Photobooks of 2015: Robert Dunn

Robert Dunn has kindly shared his photobook picks from the past year:

1.Daisuke Yokota – Taratine


Daisuke Yokota’s masterpiece (so far). See my Photobookstore review here. Nuf sed.

2. Anthony Cairns – LDN EI


Dark, mysterious, high-contrast shots that are all right on the printed page reach brilliance in the singular form of LDN EI—a hacked Kindle. The Kindle, whose screen consists of little balls that are pure black or white, is the ideal form for Cairns’s post–Provoke Era black and white photos. The contrast is by definition extreme, perfect for his night shots, and the repurposed Kindle itself steals the idea of books as unique objects back from our electronic digital ubiquity. There are only 200 of these things; I’m lucky to have one.

3. Mike Mandel – Good 70s

good 70s

Those famous photographer baseball cards. Sheets of motel postcards. Shots of Mrs. Kilpatric in the front yard of her San Fernando Valley tract home back when the Valley was the most boring place in the world.  Yes, stunningly boring. How do I know? Fun story: I pick up Good 70s, take it home, and the contents—Mandel’s autobiographical, demotic photos, not far from just random snapshots—all look curiously familiar. It was where I grew up, the same place. I email Mandel, turns out we were in the same high school graduating class in Van Nuys, California. (Our graduation photos are below, and not irrelevant since those photos capture a lot of Mandel’s casual yet powerfully telling aesthetic.) Who other than Mandel has done more to celebrate the found or (short of Stephen Shore) casually snapped photograph, forms ever more in vogue in 2015.


4. Huger Foote – Now Here Then


A bunch of old prints, mostly from the 1980s, almost all in color, brilliantly edited into a moving, beautiful book. Foote’s previous work, My Friend from Memphis, was candy-coated Eggleston; Now Here Then is original, unique, profound. Striking photos made better by the whims of careless storage and indifferent time.

Three Books by Japanese Masters:

5. Masahisa Fukase – Slaughter


Fukase’s Ravens is one of the all-time great photobooks, none more poetic or foreboding, and any new works of his we see arrive like Bob Dylan bootleg albums.

Slaughter is particularly interesting. After a half dozen moody near abstractions comes the series of photos Fukase did with his wife, Yoko, in 1963, posed around a slaughterhouse. The shots are theatrical, like a horrific staging of Macbeth, and as photos suggest Hosoe’s Killed by Roses and Moriayama’s A Photo Theater, though the photos in Slaughter antedate those works, accentuating Fukase’s genius.

6. Keizo Kitajima – Camp 1979


Here are a few holy places of photography: Robert Frank’s Ford Business Coup rattling down the highways of 1950s America; the corner of Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, Gary Winogrand lurking; and the storefront pop-up in Tokyo in 1979 where a bunch of young photographers set up CAMP. Walls filled with huge black and white prints, contrast so deep it was like black ink smeared around. A table of handmade pamphlets. A bunch of long-hairs sprawled about. I’d love to have been there, and this year’s publication of Camp 1979 puts us right in the room’s center. Though the photos are not new to us, they’re as evocative and powerful as ever.

7. Daido Moriyama – A Room


One of those CAMP long-hairs was Moriyama, and in the same spirit of set up a room, see what happens, he revisits again the majesty of his Xerox shop in Tokyo in 1974 in this year’s brand-new A Room. As with other recent public stagings of his photobooks, early last year Moriyama invited participants in to help arrange this series of photos of women, hands, torsos, lots of buttocks, no full faces, all mysterious, romantic, yet often banal. Moriyama can extract beauty and pathos from the largest of geographical canvases (his Northern trilogy) or, as here, the tightest of spaces.

8. Thomas Sauvin – Until Death Do Us Part


I gave up smoking in 1975, so this is the first pack of cigarettes I’ve bought since. Actually, it’s a brilliantly designed photobook tucked inside an actual cigarette pack (and shipped to stores in cigarette cartons).  Thomas Sauvin is a Frenchman living in China who found a great source of old negatives, shots taken by regular people back in the film days. Until Death Do Us Part is a collection of photos from a curious Chinese wedding ritual: The bride lights a cigarette for every man there.  That’s it, photos of people smoking at weddings. Hardly the most exciting shots ever, but one of the most cleverly designed books in years. Kudos then for the packaging … and for making me thrilled that I quit smoking all those years back.

9. Sally Mann – Hold Still


Not really a photobook per se, but the best (so far) autobiography by a photographer. Her life makes a great tale, of Southern melodrama and pathos, and she tells it in prose every bit as elegant and mysterious as her best photographs. Recommended highly.

A selection of Robert’s picks are available here.

Robert Dunn is a writer, photographer, and teacher. His novels include Meet the Annas and Stations of the Cross. His photobooks OWS, Angel Parade, and Meeting Robert Frank are in the permanent collection of the International Center of Photography. In spring 2016, Dunn will teach a course called “Writing the Photobook” at New School University in New York City.