Photobooks of 2021: Alys Tomlinson

The Essential Solitude by Tereza Zelenkova, Void

Given the ongoing unpredictability when it comes to travel and printing, I’m amazed that so many fine books were published in 2021. This is far from an exhaustive list and there are many great titles I haven’t yet seen in person, but here are some of my standouts:

Coming Up For Air: Stephen Gill A Retrospective by Stephen Gill, Nobody Books in association with Arnolfini

I was blown away by Gill’s expansive and impressive exhibition at the Arnolfini in Bristol, UK. It was an insight not only into his inventiveness, but also charted the history and evolution of his practice. His photography is always surprising and his eye for detail and the everyday is continually fascinating. From animal night processions to discarded betting slips and lipstick-stained cigarette butts, this is a comprehensive, inspiring study of his work to date.

Street Portraits by Dawoud Bey
, Mack

I get lost in these black and white portraits, mostly taken in Brooklyn NY in the late1980s. What comes across is a realness and affection for those photographed on the streets by Bey. Posing in doorways, against walls, on railings and bikes, the portraits are dignified and strong. There is an ease to the way he photographs his subjects, all shot on large format (including polaroids) but never looking staged or directed. The glossy printing is exquisite, with rich blacks and gorgeous tones.

Quinn by Lottie Davies, Self-published/Mutton Row Books

This is a big idea contained within a small, delicate book. Quinn is a fictional character created by Davies and the book follows his story in post-war Britain as he travels across vast, imposing landscapes, searching for meaning and his place in the world. It speaks of our relationship with nature, the transitory notion of time, memory and loss. Davies has also ingeniously included a QR code in the book, where you can hear Quinn’s narration of his own story, creating an immersive photobook experience. 


Portraits 1910-32 by John Alinder, Dewi Lewis

I only recently discovered the work of Alinder, who documented his friends and family in a small village in Sweden over a hundred years ago. Shot using large format, glass plates, the monochrome portraits are tender and warm and depict the young and old from a variety professions, backgrounds and classes. It’s a tribute to Alinder's community and the dappled light and rural settings lend a magical feel to many of the photographs. 


Home Movie by Paddy Summerfield, Dewi Lewis

Gritty, grainy and disturbing, Summerfield’s book packs a punch. It’s a visceral, raw document of a chequered and rich life. While ‘Mother and Father' was a tribute to his parents, this feels like you’re diving deep into a personal diary. Raw and arresting, the images speak of desire, suffering and salvation. The viewer becomes a voyeur in this confusing, dark world, occasionally punctuated by the hope of open meadows and sunlight. 


Kanaval by Leah Gordon, Here Press

I came across Gordon’s book while I was researching my own current project. Shot on an old Rolleicord twin lens reflex camera, she documented participants in festivals and carnivals in Haiti over several years. Many of the costumes are mythical, others surreal and absurd. Gordon is part anthropologist, writer, curator and filmmaker and spends long periods of time carrying out research on location. Essays serve to contextualise the portraits, which are carefully composed and culturally revealing. 

The Essential Solitude by Tereza Zelenkova, Void

With it’s sumptuous, rich green and gold cover, this is a haunting book of black and white photographs taken at the historic Dennis Severs’ House in Spitalfields, London. Zelenkova is clearly a deep thinker, particularly influenced by French literature and literary references and excerpts close the book. The images take you to a space that confounds time, one imbued with memory, decay, ruin and the beauty found in solitude. 

This Land by Martin Amis, Photo Editions

With an understated and elegant design by Tom Booth Woodger, these thoughtful photographs invite the viewer to re-consider their relationship with nature. There’s a stillness and quietness to the images - small observations take in the texture of the land, making you think that Amis is not just walking through the land, but is walking with it. There is a loneliness that permeates the photographs, but also a deep affection for and understanding of the power of landscape. 


Alys Tomlinson is a photographer based in London. She is most interested in the relationship between people and place, working on long-term projects that explore themes of environment, identity and belonging. Alys’s monograph ‘Ex-Voto’ was published by GOST Books in 2019. ‘Lost Summer’ was self-published in late 2020 and the work was awarded the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2020.

The Essential Solitude by Tereza Zelenkova, Void
Portraits 1910-32 by John Alinder, Dewi Lewis