Photobooks of 2023: Mark Power

 Men Untitled by Carolyn Drake, TBW

In no particular order, other than alphabetical:

The Good Citizen by Benjamin Rasmussen, GOST

Tour-de-force research on the impact of US history on contemporary society, and a reflection on the ultimate purpose of photography (speculative answer: Surveillance). The subject is vast and overwhelming, so to aid both artist and reader the book is divided into five chapters, each introduced by splendid essays by Frank H. Wu. Of course, gaps fall between the largely unrelated chapter headings (Violence, Exclusion, Archetype, Beauty and Whiteness, and Surveillance) but this book should be read, and re-read, by everyone interested in what the United States is today, and in what it might become.

Men Untitled by Carolyn Drake, TBW

To begin at the end, ‘The Epilogue’ (which is partially hidden at the back) gives us some history - a context in which to read the book - which is important since the work is so complex. 

‘Men Untitled’ is a powerful diatribe on masculinity and the advantages it affords, but it’s also introspective and compassionate. The portraits - inventive and beautiful - appear to be collaborations, but Carolyn is always in control. I look and wonder how she persuaded so many men - strangers and friends - to reveal their bodies to her camera. But not all are naked; the ‘centrefold’, Wallace (who sadly didn’t live to see the book published) hangs upside-down, shackled by his feet, with what appears to be a cable release in his hand. Wallace is clothed in the same regalia Carolyn wears in a self-portrait at the beginning of the sequence.


Wires Crossed by Ed Templeton, Aperture

When I was a teacher of undergraduate photography I saw more than my fair share of skateboarding pictures, and most weren’t good. In response, the challenge I’d set down would always be the same: make pictures of skateboarding that will make someone who isn’t interested in skateboarding (ie: me) want to look at them. I see now that my request was born out of selfishness, but it was seldom answered anyway.

Ed’s book, on the other hand, does exactly what I’d asked. While there are shades of Peter Beard, Bill Burke, Larry Clark, Robert Frank and Jim Goldberg throughout, it’s the subject and its subculture that shines through. In the course of 70 years, skateboarding has evolved from a surfing replacement when the seas were flat, to an Olympic sport, but for most kids it’s neither of these. Templeton is able to introduce us to the punk-infused, hedonistic lifestyle of skaters in the 1990s and early 2000s because he was part of it himself, and at a professional level at that.

Paraíso by Emiliano Zúñiga Hernández, Trespasser

For a long time Costa Rica has been at the top of my bucket list of places to visit, although the older I get and the less interested in long-distance travel I become, realising this dream is becoming increasingly unlikely. 

The Costa Rica presented by Emiliano bears little resemblance to the island in my imagination, which is one of the reasons why I like this book so much. That, and the fact that it contains some of the most memorable pictures I’ve seen this year. A beautiful production, with exemplary printing on uncoated paper, which is never easy to achieve.

Coming and Going by Jim Goldberg, 

Decades in the making, fantastically ambitious in scale and intention, and refreshingly honest. I’ve been lucky to have seen a number of manifestations of this work over the years and, mostly, I watched it grow ever more unwieldy. But somehow this book works because Jim is a genius at making sense of chaos while never losing its rough edges or its original and instinctive energy. Beyond that, there’s not much to be said about this book that hasn’t already been said, although, looking back at my Instagram post the day it arrived in the mail, I see that I simply wrote: “YOU REALLY DO NEED THIS.” Enough said.

Glad Tidings of Benevolence by Moises Saman, GOST

A history book for historians of the future, this is sure to have them disagreeing over what ‘the facts’ are, as well as how they should be interpreted. A complex and intense survey of Moises’ 20 years of work in Iraq, this is a book that demands many readings simply because it contains too much to absorb in one go. Mixing his trademark quality pictures, exhaustive texts, redacted official transcripts, lists of casualties and much more, Moises muses on his own role as a maker of images of conflict: ’My photographs are not intended to represent an objective account of the Iraq war against which to compare the texts. Rather, the book grapples with my own role and power as a narrator – particularly one with access to foreign publications – and the biases and limitations inevitably embedded in my work.’

Being There by Omar Victor Diop x The Anonymous Project, Textuel

A selection of Lee Shulman’s vast collection of anonymous, vernacular Kodachromes gatecrashed by self-portraitist Omar Diop. The images, from the 50s and 60s (post-war segregationist America) are both disturbing and light/humorous (to which, in the opening text Diop responds “Just because the subject is serious doesn’t mean it can’t be funny!” It is, he adds, a ‘conversation starter’ which is intended to provoke a reaction). 

Shulman’s idea to invite Diop to collaborate began when he noticed the number of empty chairs in the snapshots, apparently vacated by the anonymous photographer. I love this as a pretext, but the work really came alive when I thought about, then read about, the technical difficulties of achieving each of these composites: the clothes, the lighting, the poses, the post-production, and the flaws added “to make the result look more natural, more imperfectly perfect.”

Fashion by Paul Kooiker, Art Paper Editions

Whenever Paul Kooiker produces a book it’s included in my top ten, but this could well be his best. Certainly there are echoes of Hans Belmer, Paul Outerbridge Jr, Irving Penn, Brian Griffin and even Joel-Peter Within, but it’s Kooiker and his endless creativity that dominates throughout this marvellous book. I spent an uninterrupted hour looking carefully at every picture, and was exhausted by the end, such is the complexity of so many. I'm assuming these are all commercial assignments for exclusive fashion brands (don’t let that put you off) but the book is wrapped in a cover of the cheapest, most basic material, belying the luxury inside. Perfection.

From the Heads of the Hollers by Shelby Lee Adams, GOST

Pictures made in the mountains of East Kentucky, where Adams was raised, over a period of 40 years. He photographed the same people - and often several generations of the same families - over and over again, making this, in the truest sense, a lifetime’s work.

I’ve owned and admired a copy of Adams’ ‘Appalachians Portraits’ for 30 years, so I was really excited to see this new book. I wasn’t disappointed; it’s big (intentionally a nod to Avedon’s ‘In the American West’) and beautifully printed, but better still was the discovery that none of the pictures, all made with a 5x4 camera, have been published before.

A Creature Obeys a Creature That Wants by Tom Griggs, Mesæstándar

Part-novella, part-photobook, and collectively a rich and deeply moving reflection on family and the traits that repeat themselves through generations. The prime subject is Griggs’s father (and, sometimes, his grandfather) combining family photographs, scribbled notes about, for instance, proof of God’s love, Tom's own images and, perhaps best of all, some achingly beautiful prose (written by Griggs) which refuse to follow a conventional timeline. If you buy this book please make time to read these words; they add layer upon layer to the pictures, and make us ponder on our own parental relationships.

Mark Power is a British photographer and a member of Magnum Photos. 'Good Morning, America (Volume IV)', his 16th book, will be published shortly.

top -  Men Untitled by Carolyn Drake, TBW
below - Glad Tidings of Benevolence by Moises Saman, GOST 

Glad Tidings of Benevolence by Moises Saman, GOST