Photobooks of 2021: Alex Webb & Rebecca Norris Webb

Irina Rozovsky

Encampment, Wyoming—Selections from the Lora Webb Nichols Archive: 1899-1948; Edited by Nicole Jean Hill, Fw: Books

Lora Webb Nichols’ photograph of her husband—wan and half-clothed in the throes of the 1918 flu—seems eerily contemporary, as if it were a bedside scene from our current pandemic. Looking at Nichols’ intimate portraits of her Wyoming community, beautifully sequenced by scholar and photographer Nicole Jean Hill, one can’t help feel a tinge of sadness, wondering how many other women photographers have been overlooked—and sadly will continue to be.

American Geography by Matt Black, Thames & Hudson

Matt Black’s powerful and compelling American Geography explores some of the poorest parts of the United States: small towns and the hollowed-out edges of cities. His stark, atmospheric, and formally striking black-and-white photographs capture the physical as well as the emotional desolation of these places.

Amma by Vasantha Yoganathan, Chose Commune

Amma is the final volume in a seven-book series by Vasantha Yoganathan, A Myth of Two Souls, a visual retelling of the ancient Sanskrit epic, The Ramayana. The hyperreal hand-painted images—some a collaboration with artist Jaykumar Shankar, who painted on Yoganathan’s black-and-white photographs—lend the book an otherworldly quality befitting this myth. Sixty tipped-in images sometimes unexpectedly lift up from the page, winglike, when one leafs through the book.

Golden Apple of the Sun by Teju Cole, Mack

Teju Cole thoughtfully brings together words and photographs in this meditation on still life, hunger, domesticity, art, and poetry—his creative response to the unsettling fall of 2020. Unposed still lifes of his kitchen counter resonate with the quietude of our domestic rituals during sequestration, and, in Cole’s words “this stillness, this inwardness, is part of our survival.” 

One Star and a Dark Voyage by Barbara Bosworth, TIS

This book’s haunting cover photograph of four severed hands in the landscape stopped me in my tracks, confounding and disturbing me, even after I learned that they weren’t human appendages, but bear claws. Beautiful and foreboding, Barbara Bosworth’s photographs take us on an elegiac journey through the northern landscape, her way of coming to terms with a friend’s violent death.

India by Harry Gruyaert, Thames & Hudson

Over the years, many of Harry Gruyeart’s deeply evocative color photographs of India have appeared in various collections of his work. However, in his new book, India—the result of more than thirty years of work—we finally get to experience the true richness of his photographic exploration of this complicated country.

In Plain Air by Irina Rozovsky, Mack

Irina Rozovsky’s color photographs of Prospect Park strike a chord, given the solace this Frederick Law Olmsted-designed green space has offered so many Brooklynites during the pandemic. Her lyrical twilight scenes—particularly the one featuring a boy with a blue balloon—continue to linger long after the book is closed, bringing to mind those neighborhood children dawdling at the edge of Prospect Park, pleading to remain in all that green just a little bit longer.

Portraits 1910-1932 by John Alinder, Dewi Lewis

A lesser-known contemporary of Mike Disfarmer and August Sander, John Alinder photographed the rural community of Sävasta, Sweden, where he was born into a farming family. Evidence of his life-long residence in the small village, the portraits are often playful and intimate, with the sense of being mysteriously suspended in time, not unlike Alinder’s portrait of two young women seemingly floating in a tree.

Alex Webb has published seventeen books including The Suffering of Light, his survey book of thirty years of his color photography, and most recently, Brooklyn: The City Within, a collaboration with Rebecca Norris Webb, his wife and creative partner. His upcoming joint book with Rebecca, Waves, a pandemic logbook on Cape Cod, will be released in spring 2022.

Rebecca Norris Webb often interweaves text and photographs in her eight books, including My Dakota—an elegy for her brother who died unexpectedly—and most recently Night Calls, in which she retraced the route of some of her now 101-year-old country doctor father’s house calls through the same rural county where they both were born. 

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In Plain Air by Irina Rozovsky, Mack
American Geography by Matt Black, Thames & Hudson

Matt Black