best photography books of 2018 so far

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At its best, modern building design is an art form – Schelling’s “architecture as frozen music” – and that of Marcel Chassot. Architecture and photography: wonder as visual culture captures the aesthetic that would render beauty in concrete, siding, steel and glass constructions. He works quite simply with a wide angle lens on a digital camera which produces Euclidean arrangements but in all directions of verticals and diagonals in striking formations. What you are seeing is a symbiosis between the artistry of the architect who created the buildings in the first place and the photographer’s ability to crop, use light, and select angles to present them again.

Chassot photographs structures, stations, airports and churches to reveal intensities of pure forms that their three-dimensional reality sometimes obscures. His sense of form and perspective places Mario Botta’s religious buildings on a par with Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum, Norman Foster’s Gherkin in London, and the highly expressive creations of Zaha Hadid.

Marcel Chassot: captures the aesthetics that would render the beauty of constructions in concrete, cladding, steel and glass.

Radical journey

Andreas Gursky has a different agenda and his book is a visual chronicle of a radical journey that began in the early 1980s. It began with reassuring scenes of everyday human activity – an outdoor swimming pool, a game of local football – but with his discovery of digital editing, there was a sudden change of topic. Computer manipulation allowed him to combine multiple shots into vividly colored, post-modern composite images, incredibly detailed but with all the focus.

Gursky focuses on chromatic and pictorial motifs with graphic effect, making large-scale photographs of what is urgent and contemporary: an Amazon warehouse; work consoles in a factory; garment workers in Nha Trang; an aerial photo of hundreds of cattle across a vast expanse of Colorado, divided into paddocks, ear tags clearly visible. Only the multiple exhibitions allow the scale and density of the images that choreograph the geometry of corporate capitalism foreshadowed by William Blake with his “charter streets”. What Gursky lacks are “marks of weakness, marks of unhappiness”, but he leaves it to the viewer to fill them for himself.

southern gothic

Unlike Gursky, Virginia-born Sally Mann did not stray from her territory, and over a professional life of over 40 years her photographic signature has remained constant: a Southern Gothic sensibility imbued with a strong tinge of romanticism. A thousand passages showcases his accomplishments and includes work never seen on paper before.

Mann’s work is haunted by his sense of the body’s vulnerability, the impending death, and the temporality of childhood – but this was ignored when photos of his undressed young children appeared in Close family (1992); the resulting heckling was predictable.

The racial history of the South is part of Mann’s consciousness (she named her first child, Emmett, after a black teenager brutally killed in Mississippi) as she belatedly searches for her black nanny who always had to eat separately during family excursions. Unlike Chassot and Gursky, she is more preoccupied with the ghostly past than with a hyper-real future, seeking to preserve memories before history buries them.

Sally Mann: a Southern Gothic sensibility imbued with romanticism.

Sally Mann: a Southern Gothic sensibility imbued with romanticism.

Alienated subcultures

A different kind of life: photography on the fringes justifies its title: a powerful collection of photographic works concerning communities outside the mainstream of society, alienated subcultures very different from each other in some ways – from the mere poor or homeless to junkies, to explorers sexual relations and rebels who break taboos. All of them are outsiders or outlaws but in clubs with different codes of conduct.

Photographic anthologies risk being diluted to the detriment of the authenticity that results from the bringing together of an artist’s work. For this reason, the scatter-gun approach to thematic collections may lack common sense, but this is far from the case in Another kind of life.

The captivating subject encompasses a variety of aesthetic strategies – from portraiture to street photography – and a divergent set of photographers. Each photographer’s artistic vocabulary is introduced with a page or two of meaningless text from a knowledgeable contributor, preparing the reader for the images that follow. We see a bungalow camp in early 1960s America, a safe home for transvestites vacationing there; Yakusa gangsters in seedy Tokyo slums caught in Seiji Kurata’s camera flash; the hippies in the USSR; Bruce Davidson’s photos of a dwarf predated Martin McDonagh’s interest by half a century. Images are often disturbing, transgressive, well outside the global art market which distorts what is meant by the value of photography.

These four books, all published in the first half of this year, show individual photographers directing their lens towards worlds – some rough and unsettling, others refined and futuristic – that they open to our gaze.

Architecture and photography: wonder as visual culture, by Marcel Chassot, is published by Hirmer (£ 49.99); Andreas Gursky, by Andreas Gursky, is published by Steidl (34 €); Sally Mann: a thousand passages, by Sally Mann, is published by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and the Peabody Essex Museum, Massachusetts, in association with Abrams Books (€ 29); A different kind of life: photography on the fringes, edited by Alona Pardo, is published by Prestel (27 €)


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