Notable books of 2014


(A few of the books mentioned in this post)

I would like to start with David Jiménez’s Versus, published by RM. It is a book in two volumes that pushes black and white to the extreme. Readers have to find their own way through the book, which never looks twice the same. It is a very beautiful object that rewards careful attention, and shows us that photography is an open window between the mind and the world.

In the tradition of Café Lehmitz, David Hornillos went every day at noon to Atocha station and photographed the regulars. His book Mediodía, published by Dalpine, and designed by Eloi Gimeno, is a one ring circus, fun and nimble, always a joy to read.

Bertien van Manen’s Moonshine, published by MACK, is like a family album of the people of the Appalachian Mountains. The design is quite conventional, but don’t be fooled, the content and editing are always surprising.

For something completely different we turn to Monica Ursina Jäger’s Topographies, published by Kodoji Press. It is a very long leporello of a complex collage showing a dizzying perspective on a fantastic city. It’s very easy to get lost in it. And the black and white stripes at the back are equally mesmerizing.

Turning to self-published books, I would like to mention three:

Yukihito Kono’s Raster, is a  japanese stab bound stack of A3 sized photocopies of a single picture. It is a healthy dose of Duchampian inframince, at the same time sturdy and delicate. If you let it, it will play with your head and turn your perception upside down.

Elena Kholkina’s Did we ever meet? is an inkjet printed, handmade complex structure with gatefolds and tipped-in images that pairs Elena’s pictures with those of Tatyana Soldatova, taken in the 1980s, playing with their surprising similarities. This interplay of times, spaces and characters is a funny and postmodern riposte to Family of Man.

Walter Costa is an Italian photographer living in Brazil who went to Valparaiso, in Chile, after the Great Fire destroyed part of the city. In his book The Cruel Fire he mixes newspaper images with his own creating an eerily suspended narrative of the fire and its aftermath. In one image a woman with a mattress runs across the landscape and we don’t know whether she is running away from the fire or returning home to the ruins.

Above all, this has been the year of reprints. Many outstanding books, even contemporary ones, have been reprinted. Steidl ends the year with two masterpieces: Henri Cartier-Bresson’s The Decisive Moment, and Ken Schles’ Invisible City. Even if you agree with some of his critics, you have to admit that Cartier-Bresson’s book is very beautiful. Ken Schles’ Invisible City is an extraordinary production, printed in five inks using a special screen to mimic as closely as possible the original photogravure. An important book made available again for a new generation of photographers (and for those of us who were a bit distracted at the time).

In Japan, Akio Nagasawa has published Kikuji Kawada’s The Map just in time for the 50th anniversary of one of the best photobooks ever published. And it has the original packaging design by Kohei Sugiura that is an integral part of this book. Simply perfect.

But if I had to choose one, Tamiko Nishimura’s Shikishima, published by Zen Foto Gallery would be the reprint of the year. Tamiko was an assistant to Daido Moriyama, and the book shares the are, bure, boke (grainy, blurry, out-of-focus) style of the Provoke photographers. But the book as a whole has a completely different feel, deeper, more compassionate, engaged with the world. I haven’t seen the original so I can’t comment on how faithful the reproduction is, but the printing is so good it feels like you are looking at original gelatin-silver prints, each silver grain carefully reproduced. It is very important to reclaim less well known masterpieces like Shikishima.

Catalogues are not highly appreciated by the photobook community in general but this year we’ve had a few outstanding ones.

Horacio Fernández’s Fotos & libros. España 1905-1977, co-published by RM, AC/E and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía is an impressive piece of research into the mostly forgotten history of photobooks in Spain. Along with the exhibition at the Reina Sofía Museum it is one of the events of the year.

Guido Guidi’s Veramente, published by MACK for Guidi’s retrospective exhibition is a beautiful and compact sequence of photographs ranging from the 1970s to the present that presents the amazingly coherent and consistent photographic vision of one of Italy’s most important photographers.

Christopher Williams’ Printed in Germany, published by Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther Koenig, is a very strange catalogue. It is part performance, part artist book. Its baffling design defies description and complements the peculiar aesthetic of Christopher Williams’ work particularly well.

There is a special kind of book made out of photographs from an archive. It is not surprising that two of the most interesting come out of the Archive of Modern Conflict:

Timothy Prus’ The Whale’s Eyelash: A Play in Five Acts is a play made out of nineteenth century microscope slides. It is funny, intelligent, abstract and poetic. The reader gets lost in a maze of history, culture, science and metaphysics. By looking closely at its material construction the world vanishes. It is one of the strangest books ever published.

While technically a magazine (AMC2 Issue 9), or a catalogue to accompany the exhibition at the 2014 Brighton Photo Biennial, Amore e Piombo: The Photography of Extremes in 1970’s Italy is a sequence of photographs from the archives of the Italian agency Team Editorial Services. It combines glamorous pictures of movie stars with the political violence of the time. At the end, a short but illuminating essay by Roger Hargreaves and Federica Chiocchetti puts into context the political struggles, the police operations and the false flag terrorist activities that underlie those years. It makes you go back to look at the pictures again.

One of our hobbyhorses is the interplay between photography and literature. Daido Moriyama’s Dazai, published by MATCH and Company, consists of Osamu Dazai’s short story Villon’s Wife, originally published in 1947, illustrated with Daido Moriyama’s photographs. Dazai is Moriyama’s favourite writer, and he chose some pictures to pay homage to him. Designed by Satoshi Machiguchi, the book plays with layout, typefaces and papers, and even has a few pictures printed in black ink over black paper. A very beautiful book.

If we were at the Oscars, we would have to have a prize for best special effects. There would be many contenders, but the prize would certainly go to Melinda Gibson’s SPBH Book Club VI, published by SPBH Editions. Her studio burned down, but instead of trying to save her work she taped large format negatives to the wall and left them there to endure the fire and the water. Out of the ruins Gibson made a book that she smokes and seals in a plastic bag. When read, the scent of burnt wood envelops the reader turning the act of reading into a synesthetic experience.

You have probably read this far wondering when will Daisuke Yokota make his appearance. He is certainly a book category all by himself, and seems intent on catching up with Araki and Moriyama very soon. Out of all the books he published this year two stand out. In Toransupearento, published by Kominek Books, his photographs are printed on transparency film, mixing color with black and white, at the same time building up and dematerializing his images. The second book is, of course, the very beautiful Linger, published by Akina, xerox printed and japanese stab bound with a cover image that will fade in time. His photographs work better in unconventional settings and lose a bit of their power with traditional offset printing.

I left one book for the end. If I had to single out one as the best of 2014, I’d choose Cyril Costilhes’ Grand Circle Diego published by Akina. Beautifully printed, with incredible color, it is a dark, sad, powerful meditation that never fully reveals its secrets.

Looking back at these books, and all those that I couldn’t fit into the list, I think it has been a very good year for photography books. I’m looking forward to 2015.