The best photography books of 2015 | Photography


WWhile many of the books I liked this year followed the tradition of documentary photography, the one I liked the most questioned it in a mischievous way. Beautifully designed by Regine Petersen Find a fallen star (Kehrer) is a two-volume visual meditation on meteorites and their impact, both physical and psychological. Petersen, born in Germany, has traveled the world to discover the testimony of people who have been struck by meteorites or who have seen them strike the surface of the earth. Skillfully fusing photographs, newspaper clippings, first-person accounts and his own haunting landscapes into a multi-level narrative, Petersen creates a fascinating interrogation of memory, myth and evidence, whether visual or oral. .

Documentary photographer Alec Soth has confirmed his status as a great chronicler of contemporary American life and its discontent. Punctuated by the lyrics of the popular American canon song, Songbook (Mack) is an elegy for the small town lifestyle centered on community rituals, from bowling clubs to church groups. It’s also a melancholy take on a dying America that, for all its familiarity, often seems unreal when viewed through the prism of Soth’s camera.

Mike Brodie, an instinctively gifted self-taught photographer, followed his acclaimed debut photo book, A period of youthful prosperity, with Tones of dirt and bones (Twin Palms), in which he photographed the great outdoors of America and the often haunted faces of homeless youth and train travelers among whom he lived for a time. His Polaroids are both brutal and unabashedly romantic.

If you’re just looking for grain, Danny Lyon’s re-edited and revised classic, Conversations with the dead (Phaidon), is an insider documentary at its most visceral. Lyon spent a year in the late 1960s photographing the interior of the Texan prison system with “the intention of destroying it”. Renouncing detachment for a shameless identification with his subjects, his images are a powerful testimony to the inhumanity of this system.

It is interesting to contrast Lyon’s approach with that of the American photographer Sofia Valiente, whose book Miraculous village (Fabrica) is perhaps the bravest first release of the year. Shot in a remote rural Florida community that is primarily made up of convicted sex offenders, it’s a thoughtful and eye-opening book on a taboo subject written by a young woman whose observational skills are already well established. that of Mariela Sancari Moises (La Fabrica) also negotiated a taboo subject in a powerful and skillful way. The subtext is the suicide of his father, Moises Sancari, and the hole it left in his life and that of his twin sister. Mariela looked for men who looked like her father the way he might have been if he had lived to be 70. She photographed them wearing her clothes, with her own image often appearing as a shadow in the image. Both obsessive and formally accomplished, Moises is a study of mourning that lodges in the head like no other photo book produced this year.

Young Irish photographer Ciarán Óg Arnold won the Mack First Book Award with I went to the worst bar hoping to get killed. But all I could do was get drunk again (Mack), its title taken from a poem by Charles Bukowski. It’s a compelling, sometimes mind-boggling glimpse into the machismo and desperation of small towns in rural Ireland, where unemployment is high and alcohol is an easy escape.

Party time at St Alphonsus Church, Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, from Alec Soth’s “melancholy” songbook. Photography: Alec Soth / Mack Books

The life of the English working class in the 1980s is the subject of Chris Shaw Sandy Hill retrospective (Mörel), in which he befriended and photographed the residents of a housing estate in Aldershot. Shot in black and white, and annotated with Shaw’s scribbled pages and memorized conversational glimpses, the snapshot-style images and dramatic portraits testify to a raw, yet festive, sense of everyday life on the estate of a refreshing and non-judgmental way.

Another short-lived 80s documentary book, Tom Wood’s In search of love, shot entirely at Chelsea Reach nightclub in Merseyside, was ‘remixed’ by Gareth McConnell, who scanned a collage of double-page images that had not been incorporated into the original, detonated them and then re-sequenced in a parallel narrative. The final result, In search of love (Sorika), is a little bit “meta” – a photo book over a photo book – but has raw punk energy that subverts and complements the original.

Another raw, visceral book that has grown on me over the past few months is Fire in Cairo by Matthew Connors (SPBH Editions), who eschews direct reporting for a heightened sense of atmosphere and spectacle. Shot during the social and political upheavals in Egypt, it combines often striking street portraits of masked youth with oblique street scenes, images of flares and laser lights, makeshift shelters and destroyed buildings. The photographer’s own impressionistic prose adds another layer of mystery to an already atmospheric evocation of a city undergoing sudden and violent transformation.

The city and its ghostly traces are the subject of Missing buildings by Thom and Beth Atkinson (Hwaet Books), a book that testifies to the value of one great idea, skillfully executed. For six years, the Atkinsons, brother and sister, crisscrossed London in search of the still visible traces of buildings destroyed by the blitz: gaping spaces, dark outlines of houses, ghostly absences from terraced streets. The result is a kind of visual psychogeography which is also a discreet but still powerful act of memory.

On a softer note, Aunts: The seven summers of Alevtina and Ludmila, by Nadia Sablin (Duke University Press), is a book of pure love. Sablin, who lives in Brooklyn, visits his two elderly aunts every summer, capturing their simple, self-sufficient life in a wooden house in the middle of the woods of rural Russia. Sablin’s greatest influence is magical realistic fiction, and the images move effortlessly between the real and the almost enchanted.

Florence Road in Stroud Green, North London, from Missing Buildings.
Florence Road in Stroud Green, North London, from Missing Buildings. Photography: Thom and Beth Atkinson / Hwaet Books

Another family labor of love is Finding Alice (Trolley Books), in which Sian Davey, a former psychotherapist, shines her camera on her young daughter born with Down’s syndrome. “I wonder how it could be for Alice to be valued without distinction, without exception and without second glance,” says Davey, and her intimate and unobtrusive photographs of observation illuminate this thought in a lucid, non-sentimental way.

The two Framework by Mark Cohen (University of Texas Press) and Depth of field by Walker Evans (Prestel) are scholarly investigations into two giants of American photography, the first less well known than it should be for an approach to street photography that is strange and surprising with its biased angles and altered perspectives. The great Japanese photographer Shoji Ueda, who died in 2000, is celebrated in Ueda (Chose Commune, which brings together his formally austere but hauntingly beautiful landscapes and portraits, mainly taken in and around his hometown of Tottorri. Another relatively unknown pioneer, Germaine krull (Yale University Press) is celebrated in an eponymous catalog that accompanied its retrospective exhibition at the Jeu de Paume in Paris in summer. Named by Man Ray as her equal, Krull was one of the founders of radical modernist photography and the book partly helps establish her rightful place in the photographic firmament.

For anyone looking for the possible radical pioneers of today, look no further than Self-publish, be happy: a DIY photo book manual and manifesto (SPBH Editions / Aperture), which brings together 75 young iconoclasts whose experimentalism may confuse traditionalists but shows how photography continues to redefine itself as a medium of questioning in the age of Instagram overload.

The best books of 2015

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