Photobooks of 2020: Sarah Allen

People of the Mud by Luis Alberto Rodriguez, Loose Joints

Day Sleeper by Dorothea Lange & Sam Contis, Mack

Who doesn’t love projects which cast the artist as curator/editor. One of my recent favourites in this vein has been Carmen Winant’s Notes on Fundamental Joy in which Winant delved into the archive of photographers from 1980s feminist and lesbian separatist communes in the Pacific Northwest - JEB, Honey Lee Cottrell and Tee Corinne feature. Whereas Winant resurfaced a fascinating but lesser-known corner of photographic history, Contis takes on the archive of arguably one of the most famous photographers of all time – Dorothea Lange. It was a treat to see Lange through Contis’ eyes. What emerges is a far more edgy Lange than the one many of us have come to know.

People of the Mud by 
Luis Alberto Rodriguez, Loose Joints

Setting out to photograph a community in the Irish countryside is a task mired in potential cliché. Yet Alberto Rodriguez manages to capture Wexford inhabitants in a refreshing way through an approach indebted to his training as a dancer. It’s not that the familiar characters have disappeared - the farmer and Irish dancer are still present. However, the subject is seen anew through the artist’s sculptural staging of bodies in space. Sitting at the heart of the book are images of hurling players – hurling is an ancient Irish sport full of grit, muck and possible tooth loss. Yet there is a tenderness and sensitivity to these players probably never before seen in this most masculine sport.

As it Is by Rinko Kawauchi, Chose Commune

Full disclosure, there are no photobooks by Kawauchi that I don’t adore. This latest offering focuses on the artist’s daughter. The images which are timeless, quiet and ethereal are typical of the photographer’s career-long interest in the everyday. The book is unsurprisingly light on the chaos of child rearing and so offers mothers everywhere a moment to dream that parenthood could be as calm and bathed in dreamy light as the moments frozen under Kawauchi’s lens.

Centralia by Poulomi Basu, Dewi Lewis

Through photographs, text and poetry Centralia documents a region in central India called Chhattisgarh where Maoist insurgents are in conflict with the Indian government over land and resources. Basu’s blurring of fact and fiction, and the book’s format featuring overlapping images, evokes the complex and confusing nature of the fighting – a welcomed approach to conflict photography which has deservedly won the artist a nomination for this year’s Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize.

We Have No Place to Be 1980-1982 by Joji Hashiguchi, Session Press

Originally published in 1982 this new edition brings together Hashiguchi’s seminal photographs of youth on the fringes of society shot while traveling through Liverpool, London, West Berlin, New York and Nuremberg. The images have all the hallmarks of diaristic photography of subcultures - parties, drugs, disarray. Yet poverty and disenfranchisement as well as images which reference xenophobia and racism are also present – the later recalling Nan Goldin’s images of skinheads shot in London in the late 70s. Like many other works in the diaristic mode a darker, more sinister element is threaded through images of youthful rebellion. High contrast and full bleed images combine to immersive effect in this latest release from Session Press.

Ming Smith: An Aperture Monograph by Ming Smith, Aperture

The book brings together four decades of Smith’s work and makes the compelling case – if anyone else needed to be convinced - for the strength and importance of Ming’s output over many years. Smith has said “When I look at photos, if it’s a successful photograph, I can feel their spirit” – this comes across compellingly in her approach to photographing people which is characterised by vivid energy and joy. A strong line up of text contributors grace the pages.

Sarah Allen is Assistant Curator, International Art at Tate Modern where she curates exhibitions and displays and researches acquisitions for the International Collection. She has co-curated the Zanele Muholi exhibition which has recently opened at Tate Modern and is currently working on the retrospective of Sophie Taeuber-Arp due to open in summer 2021. Previous exhibitions she has worked on have included The Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art (2018). She has a specialist focus on photobooks and is curator of the Martin Parr Photobook Collection for Tate.

Images: top - People of the Mud by Luis Alberto Rodriguez, below - We Have No Place to Be 1980-1982 by Joji Hashiguchi

Joji Hashiguchi