We’ve long known about the importance of the Japanese photobook, yet of course many of those now-famous photographers got their start with images for magazines first. The famous issues of Provoke are just the tip of the iceberg, a tiny sliver, when it comes to the extraordinary range of publications created in Japan. For anyone who likes books on books (my personal favorite library category), this is an absolute must.
Not technically a photobook, but there is a marriage between design and photo when it comes to publishing that is essential to understand, therefore I’m shoehorning this into the list. It's a beautiful showcase of modern illustrated book design, reflecting the inventiveness of the period when it came to text-heavy design themes of the period, where the lettershapes and colors became ornamental decorations in their own right. There are even a couple of facsimile reproductions of large scale posters, cleverly inserted in the back of the book.
Frederic Somner once said of Bernd and Hilla Becher’s work that “one of the highest points of photographic expression was to utilize the medium at its fulcrum”. I think what he meant by that was lauding the use of a camera to record the world in the most faithful and articulately rendered form possible. The subject matter in these images are simply trees, rocks and water, and they all shine with a luminous clarity and crispness that almost vibrates off the page, looking both hyperreal and surreal at the same time.
One of those rare books that forces you to stop in your tracks and set aside all distractions in order to deeply look at the details of the images contained within. Dead Ringer shows multiple copies of images printed from the same negative, but with curious variations in cropping, color, scale, and wear that marks the different journeys that each physical copy has taken. A book that actually forces you to focus on details is a true gift in the day and age that we live in where our thumbs constantly scroll past things without our skills of perception being fully engaged.
Archivo Nomada Vol. 1 by Alberto Garcia-Alix, Editorial Cabeza de Chorlito
One of my favorite books in my library is called The Key Set, a comprehensive chronological collection of images that Alfred Stieglitz had kept for himself (donated by Georgia O'Keefe to the National Gallery of Art). Flash forward 75 years or so, and we have the remarkably curious and extensive first volume of the archive of Alberto Garcia-Alix. The beauty of this organizing concept is that it allows you to systematically view 2154 pictures made by an artist in the apparent order in which they were made, both iconic images and never-seen work. I’m already excited to see the next volume.
In this deceptively playful series of images, Omar Victor Diop, a Senegalese photographer, seamlessly inserts himself into found snapshots of white middle-class life in the 50s and 60s. Diop appears in the most quintessential types of photographic settings: at picnics and fishing trips, overlooking scenic vistas, attending cocktail parties and laughing through boozy business lunches. It’s hard to phrase the delicate balance better than Taous Dahmani does in the book's forward, where she notes “its lightness of tone does not prevent Being There from being a savage social critique, a satire without fear or dread”. The book feels like an album of a version of America that never was, where racial integration happened not only without violence, fear or anger, but even without friction, notice, or comment. By the end, you mourn for the loss of this alternate timeline, for what could have been and what was lost.
The true range of photographer’s capabilities can often be noted by exploring a wider range of methods of making images. Schutmaat's earlier work was much more formal and in color, and this particular collection of black and white rural images is seen as well as John Gossage walking down a suburban street, finding highly complex compositions, almost like they were magically plucked out of thin air. The images are born from someone who has the ability to slow down and take a longer, deeper look at the world that we usually just pass by quickly.
Did I mention before that one of my favorite categories is books on books? Since Fotografia Publica was first published in 2000, there have been many on the subject, and I am always delighted to see something that is a significant addition to the category. This is in every way fantastic - it focuses on books made by factories to show potential clients the capabilities of their manufacturing. An outstanding piece of scholarship that brings together 220 publications by Bart Sorgedrager and Gerry Badger.
Emack photographs her daughter and two nieces over years, and the photographs are remarkable in their casual family intimacy. Whether they are daydreaming, playing games, observing, drawing, or swimming, the girls are a comfortable tangle of intertwined limbs; heads leaning on shoulders, arms casually draped over each other, clearly and solidly at ease with themselves and the world, with the sort of calm beauty that radiates out from children who feel safe and loved. An exceptional addition to a category in my library of people who photograph their families.
What I find interesting about this book, other than the fact it is an exceptionally well seen body of work, is that many of the images in this book are of multiple people, rarely just one person. Many photographers tend to gravitate towards a solo portrait as it is truly at least twice as hard to get a good image with two or more. In many cases, it actualy seems as if Sohier, hits that mark that I imagine that a documentary and street photographer would long for. The majority of the people in the pictures aren’t even looking at the camera, even though she’s often using a flash! Of course, they surely noticed, yet somehow Sohier seems able to disappear as a presence, and record the world and these small gatherings as they were actually were seemingly unaffected by the photographer recording it.
Straight portrait photography, mixed with sculptural elements, with painting, with collage - I love all the photographic syntaxes mixing together in this very exciting book. What I love about this work is that it confounds me in a really beautiful way.
Does it help to know that the subject matter is the photographer’s father, or that he was an engineer in the Indian Army? Perhaps it does, but the images are so compelling, both in their own right and collectively, as fragments of a larger story or puzzle, that it feels unnecessary to the enjoyment of the book.
It’s really hard to make images the feel “fresh", or even to srting together new combinations of different types of pictures, especially in the oversaturated image world that we live in. It is great to have a reminder that, it is in fact, absolutely still a possibility.
Todd Hido (born in Kent, Ohio, 1968) wanders endlessly, taking lengthy road trips in search of imagery that connects with his own memories. Through his unique landscape process and signature color palette, Hido alludes to the quiet and mysterious side of suburban America—where uniform communities provide for a stable façade—implying the instability that often lies behind the walls. His photographs are in many private and public collections, including at the Getty, Whitney Museum of American Art, and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Pier 24 Photography holds the archive of all of his published works. Hido has published more than a dozen books, including the award-winning monographs House Hunting (2001) and Excerpts from Silver Meadows (2013), as well as innovative B-Sides Box Sets, which function as companion pieces to his books. His Aperture titles include Todd Hido on Landscapes, Interiors, and the Nude (2014) and Intimate Distance: Twenty-Five Years of Photographs (2016). His latest book is Bright Black World (2018). His upcoming publication, which was titled before the pandemic, The End Sends Advance Warning, will be released in 2024. Hido is also a collector, and over the last twenty-five years has created one of the most notable photobook collections, which was featured in Bibliostyle: How We Live at Home with Books (2019).
top - Cousins by Kristen Joy Emack, L’Artiere
below - County Road by Bryan Schutmaat, Trespasser