It is not lost on me what an indulgence it is to share with you some recent photobooks that have left their marks on me. Also not lost (never lost, I hope): the endlessly renewed miracle of glimpsing – in a book of photographs – the entanglement of an idiosyncratic fellow human being with the things and people of this world.
Although I saw much this past year, I regret that I did not see nearly enough. Here, in no particular order, are some photobooks that offered unexpected insight in 2023.
Over the years, Modica has been entirely convincing in her portraits of the kinds of people that she is clearly not: Native Americans, aspiring Major League Baseball players, and the Mummers of Philadelphia, to name a few. So it’s a revelation here to see the young photographer making pictures of her particular tribe, with her own combination of vulnerability and desire on full and disarming display. Catholic Girl strikes me as a sort of Rosetta Stone for a richer understanding of Modica’s life-long project.
High & Lonesome by Nathan Pearce, Deadbeat Club
Full disclosure: Nathan is a long-time friend, and I contributed some words for this book. I really tried, but (as is entirely fitting) I could find no adequate prose equivalent to the fully engaged and joyously (if also painfully) lived life on every page. This book, like its maker, is all chips in.
Resurfacing by Maude Arsenault, Deadbeat Club
Resurfacing, indeed. A deeply unnerving look at something (undefined, but not without shape) that lurks just behind the veil, sublimated but still present in contour, waiting in a sort of uneasy equipoise between revelation and repression. Arsenault is one of the very few photobook makers who have complete control over a disparity of image types and registers; she employs them to devastating effect.
There will be two of you by Michael Ashkin, FW: Books
It’s a bit irritating that a guy who’s really a sculptor keeps kicking photobook ass. I can’t imagine that I’ll ever tire of experiencing the actual through Ashkin’s sensibility, which somehow combines absolute rigor with an undeniable openness to astonishment.
The Seraphim by Jesse Lenz, Charcoal Press
I continue to be amazed by the way in which Lenz embraces his capital-R Romantic nature (through his love of capital-N romantic Nature) and yet manages to keep it in control. Very few photographers lean so fully into the misty and the mystical and come back with any sort of coherent tale to tell.
The Lottery by Melissa Catanese, The Ice Plant / Witty Books
I don’t really connect with found or vernacular photography all that much, and yet I return often to all of Catanese’s books. I suppose it’s that she counters the randomness that I perceive in the individual pictures of this sort with a clarity of authorship that evidences a unique sense-making self. Plus, The Lottery has a killer design that sets her work on a thrilling new path.
Mi’raj by J Carrier, TIS books
I’ve had the pleasure of knowing these difficult pictures for a while now, so their graceful power in dealing with an intractably complex situation are well known to me, as is Carrier’s ability to stay remarkably clear-eyed and even-handed in a world that seems anything but. The fresh surprise here is the way in which TIS books brought the work to thrilling life with printing and production that’s both expert and sensitive.
The Inhabitants by Raymond Meeks & George Weld, Mack
Perhaps the greatest of all offerings from Meeks, and that’s saying something. Weld’s writing is entirely integral to the success of this wonderfully unsettled book, which does indeed inhabit this world rather than try to explain it, or to even claim that such could ever be possible.
Tim Carpenter is a photographer, writer, and educator who lives and works in Brooklyn and central Illinois. He is the author of the book-length essay To photograph is to learn how to die.
top - High & Lonesome by Nathan Pearce, Deadbeat Club
below - The Lottery by Melissa Catanese, The Ice Plant / Witty Books