Photobooks of 2023: Blake Andrews

Loisaida. New York Street Work 1984-1990

Here are ten photobooks from the past twelve months which caught my eye, listed roughly in order of publication beginning in December 2022.

Ginganiumeru: Release Into The Galaxy by Kenta Nakamura, ZA

This psychedelic joyride carves out a wild niche in a sometimes stale photobook scene. But fuck me if I can describe it. Subjects and styles come and go, mixing commercial and personal, clear and obtuse, fantasy and reality. Some pictures are rotated or inverted. Most are layered into patterned background comprised of other images. Throw in an illegible Gaudi-esque font and it’s all kinda nuts, but in a good way.

Guest Register by Penny Wolin, Crazy Woman Creek

Guest Register collects Wolin’s portraits from the St. Francis Hotel in 1975. The pictures are wonderful, and the offbeat captions might be even better. Taken together they describe daily activities, possessions, and dreams of old Hollywood’s SRO subculture. A throwback to the freewheeling seventies which still feels relevant, this oversized hardcover was more than 40 years in the making.

Bedfellow by Carolyn Tompkins, Palm Studios

Bedfellow explores Tompkins’ desires, fears, and sexual attractions. Those subjects might be vanilla if photographed by others. But her photos are eclectic and surprising. They’re rooted in personal experience, as is her frank and funny intro (probably my favorite text of any 2023 photobook). As a male reader, this book gave me a fresh perspective on relationships, sex, and associated anxieties.

Juggling Is Easy by Peggy Nolan, TBW

Finally, a family photobook which speaks the unvarnished truth: domestic life is chaos. Nolan’s photos show her Florida family bouncing off the walls with restless vitality. As a dad who enjoys photographing my own kids, Juggling Is Easy falls right in my wheelhouse. This one should appeal to other parent-photographers, and anyone else who appreciates life’s minor absurdities.

Wires Crossed by Ed Templeton, Aperture

Decades in the making, Wires Crossed collects Ed Templeton’s diaristic impressions of the American skateboarding scene 1995 - 2012. Templeton was at the heart of it for much of that time, and his photos provide an insider’s view of a tight subculture. Photos and drawings are spiced with his trademark flourishes including handwritten notes, doodles, maps, and overpaintings. This is the skateboarding magnum opus you've been waiting for.

Swimmers by Larry Sultan, Mack

Swimmers collects underwater pool photos made by Sultan circa 1980. The improbable postures and permutations of swimmers are disorienting. Refraction, reflection, currents, and bubbles send them into surreal territory. Belying the subject, the colors are desaturated and set against black matte pages. According to Sultan, “they were made at a time when I found that much of my artistic activity was cut off from my body.” In an increasingly guarded world, Swimmers recalls a bygone era of public exposure and rituals.

P. North by Kathryn McCool, Perimeter Books

Who the heck is Kathryn McCool, and why have I not heard of her before? That’s what I kept asking myself as I first paged through her astonishing debut P.North. Photographic voices this assured and distinctive do not just fall from the sky. They usually take years to mature. But McCool was still a young woman when she shot these laser-sharp portraits in the 1980s and 90s. She may have taken her time getting them published, but the wait was worth it.

These Americans by Will Vogt, Schilt

These Americans is a fun romp along America’s wealthy cocktail/hunting circuit, courtesy of amateur shutterbug Vogt. It collects 130 photos from a 27 year period, all fleeting and lively. The book’s title, size, and design pay homage to Robert Frank, but this is not the perspective of an exiled wanderer. Instead, Vogt enjoyed the ultimate insider’s view. His fly-on-the-wall snapshots of high society are unfiltered and revelatory.

Ordinary Things Will Be Signs For Us by Corita Kent, J&L

Sister Mary Corita Kent became famous as a serigrapher and teacher. But she was also a compulsive photographer. Ordinary Things is a retrospective of sorts, and the first to focus solely on her photos. But since it comes from J & L, this is not a dry treatise. The curation and design are whimsical and spirited. Corita’s pictures dance across LA, sampling from public life, private events, and poking sly fun at the waning strictures of Catholicism. The resulting book is not just a salute to Corita. It’s a celebration of life in general. 

Loisaida: New York Street Work 1984–1990 by Tria Giovan, Damiani

NYC has been shot to death by millions of photographers, but there is always more to uncover. Just when you think you’ve see it all, a book like Loisaida appears. After wading through old archives during the pandemic, Giovan collected her impressions from the early 1980s, when she was a newly settled twenty-something in the Lower East Side (hint: say the title slowly). Needless to say the neighborhood looked and felt much different than it does now. Her statuesque frames capture a lost era, with a great instinct for light, color, and vantage. 

Blake Andrews is a photographer and writer based in Eugene, Oregon. (IG: @swerdnaekalb)


top - Loisaida: New York Street Work 1984–1990 by Tria Giovan, Damiani
below - Juggling Is Easy by Peggy Nolan, TBW

Juggling Is Easy by Peggy Nolan, TBW