Photobooks of 2019: Brad Feuerhelm
This is a nearly impossible year to narrow down titles to 10 books, so you get 15. It was a year that saw a large amount of incredible material released. If you had asked me to prognosticate how 2019 was going to shape up in release terms early in the year, I would have suggested a slow down in the market, a lull in satisfactory titles. What I would suggest is that there is much less fluff this year even if the amount of titles has decreased. It was a strong outing for artists and publishers looking to refine their quality. This list is in no hierarchical order. An expanded version will be available on ASX soon.
Paul’s Book by Collier Schorr
Given that her commercial career is raging at full speed, there wasn’t a certainty that she would come back to the books. With Paul’s Book, she has defied to be categorized by her success. The book is aimed, poignant and a treat in visual terms with observations on photographic culture, framing, gender and the perspective of how we enable authorship and bodies of production/collaboration. I am reminded in places of Larry Clark’s Perfect Childhood and Paul Mpagi Sepuya’s work. Intimacy and collaboration.
Elf Dalia by Maja Daniels
There are social historical comments about language, nationhood and the history of witch trials all sewn up in a book ostensibly about a geography and an archive. To say that Elf Dalia is esoteric would be the beginning. Daniels has successfully blended the archive of Tenn Lars Perrson with her own beautiful images suggesting an idea about community, magic and considers what it is to be outside looking in. There are small notations about current political possibilities with immigration in Sweden that also resonate.
Should Nature Change by John Gossage
Gossage has yet to let me down on a title. His gift of sequence, the raw and deliberate attention to detail, design and consistency make every one of his books a trophy. He is possibly the single-most important photographer alive and working today for me. His ability to speak in a photographic dialogue that seems so effortless and yet considered at the same time makes his eye and books an impassioned consumption for many people.
Christmas Day, Buck’s Pond Road by Tim Carpenter
Cold and longing. Serene and yet doubting. The images in this book present a tactile examination of a small place, shot in small hours, catering to big ideas about home, being alone, and how we consider indexicality and the medium’s penchant to ignore what we consider banal or potentially obvious. Carpenter has found his niche with this.
The Unforgetting by Peter Watkins
I have known of the project for some time and its contents still have an upsetting effect on me. The work deals with the way in which trauma plays across personal projects. In Peter’s case, he considers how memory, loss and photographic practice are employed to keep constant the memory of someone lost, while also begging the medium to let those details be rendered in the happy moments, not the trauma itself, which an untimely death provides as a sacrosanct point of discussion. It’s brave, fearless and considers the author as much as the subject in how we discuss the bare issues implicit in life. It is a necessary title – raw, honest and shrine-oriented.
Miért vagy te, ha lehetsz én is? by Petra Collins
The world of Petra Collins deftly subverts any given assumption about fantasy, photography, the female gaze and the political apparatus adjusted to an orientation of photography. Collins’ world is an abstraction, a foray into the inconceivable peppered with a dynamic use of 80’s 90s plastic cultural designs such as VHS movie covers, romance novels, DVD girl on girl pornography cases and perhaps even excercise and cooking manual designs-a crock pot of Goonies and Lethal Weapon sensationalism. The use of prosthetics, meta-creature allure and the obfuscation of post-wave aesthetic are crafted into something of an aberration between perverse nostalgia, fashion and art. I like to think of Collins’ work as striding the awkward planks of a sequined and My Little Pony-themed pirate ship helmed by Leonor Fini, Louis Wain, and perhaps not unsuspectingly Pierre Molinier.
Enghelab Street, A Revolution Through Books. Iran 1979-1983 by Hannah Darabi
This was an incredibly necessary book and series of exhibitions on the history of the photobook in Iran during a time of transition. Darabi deftly uses her research capacity and sensitivity as an artist to craft one of the more important photobook historiographies of the past decade. Succinct, beautifully-designed and pertinent, I challenge the photobook catalogue of the future based on nation (and oddly at times nationalism) to approximate the care with which this title was completed.
Benny Profane by Ken Grant
There is a resurgence if amazing British documentary projects in the works presently. It seems somehow timely that we are examining Britain in a time of its dire flux. Benny Profane is on another level-Grant’s images culled from a day at the Bidston Moss Trash heap in the late 80s create a strange dirty fantasy world in which economics, place and the denizens of state all collude to question larger developments on the socio-economic front. Trash is Queen this year.
The Canary and The Hammer by Lisa Barnard
Gold. This is the politics of our fascination with an age-old element and its malleable inevitability. It is our historical consciousness of how we develop the term economy. Barnard’s book is not simply about gold, it is about a mindset, an assertion about humans more than the precious metal itself. The Canary and the Hammer is about gold and the manifestations of this crude endeavor, but there is also a parallel here about photography and its propagandized potential. With all of Lisa’s work, you can see a raging commitment and an encyclopedic examination of subject and execution of value. To say the work is excellent belittles its true motivation to discuss larger issues including technology.
Conference of Birds by Sybren Vanoverberghe
Vanoverberghe, apart from being a gifted image-maker, has put his work forward into the terrain of purpose with this offering. It is not a simple assemblage of images collated to create a mystery of history-that is no longer enough. For Conference of Birds, Sybren photographed the ruins of one small inconsequential village in Iran that was destroyed by a fire. He circled it forensically looking for marks, scrapes and ephemeral trace that would aid in his investigation and documentation-the ultimate point of which, like the research of memory was to relate photography to the imponderable dissolve that it embodies.
The Pillar by Stephen Gill
Gill proceeds with his investigation of the flora and fauna of his home in Sweden. Where Night Procession left off with its brooding and merauding surveillance of night time fauna, The Pillar plants a literal stake in the earth to watch it pass by from one steadfast position and post. Seasons change, the orb spins and we are presented with many gifts all duly and beautiful.
Slant by Aaron Schuman
In a time and age in which nothing is real, the best medicine is to provoke a queer sympathy to our condition of disbelief. Schuman manages to take something meaningful as a topic and toy with its invention as such castigating the need for reason, but also playing to the obvious by suggesting that nothing has ever been a true seeing/reading is believing scenario.
The Gray Line by Laura Rodari
Stark, brooding and incipit in its ability to disseminate representational form, Rodari’s much-anticipated new book leans and sags and commits to the treason of interpersonal potential. It wants little discussion and it favors solitude as a means in which it thrives. The images within are a testament to the nature of photography’s sincere ability to be revered as a solitary environment .
Murder by Guillaume Simoneau
From beginning to end, the sequence of this book is possibly one of the strongest I have seen to date. Simoneau’s use of archival imagery along with is own images made in Japan paying homage to the master Masahis Fukase has created an exemplary shrine-an order and a magnitude often unseen.
Were It Not For by Michael Ashkin
I’m not a huge fan of text with photobooks, the use of which finds me generally dry and at the precipice of discontent due to the perspicacity of pretentious behaviour. This is not the case with Ashkin’s Were it not for. The text, the implications and the severity in which the words play from the “discarded” imagery-piles of rubbish, trash, the backs of the thing all create a tense atmosphere triggered by the beauty of Askin’s words. Incredible throughout despite the many images. A tip to Hans Gremmen for stellar design.
Brad Feuerhelm is the Managing Editor of American Suburb X.
Images: top – Benny Profane by Ken Grant, below – Conference of Birds by Sybren Vanoverberghe, Elf Dalia by Maja Daniels