Photography Books of the Year – Review | Art and design books
In a year when self-publishing continued to thrive and a slew of small, independent companies reinvented the photo book as an art object in its own right, mainstream houses wisely focused on what they do best: the big retrospective. My favorite was the elegant and informative Sergio Larrain: wandering photographer (Thames & Hudson), an overview of the work of the late Chilean where the editor-in-chief Agnès Sire mixes the familiar with the unfamiliar. A book full of beautiful, often experimental street images, it should help elevate the reclusive photographer to the rank of a canon of the greats of the 20th century.
Also in the running for Retrospective Book of the Year is the eponymous Garry Winogrand (Yale University Press), a voluminous catalog for this year’s extensive exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. One of the great pioneers of American street photography, his images still surprise with their offbeat composition and wired energy. There is visual poetry of an altogether more intimate kind in Emmet Gowin (Aperture), an in-depth look at one of America’s most overlooked photographers, whose defining subject was his wife, Edith, and their family.
Published at the end of 2012, Viviane Sassen: in and out of fashion (Prestel) just qualifies to be included here. A catalog of a traveling exhibition currently on view at the National Gallery of Scotland, it showcases the vivid colors and striking formalism of the most inventive fashion photographer working today.
Elsewhere, independents have led the way. UK publisher Dewi Lewis had another strong year with titles such as Jo Metson Scott’s The gray line (Dewi Lewis), who fused portraits of American soldiers who spoke out against the war in Iraq with their testimonies of the aftermath. from the same publisher The Landscape of Murder (to which I wrote the introduction) was a still, sustained meditation on an often invisible London mapped by Antonio Olmos, who visited the site of every murder in the capital in a single year. By turns melancholy and thought-provoking, it will make you see the city in a different, darker light.
Perhaps the most controversial photobook was Holy Bible by Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin (Mack Books) in which this year’s Deutsche Börse Prize winners questioned the idea of divine violence through a series of images taken from the archives of the modern conflict.
Superimposed on the pages of the Bible, and each referring to an underlined passage, the photographs have a cumulative effect that lies somewhere between the absurd and the offensive. It is a fiercely political work that exemplifies Israeli philosopher and essayist Adi Ophir’s proposition “that God reveals himself primarily through catastrophe and that power structures in the Bible correlate with those of modern systems of governance”.
I end with three of my personal favorites. She dances to Jackson by Vanessa Winship (Mack) merges landscapes and portraits, in black and white, to create an America that is both real and imaginative and hauntingly beautiful. Closer to home, Lorenzo Vitturi created his unique reflection on Ridley Road market in east London for self-publishing Dalston’s Anatomy (SPBH), the most beautifully designed book of the year – complete with its African fabric cover. In vivid colors, it merges the real and the fantastic, the observed and the staged to evoke the life of a bustling, multicultural street market.
dark knees by Mark Cohen (Xavier Barral), published to accompany a retrospective at the Bal in Paris, is a revelation. A columnist from his hometown of Pennsylvania, Cohen films up close and intimate, using flash and often cropping his subjects dramatically. A surreal recording of gestures, movements, torsos and reactions, it is an original and individual approach to street photography.
This article was edited on December 9 to remove an erroneous reference to Brassaï in the standfirst.