Given my residence in the middle of the middle of the U.S., I generally don’t start zeroing in on photobooks of interest until yearly best-of lists start popping up in December, but I traveled a good deal this year and managed to see more extraordinary books in 2023 than in any year in recent memory. So much so that it’s difficult to whittle a list down to merely 10 books. With that caveat, these are the books I spent the most time with, and, more importantly, look forward to spending more time with in the future.
The End Sends Advance Warning by Todd Hido, Nazraeli Press
I sat up most of the night in a Paris hotel room, lost in the foothills of sleep and staring into these photos with a growing sense of slack-jawed wonder, terror, and exaltation. Hido has created a sort of backwards Bible, with the Book of Revelations slowly dissolving into Genesis. TESAW is a dark night of the soul followed by a burst of shattering light, a Carl Jung fever dream that breaks again and again into ecstatic epiphanies. It’s a shapeshifting, freeze-frame document of life on this exquisite and punishing planet, a tenderizer and a call to attention. There is care and thought and love on every page. It broke me wide open.
Dormant Season by Erinn Springer, Charcoal Press
I felt a pure and immediate connection with this work, and returned to it dozens of times over the last year. I recognize its world (and the best photobooks are a world to me) and the people who inhabit it. Like much of the art I respond to most viscerally, Springer has mastered that super tricky sweet spot between tough and tender.
The Inhabitants by Raymond Meeks & George Weld, Mack
A strange, beautiful, and wildly allusive/elusive book, and maybe the most audacious thing Meeks has ever attempted. It took me a long time to crack, and I initially spent a lot of time puzzling over some of the choices that were made—right down to the choice of paper—but I’ve learned to trust that Raymond is in complete control of his projects, however slippery and instinctive those choices (and that control) might sometimes appear. It’s always a good thing when I find myself wanting to spend more time with a photobook, to the point that I really am approaching it as an act of reading.
All three of these beautiful and mysterious books are full of the sorts of images and synaptic brushfires that routinely ambush me as I’m stumbling around in the middle of the night looking for the insomniac’s approximation of what the normals call dreams. I love books that make me feel like I’m going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. (Trespasser had a really good year, and I could easily have included any of their other books on this list.)
Coming and Going by Jim Goldberg, Mack
A dense and astonishing document and archive from one of my heroes. I feel like you could dust this book and come up with enough of Goldberg’s sui generis DNA to build a replicant in your basement. Coming and Going is a continent, and I’m certain I’ll still be exploring this book five years from now.
You Will Look to the Mountains by Anne Rearick, Deadbeat Club
A refreshing and refreshingly non-gonzo gaze into Appalachia, which is apparently a lot harder to pull off than it should be. Rearick took these photos more than 30 years ago, and she managed to capture the enduring sense of community and tradition that is such an important part of American identity and mythology. Unflinching, clear-eyed humanism at its best. A really nice companion to Dormant Season.
Wires Crossed by Ed Templeton, Aperture
This book was a revelation to me. I’m sort of embarrassed to admit that, though I’ve long admired Templeton’s photography, I knew nothing about his legendary skateboarding career. In fact, I knew absolutely nothing about skateboarding. That all changed with this extraordinary, endlessly fascinating, and—God help me—educational book. I spent two days hunched over it in hotel rooms, airports, and aboard planes. I was spellbound, but also had the sense that I have unmistakably wasted my life.
Park Place: Out West by David Heberlein, George F. Thompson Publishing
The Midwest is full of terrific photographers whose work exists outside the long shadow of the noisy world of art book fairs and social media. David Heberlein is one such—a guy who taught for years and just kept going out and taking beautiful, carefully composed photos, without, apparently (to paraphrase Isak Dineson), hope or despair. Park Place comprises more than 25 years of photos Heberlein made in American’s National Parks and public lands, and it’s a quiet and quietly subversive body of work that sort of screams old school, which is something I think the photo world could use more of.
Brad Zellar is a writer who frequently works with photographs (and photographers). His most recent novel is Till the Wheels Fall Off (Coffee House Press).
top - Dormant Season by Erinn Springer, Charcoal Press
below - Wires Crossed by Ed Templeton, Aperture