Photobooks of 2020: Simon Baker

Samuel Fosso

Some of You Killed Luisa by Valeria Cherchi, The Eriskay Connection

If we are truly honest with ourselves, it’s not often that we read ALL of the texts in photobooks. Sometimes, in fact, when I am writing essays that are destined for photobooks I have the feeling that they are destined to be hidden in the most perfect places, and will probably never be found, much less read. But in collaboration with Federica Chiocchetti (Photocaptionist), and graphic designer Fabian Bremer, Valeria Cherchi has made not only one of the best books of the year, but one in which it is impossible not to want to read every word. The last time I remember doing this – reading the complete text of a photobook from cover to cover immediately, like a page-turner of a novel – was my first encounter with Jim Goldberg’s Raised by Wolves. Cherchi’s book, likewise, is a testament to its author’s long-term dedication and commitment to a subject (in this case abductions in Sardinia). Cherchi is an intelligent, sophisticated story-teller through both text and image and the modest nature of the book itself in no way undermines the ambition and power of the material. Buy it, and read it.

Autoportrait by Samuel Fosso, Walther Collection / Steidl

The first time we have been able to see, and better understand, the breadth and complexity of this most enigmatic artist’s work. Despite a life-long commitment to the performative self-portrait, Fosso never repeats himself and never stands still. The book is also a major achievement by all those that contributed texts, not least the late (and already deeply missed) Okwui Enwezor, who counted this publication among his final projects. A mention here too for Fosso’s SixSixSix, also published this year by The Walther Collection / Steidl, a remarkable new body of work and stunning book.

Jusqu’à Ici, Tout Va Bien: La Haine by Mathieu Kassovitz/Gilles Favier, Maison CF

For non-French people of a certain age (mine etc.) - who arrived too late to catch the new wave - La Haine was probably one of the first French films they paid to see at the cinema and actually enjoyed, then bought on DVD and loved all over again... Its writer and director Mathieu Kassovitz, brought Parisian ‘council estate culture’ to an international audience in such a way that it became an instant classic – no mean feat given the issues involved. This book takes us behind the scenes of the original film, through both the script and photographs of the production itself, made at the time by Gilles Favier. No nostalgia here, just a perfectly pitched, beautifully produced reflection on an unforgettable project.

Living In A Painting by Maya Rochat, Ciao Press / La Mobiliere

For most people 2020 has been a giant pain in the ass, and we could be forgiven for dreaming of alternate lives, and living conditions, however notional or unrealistic. My first choice would not necessarily be inside a Maya Rochat painting - they look far too chaotic for someone as OCD as me, and, although beautiful, they tend to have colours that I hadn’t thought of. But I did fall in love with this book, and as the year gets worse and worse, locking down into an endless grey Sunday, its utopian magnetism only increases.

Flower Smuggler by Diana Tamane, APE

Probably the first very yellow cover to make of these lists for a while… But it’s a wonderful book, as warm and bright as sunshine. The artist did a great talk on Photoworks Instagram live during the lockdown and inspired me to look out for the book. It’s a strange but engaging mix of conceptual art and family album, which works really well as a publication. We follow the artist’s mother as she drives a huge articulated lorry around Europe, her father photographing things to sell online, and elsewhere the kind of domestic, everyday image-making that is so important between loved ones but often passes without notice as a result. Tamane’s way of understanding and presenting this personal, and potentially unremarked-upon material, makes for a really special book.

Doors by Yusuke Yamatani, Gallery Yamatani

The photographer Yusuke Yamatani, until recently best-known for stylish and considered photobooks like Ramalamadingdong and Into the Light goes completely nuts here: a kind of conceptual scrapbook of a trip around Europe in which the artist played drums in his own multi-media performance. We see close-ups of Yamatani’s face as he’s drumming, we see the strange non-spaces in and around the venues, we see the receipts for his snacks. On tour - Lord of the Flies…

Simon Baker is Director of MEP (Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris). He was formerly Senior Curator, International Art (Photography) Tate, and Associate Professor of Art History at Nottingham University. He has published widely on photography and contemporary art including the monograph George Condo: Painting Reconfigured (Thames and Hudson, 2015). His most recent essays on photography have been in catalogues for the MEP exhibitions Erwin Wurm: Photographs (RVB Books), and Daido Moriyama / Shomei Tomatsu: TOKYO (Akio Nagasawa).

Images: top - Autoportrait by Samuel Fosso, below - Jusqu’à Ici, Tout Va Bien : La Haine by Mathieu Kassovitz / Gilles Favier

Jusqu’à Ici, Tout Va Bien : La Haine by Mathieu Kassovitz / Gilles Favier, Maison CF