Photobooks of 2021: Brad Feuerhelm

 Martin Kollar

It would be first and foremost important to recognize that Gilles Peress Book Whatever You Say, Say Nothing published by Steidl is a once in a decade publication. It is hard to put it on lists for two reasons. The first is that, despite the Annals of the North being affordable, the full set on a whole is not, which makes it exclusive and that is unfortunate given the incredible strength of such a publication on an important matter such as The Troubles in Ireland. It still resonates today as Britain and Brexit put old uncomfortable topics back on the table. Second to expense, the power of the book is levels above anything that I saw this year. There is nothing “quasi” about the political position within the work. There is no convenient posturing. Peress was there. If you want topics about colonialism, imperial power, murder, and control, look no further. So, long story long, I am not going to include it on this list and let it hover like a silent necrotic ghost.

I am also going to point out that I am not going to list reprint or catalog volumes here. The Paul Graham re-issues, The Friedlander MAPFRE catalog, and the Eikoh Hosoe and the Chizu books are incredible, but I want to give room to new monographs here. I am also not promoting books in which I had text as I am too partial but do get Alejandro Cartagena and Rita Lino’s new books. I am also not showcasing my own book Mondo Decay (Witty Kiwi), but to point out, I think its decent, but more importantly, the soundtrack is killer.

These choices are in no particular order:

There is Nothing New Under The Sun by Kata Geibel, VOID

Despite having a slight wince at seeing “Capitalist Realism” on the brightly covered book cover fearing it might be a bit obvious, I was happy to open this gem relieved that the supporting photographs and text held up for the most part. The images themselves are spectacular and though I do feel the in-vogue assertions about camera production and usage diagrammed inside to be a bit overseen, the book, despite my personal “mehs” on those topics is pretty exceptional and deserves its place on the list for the year.

5 Dollars for 3 Minutes by Cammie Toloui, VOID

How can you not find this on your list this year would be beyond me. An incredibly strong book about Cammie and her sex-positive role as erotic entertainer captured by her intimate and striking photographs from behind the side of the glass marked “observed”. Having spoken to the firebrand that is Cammie for Nearest Truth, all the strong commentary at the base of the work is present in the authors conveyance of the matters at…hand. This is João Linneu from VOIDs finest design hour yet.

After by Martin Kollar, Mack

A very difficult and deeply complex arrangement of images that bear the weight of Kollar’s personal loss of his partner to suicide. In typical Kollar fashion, the arangment of images feels like lost film stills and that in itself is part of the complex narrative of the story found within. As far as I am concerned, Kollar is one of the leading image-makers of his generation. It has been an honor to catch up with him this year.

In Plain Air by Irina Rozovsky, Mack

A completely overlooked book I feel. Though it had some traction earlier in the year, having gone back over it in detail with Nearest Truth Workshop participants this autumn in Athens only reminded me of its beauty and significance as we alight in a world adrift in acrimony and chaos. The images and the park provide a place for much needed rest.

The Local by Nick Meyer, Mack

This is another book that should have picked up much more traction than it did. Nick’s somber investigation into the people and shifting landscape of America in an era of the opioid epidemic, Trump, and general self-doubt should be much more visible and heralded. The images are stellar and the book on a whole is tight and considered.

Material by Jet Swan, Loose Joints

A sublime foray into local portraiture. Jet, working with subjects just outside her door, manages to make the common experience of the studio portrait heightened with ethereal and miasma-like interlude with her sitters. It is a compelling book full of surprises between the portraits themselves that questions the female gaze, fashion, and social construct.

I Can’t Stand to See You Cry by Rahim Fortune, Loose Joints

A deep and penetrating look at family, loss, and local community in the young artist’s world. The book is tender and reminds one of Mark Steinmetz at his best. I expect great things from Rahim and this book is clearly indicative of the artist becoming of a inspiring image-maker.

Future Memories by Taiyo Onorato/Nico Krebs, Edition Patrick Frey

Thinking obtusely through the contemporary moment, the artists have engaged in a multi-volume project to be released over the next years with the publisher that will explore, in a series of up-to-date reflections, the contemporary political, technological, and social moment in each release. The idea of the future and how it is and has been changing over the post-millennium years is significant as it exists in a state of flux and potential dystopia. Mark Fisher having written widely about culture, technology, politics, and the future is a good starting point for thinking through TONK’s new book.

Amma by Vasantha Yogananthan, Chose Commune

A celebrated ending to a durational long-standing 7-book project that should cement Yogananthan’s place in the book of books. Inspired again by eastern history and mysticism, Yogananthan’s final chapter considers the form of purity in the legend of The Ramayana. It is a final chapter that, in the tradition of Yogananthan’s other books celebrates neither finality nor certainty.

Town of C by Richard Rothman, Stanley Barker

I was not familiar with Rothman previous to this work. Every page of this book surrenders to an unnervingly beautiful scale of place and people. There are no answers to the work and one can assume that it is an aggregate of disparate photographs all tied under the theme of a subjectivized projection of a place and people in Rothman’s world. The Town of C is the Town of Rothman. Some of the images display a deep stillness unseen since the great images of Wright Morris, their poetic valor softened by interior spaces bathed in window light and white glowing bodies The subjects in Rothman’s world  are illuminated by a granite or marble cast that makes each individual, unmovable and stoic.

This Land by Martin Amis, Photo Editions

Having written about the work before, I feel that Amis is onto something new and sincere in his brooding and lyrical photographs of his native Britain. I am reminded of a deep melancholy that pervades the land and, in this state, I am reminded of how the familiar can be marginalized, grafted, and changed into something profound that escapes banality. It is a strong offering and a shift in Amis’s work that I hope will continue.

The Hero Mother by Peter Puklus, Witty

This book has been a long time in the coming. I have seen variations of the work through Image Vevey and think Puklus is a great master of the medium. His work defies easy explanation, and he draws deeply from his native Hungarian environment. Puklus’s images remind me of the towering might of modernist photography and the concerns of the world 100 years ago which have remined unchanged-namely art, family, home, and image. It is a great follow up to SPBH book a few years ago

The Missing Eye by Mattia Parodi and Piergorgio Sorgetti, Witty

Another great book of esoteric monochrome images that feel like they were produced from the backside of the human retina. Though we are slightly awash in these types of images from Elena Helfrecht, Tereza Zelenkova, and Hausthor & Guilmoth, there is room for similar investigations to be produced. The printing of the book and the strange doubling of the uncanny in these images makes for a powerful work.

Ursula by Hannah Whitaker, Image Text Ithaca

I had previously thought that Whitaker’s work verged on being too formulaic for me, that there was a compunction to treat formalism without conceptual rigor as something to be overlooked. Ursula defies that and proves that my assertions were, if not unfair observations, lacking in seeing the potential of Whitaker’s progression. Ursula is the aggregate message in this. Though still strikingly formal, Whitaker moves us through the future, asks us to consider psychedelia and sci-fi tropes and asks us how we interpret them in the current moment where technology has reached a zenith point in which the very concepts laying at the heart of sci-fi are now coming to fruition.

Archivo de la Memoria Trans Argentina, CHACO

A vernacular investigation of the trans community in Argentina. This books sold thousands of copies this year and was nominated for the Aperture First Photobook award. It is a compelling investigation into the life of anonymous and known Trans individuals in Argentina over the past 60 years. It is a rich visual document and it has been handled sensitively and with great consideration.

Brad Feuerhelm is the Managing Editor of Nearest Truth podcast and American Suburb X. He runs Nearest Truth Workshops and his most recent book Mondo Decay and album (w/members of Algiers) was released by Witty Books, in 2021.

After by Martin Kollar, Mack
Material by Jet Swan, Loose Joints

Jet Swan