Yuki Chikura, below - Some Kind of Heavenly Fire by Maria Lax, Fordlandia 9 by JM Ramírez-Suassi.

Maria Lax