Photobooks of 2023: Robin Titchener

Undertow by Damien Daufresne, Blow Up Press

Every year finding beautiful new books is never a problem. Finding ones that offer that beauty but also stimulate and surprise at the same time, that force me to continue to find space on the shelves, well those….

Here are twelve of my favourites from this year, each of them worthy of asking the others on those shelves to squeeze up a bit.

The Dialogue of Two by Akihito Yoshida, self-published

Yoshida’s elegant and heartbreaking coda to his 2017 masterpiece The Absence of Two. Another handmade triumph produced in a tiny edition of 49 copies, in collaboration with Reminders Project Japan. The first instalment was given a commercial release and I can only hope the same opportunity is granted to this sequel.

Undertow by Damien Daufresne, Blow Up Press

A stunning example of visual poetry. The collision and the seamless intertwining of two artistic mediums. In Undertow, Daufresne's energetic abstract charcoals engage perfectly with his dreamlike photographic evocations of childhood, family and the flow of life. A genuinely beautiful book

Depravity’s Rainbow by Lewis Bush, self-published

Redemption and contrition. Are a person’s good deeds enough to erase their bad ones? Bush’s mesmeric document cites the life of Wernher von Braun, a naturalised American citizen whose work with the US space program was integral to putting men on the moon but was in stark contrast to his early life as a member of the German SS, building missiles for the military war machine.

O by Luis Alberto Rodriguez, Loose Joints

The poetry of movement and dance is conspicuous in several titles on my list this year. This darkly austere beauty juxtaposes a truly democratic series of sculpturally contorted nudes and portraits against a sequence of a falling china cup. A comment - and I quote - on the “oscillating between power and a loss of control.”

Day for Night by Toshio Shibata, Deadbeat Club

Not all is as it seems in this collection of monochrome images from renowned landscape photographer Toshio Shibata. An elegant understated release from independent publisher Deadbeat Club. The clue is in the title.

Gloryland by Robert LeBlanc, Setanta

In amongst all the lyrical and beautiful studies of remote communities and lifestyles out there, are occasionally one or two with real bite. This brilliantly conceived photobook from LeBlanc takes us into the American Appalachian mountains and invites into the world of the last West Virginia serpent-handling church. Designed to replicate a family Bible, this is the first commercially available version of LeBlanc’s limited gallery edition. An examination of a disappearing evangelical lifestyle, and a collection of photographs which just have to be seen to be believed.

Monument by Trent Parke, Stanley/Barker

I don’t think I’ll be surprising many people by predicting that this is likely to make it on to many lists. Parke is truly the bookmaker with the Midas touch of the moment and his run of universally praised books continues with this - as its name suggests - monumental publication, his third collaboration with publishers Stanley Barker. I just hope you have preordered the highly anticipated second (or now third) edition.

The Drawer by Vince Aletti, SPBH

Aletti is a New York based collector, curator and writer. The Drawer (which was actually released in the latter part of 2022) is collection of collages culled and constructed from decades worth of clippings, ephemera and magazine pages fastidiously compiled and stored in his apartment. A unique and intensely personal dissection of the “complexity and variety of desire, personal and collective histories”.

Where the Spirit Meets The Bone by Monique Belier, self-published

The second book on the list to take its inspiration from the world of dance is this stunning debut from Dutch photographer Monique Belier. A former dancer herself, this achingly elegant hand finished release captures the spirit and abandon of a performer's private world, as observed by an artist that clearly speaks their physical language fluently. Shades of Penn's studio work and Meeks' mastery of natural settings. A beautiful introduction to a fresh new talent.

Coming and Going by Jim Goldberg, Mack

A new work from Goldberg is always an eagerly anticipated event, and this colossal publication from Mack is no different. Coming and Going is the artist's intensely personal and cathartic autobiography. Goldberg's signature blend of photography, collage and text are utilized to a both dizzying and breathtakingly energetic effect in this pyrotechnic dissection of a life.  

Country Girls by Anna Fox and Alison Goldfrapp, Here Press

Part photobook part performance piece, Country Girls is a slipcased set of four booklets featuring a collaborative work from photographer Fox and singer Goldfrapp. Taking inspiration from the tale of a gruesome nineteenth century murder of a young girl, Country Girls is not only a series of staged vignettes (or tableaux) but a clear statement  recalling personal intimidating memories of growing up in a small provincial English town, whilst also decrying society's continuing threat of violence against women.

Tender by Carla Williams

An exploration of the evolution of self, culled from memories created and stored in a box for decades. In some respects Tender has certain parallels to Talia Chetrit's seminal Showcaller. Both are powerful, intensely personal debuts, but whilst Chetrit's is undeniably more visceral and explicit, Williams' Tender draws on a subtler but equally affecting and personal archive spanning her years from adolescence to adulthood. At the heart of both however, there is an element of performance and  theatricality ingrained at their core. Chetrit is Tarantino dialled up to eleven, whilst Williams’ beautiful closer to this list, is a tonal meditation with a quiet stillness worthy of Ozu. There really could not have been any more appropriate title than Tender.

Robin Titchener is a photobook collector. He also runs his own review site and has contributed to numerous international publications, online photography platforms and magazines.

top - Undertow by Damien Daufresne, Blow Up Press
below - Where the Spirit Meets The Bone by Monique Belier, self-published

Where the Spirit Meets The Bone by Monique Belier, self-published