Like every year since 2009, this is not a best books list. Instead, here is a selection of books which, I believe, deserve attention. They are some of my favorites published this year. This selection was first published on Photobookstore thanks to Martin Amis. From the 10 in the selection I add two important historical books.
Laia Abril – On Abortion Laia Abril started work on the long term project « A History of Misogyny », long before the Autumn 2017 scandals. On Abortion is the first chapter in the project. Through a series of stark images and texts the book documents this issue to powerful effect. From description of abortion techniques used from the antiquity to nowadays to testimonies and first person stories of women living in countries where abortion is forbidden, On Abortion refuses to simplify the issues and demonstrates real intellectual rigor. With a sophisticated and suitably sober design by Laia Abril and Ramon Pez this heartbreaking book is a must have.
Mathieu Asselin – Monsanto: A Photographic Investigation Having been following Monsanto: A Photographic Investigation from it’s premise, more than two years ago, I’m just amazed – and very happy for Mathieu Asselin – by it’s cursus honorum: Dummy Award winner at Kassel FotobookFestival, First book Award Paris Photo-Aperture Foundation and now shortlisted for the Deutsche Börse Prize. Since the first PDF I saw, everything was there: the green and orange cover, the editing, the chapters and the great design by Ricardo Báez. I think the public and critical success of the book lies in simple reasons (but not so easy to shape). From the beginning, Mathieu knew what story he wanted to tell and how to. He exemplified it through the Monsanto company whose arrogance and commercial practices became a symbol of a chemical industry now largely rejected.
Daniel Blaufuks – Attempting Exhaustion The title explicitly refers to writer Georges Perec who for 3 days tried to describe everything he saw from a café, Place Saint-Sulpice in Paris. Daniel Blaufuks’s attempt is at the same time more ambitious and modest: for 8 years he photographed a window and a table in his kitchen in Lisbon. That could be absolutely boring but it’s fascinating because beyond the little changes everyday life implies and the viewer notices, the main subjects are how can one reduce photography to it’s simplest elements: 2 objects, and how the ever changing light modifies them and gives the images vibrant colors beautifully printed by Akio Nagsawa. Also Blaufuks demonstrate how much the medium is a lie when attempting to freeze time. Getting retired from the world, like a modern Thoreau, is also somehow a political act when outside everything was already photographed.
Oliver Hartung – Iran a Picture book We often have stereotyped views of closed countries such as Iran. In Iran, Oliver Hartung goes against 2 conventions: the journalistic treatment of political-religious events and the « documentaries » attempts to look behind the curtains of censorship at Iranians private life. Instead Iran a Picture Book focuses on the public space – a shared place if there is one – where in any country the Power suggests/enforces a shared imaginary. Hartung uses typologies, each type being subdivided. This reveals a consistent ideology. For example monuments exalting weapons meet others showing the dove of peace. Some statues curiously show a teapot or a gigantic audio tape. Signs of welfare maybe? The murals obviously largely focus on the leaders and the martyrs but also on bucolic landscapes. Many others aspects of the public space are also considered. Perfectly designed by Helmut Völter, Iran a Picture Book, in my opinion, didn’t received enough of the attention it deserves.
Stefano de Luigi – iDyssey Odyssey is in all our memories. A photographer, Stefano de Luigi, member of VII Agency decided to redo Ulysses trip. The story has been told, then written, later it became an Hollywood movie and even a TV series. Neglecting his professional cameras, de Luigi traveled with only two iPhones considering them as the more up to date tools to tell the stories. Starting from the ancient Troy, he accosted to Tunisia, Italy and finally to Ithaca. Even if during this three months trip the migrants crisis already started, that’s not the subject. This work slightly melancholic is a permanent round trip between past and present and reveals the Mediterranean Sea from immemorial times has always been a crossroad of exchanges of peoples and goods. Cyrielle Molard’s subtle design underlines iDyssey is also an inner trip.
Rabih Mrhoué – Diary of Leap Year For 10 years, the Lebanese artist Rabih Mrhoué cut images of war and violence from Middle East newspaper and made collages of them. The book is printed on Bible paper only on the right pages. So by transparency, and thanks to the thoughtful Studio Safar design, the previous and following images appear. Condensing these 10 years of work on a Leap Year – whose translation from Arabic loose the meaning of bad luck attached to those years – Mrhoué points out the endless violence this region is enduring in a gorgeous artist book.
Katherine Oktober Matthews – I ❤ Animals Adopting the cardboard form of a children book, Katherine Oktober Matthews bear witness of the economical and ecological nonsense of industrial food. For example, she writes « Pigs are pink. They say, ”Oink, oink!” I love pigs. » And the image shows ugly ham slides whose colors go from gray to red. Similar principle for fishes, lambs, etc. I like a lot artists dealing with serious questions with great sense of humor.
Roman Pyatkovka – You Wait Roman Pyatkovka appropriates an old illustrated book from the Soviet era. Apparently (it’s all written in Cyrillic) it’s a manual to advice women about their pregnancy, their delivery and the first cares to the new born. Upon this book he glued black and white photographs typical from the underground. One sees young people having fun, often naked, having sex sometimes. The book has a beauty of it’s own, cardboard paper, handmade binding. But the most interesting is the relationship created by the author between the kitsch imagery produced by a dictatorship and the claimed freedom to use its body.
Margot Wallard – Natten Natten, ( The Night in Swedish) is probably the follow up by other means of Margot Wallard first book. Mon Frère Guillaume et Soniawas a quite claustrophobic book of mourning made of snapshots, video stills and transcriptions of audio recordings. Natten was realized with a medium format camera (and also a scanner) in Värmland a rural area in Sweden. This book seems to me a celebration of the circle of life, will it be human, animal or vegetal. As the seasons pass, a young woman (the artist) represents herself naked in the snow or under a pale summer sun. Recently died animals or skeletons are seen on black neutral background. In other images the ice melts slowly. The editing and the design by Greger Ulf Nilson divide these elements into chapters but with always round trips underlining the consistency of the project. The feeling of meditation on life and dead is confirmed when in one of the last images Margot Wallard represents herself pregnant in a spring landscape.
Henk Wildschut – Ville de Calais Henk Wildschut spent three years working about the so called « Jungle » in Calais. Jungle is a useful word for the medias and politicians to transmit the idea of a wild area living outside any human rule. But what reveals Ville de Calais is the migrants built a real town with its shops and districts. The Dutch photographer followed the story of this « temporary autonomous zone » from its erection to its apogee and its final dismantlement by the French State who couldn’t bear any enterprise done outside of its laws and rules. But there necessity knew no laws. The involvement of the photographer, the strong editing, and the outstanding design by Robin Uleman entirely devoted to enlighten the project make of Ville de Calais an unique testimony about contemporary migrations far from thousand times seen images.
Manfred Heiting, Kaneko Ryuchi – The Japanese Photobook 1912-1990 For me, very ignorant in Japanese photography, the best comprehensive history of photobooks from this country.
Fred Ritchin and Carole Naggar – Magnum Photobooks: The Catalogue Raisonne Compared to others authors writing about photobooks the authors are lucky to work on a closed corpus: all the books published by Magnum photographers. Starting with Death in the Making by Robert Capa (so before Magnum’s founding) but that be considered as a starting point, the book highlights one hundred chef d’œuvres, shows the bookmaking process of some books and offers an entire bibliography of each Magnum photographer. This is an absolutely useful tool to anyone interested in photobooks.