Photobooks of 2022: Tim Carpenter

Meadowlark by Ian Bates, Deadbeat Club Press

After slowly regaining a tentative foothold on “normal” life in 2021, photobook folks seem to have been happily hellbent on making up for lost time with spectacular offerings these past twelve or so months. My library and my person have been broadened and deepened this year by indispensable new books from old pros like Terri Weifenbach, Barbara Bosworth, Toshio Shibata, Vanessa Winship, Raymond Meeks, Andrea Modica (printing/production of the year award goes to TIS books), Ron Jude, Nathan Pearce, Aaron Schuman, Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb, Matthew Genitempo, Curran Hatleberg, Martin Amis, Gerry Johansson, Tom Lecky, and Matteo Di Giovanni.

And! We were gifted with new required reading from the formidable likes of Catherine Taylor, David Campany, Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa, and Stephen Shore.

The cup runneth over, as they say. In many ways, large and small. Because this year almost past felt like a fresh start, I’ve been particularly drawn to a handful of books that are either debuts or publications with smaller print runs. I am grateful to their makers.


Il Malocchio by Andrea Simonato, Kult Books

It translates as “the evil eye” but even the non-Italian speaker senses the malice lurking within both the title and the images. A gentle malevolence, I think: one that recognizes (and furthermore enacts) the darkly divided nature of the impulse to turn the world into pictures.

OBRAS by Sophie Barbasch, Penumbra Foundation

The “aboutness” of this book has to do with Brazil’s rural Northeast, a place “eternally stuck at the halfway point in a project that has been abandoned,” in the words of Bernardo Carvalho. But Sophie effortlessly (I say this knowing how difficult it is to be effortless) thwarts easy political or historical readings with pictures of an abiding tenderness made tough by the lowish-tech Risograph printing.

If I call stones blue it is because blue is the precise word by Joselito Vershaeve, VOID

Titles are important, and this is a great one, because through it Joselito asserts an entirely earned authorship (“Thou art not August, unless I make thee so,” a poet once wrote) that coheres the controlled and the fugitive in his otherwise inscrutably dense and beguiling pictures. With exquisite production to boot.

Easter Sunday and 7:31, an elegy by J Carrier, poppy-jem press

Two of the most sensitive hand-made objects this year came from the same person. Sensitive both to life as lived (a mighty task) and to the possibilities (and limitations) of photographs in book form. When I have friends over, these are the things I show them first.

Meadowlark by Ian Bates, Deadbeat Club Press

I’m on record as wondering when some photobook tropes will be exhausted – among them the genre of American medium-format color photographs of people, landscapes, and perhaps a few interiors. And then a book like Ian’s comes along and kicks my complacent butt, upending expectations (about both pictures and the world) with the openness and generosity of its vision.

Time = Color by Kevin Kunstadt, self-published

Alternative title: “Would You Mind Patching That Leak in my Green Channel?” Kevin is like a musician at the intersection of math rock and geek rock; a mere description of what he’s up to would, if you even technically understood it (I don’t), perhaps not sound all that interesting. But then you see the pictures and heretofore unknown possibilities spring to life.

Lost Pines by Barry Stone, self-published

For my money, Barry is – for a few years running now – the maker pushing the most fruitfully against the formal constraints of the photobook. But it’s always in service of the work, rather than design or production for its own sake. Lost Pines is an apparently impenetrable object that somehow manages to invite one into the claustrophobic confusion that follows a family tragedy. It’s a real accomplishment.

Orion by Doug Lowell, Loveheadhouse

I’ve known Doug and the pictures in this book for a more than a decade, and Orion makes the case for letting some things marinate for a while in order to find the structure necessary to their expression. The result is both tight and taut, the apposite formal vessel for a pitch-black (but ultimately affectionate) exploration of human impulse and exuberance. 

Memorare by Brian McSwain, Smog Press

My favorite photobooks show me over and over that – somehow, some way – another human self found a purchase on the actual that made sense, even if for just a moment. And that that sufficed. Memorare suffices.

Finally, although it was surely never intended by its author to be a photobook, PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE by Ray Johnson (Mack) must be mentioned. Seeing the show at the Morgan Library gently rocked my world, and it’s a minor miracle that designer Morgan Crowcroft-Brown managed to maintain the weird vitality of Johnson’s pictures in a book that will endlessly fascinate.


Tim Carpenter is a photographer, writer, and educator who works in Brooklyn and central Illinois. He is the author of several photobooks, among them Christmas Day, Bucks Pond Road; Local objects; Bement grain; and The king of the birds, as well as the book-length essay To photograph is to learn how to die.

Meadowlark by Ian Bates, Deadbeat Club Press
If I call stones blue it is because blue is the precise word by Joselito Vershaeve, VOID

If I call stones blue it is because blue is the precise word by Joselito Vershaeve