Photobooks of 2023: Aaron Schuman

The Artist’s Books by Francesca Woodman, Mack

Well, it’s that time of year, and yet again I am astounded by just how prolific, vibrant, varied, meaningful and moving both the culture and community of photography books is; my shelves keep groaning and yet, week upon week and month upon month, I just can’t help myself. Many thanks to everyone out there for your genuine commitment and dedication, for expanding and enriching my mind, my experience, my understanding and my imagination, and for providing endless awe and inspiration. Here are just a few of my many favorites from 2023:

Real Estate by Lee Friedlander, Eakins Press

I’m a sucker for pretty much any Friedlander book - especially when printed by the legendary Eakins Press Foundation – and every page of this tome packs an enormous punch; endlessly complex, intricate, thrillingly unpredictable, playful, meaningful, inspiring, and full of love for the visual world, the American social landscape, and the dizzying possibilities of the photographic frame. 

Madre by Marisol Mendez, Setanta

Family, religion, myth, Catholic iconography, Andean folklore, indigenous culture, personal history, matriarchal lineages, much-needed conversations and collaborative creative strategies are woven together in this incredibly dynamic and beautiful book, which interrogates, redefines, celebrates, and brings revelatory depth and revolutionary nuance to the question of what it means to be a womxn in Bolivia with an inherited past of colonisation, patriarchy and interlacing faiths and religions.


The Lottery by Melissa Catanese, Witty Books / The Ice Plant

Combining found vernacular and archival pictures with contemporary original photographs and well-established literary references in a way that is original, remarkably seamless and genuinely moving is no mean feat, and this book is absolutely masterful in its use of sequencing and imagery of all kinds to take the reader on a profoundly unique emotional rollercoaster of a trip that is both haunting and lasting. 


Seven Hills by Chris Hoare, RRB

A truly moving, revealing and deeply poetic tribute to the photographer’s hometown, filled with love, honesty and stirring tenderness, as well as subtle observations and insightful visual commentary on the histories, inequalities, racial tensions, gentrification, ever-widening economic disparities and class divides that are affecting not only his beloved city, but individuals, communities and societies throughout the world.


Ordinary Things Will Be Signs for Us by Corita Kent, J&L Books / Magic Hour Press

A Catholic nun from 1936 until 1968, the remarkable artist Corita Kent - formerly Sister Mary Corita - lived, worked and taught lettering, layout, image-finding, screen-printing, painting and art structure at Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles for twenty years. Fascinated by the visual culture, media landscape and material world that surrounded her, and dedicated to a "philosophy of looking" and what it might reveal both culturally and spiritually, she made thousands of photographic slides of the things she saw, to be used as references in her own artwork and discussion points in her classrooms. This book - beautifully edited, sequenced and designed with the spirit of Corita's lessons and life firmly in mind - invites us to participate and play within her expansive curriculum of curiosity, creativity and close-observation, and resolutely proves that she still has so much to teach us.

The Artist’s Books by Francesca Woodman, Mack

In a letter from December 1979, Francesca Woodman wrote, “I’m making more books w/ transparent images overlaid them. I really feel like they make sense and are pretty interesting which is a nice change from that queasy feeling I so often feel. Every one says that you cant exhibit books and my kind cost to much to print - but I’m nothing if not stubborn.” Transforming tattered nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century journals and notebooks that she collected from Roman bookshops and flea markets in the late 1970s into original artworks - by overlaying her own prints, transparencies, and written annotations upon their pages - Woodman lays bare her artistic process, passion, genius and dedication all at once, and with staggering intimacy, precision and intention. Here for the first time, we finally get to see and explore every page and detail of all eight of these unique artist’s books…need I say more; just incredible. 


Aaron Schuman is a photographer, writer, curator and educator. He is the author of several critically-acclaimed monographs, including Sonata (Mack, 2022),  Slant (Mack, 2019) and FOLK (NB, 2016), and regularly curates exhibitions and writes essays, interviews and texts for a wide variety of books, platforms, festivals, institutions and publications. Schuman is Associate Professor of Photography & Visual Culture and Programme Leader of MA Photography at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol).

top - The Artist’s Books by Francesca WoodmanMack
below - Real Estate by Lee Friedlander, Eakins Press

Real Estate by Lee Friedlander, Eakins Press