Photobooks of 2019: Mark Power
It’s been said already, but this has been a good year for photobooks, and as a result I’m unable to get my list down to just ten. So, instead, here are fourteen standout titles that I’ve bought this year, listed in no order other than alphabetically by author:
Slant by Aaron Schuman
Every loose end is tied up neatly into this glorious package of a book, in which police reports from the local newspaper, Schuman’s lyrical pictures and the ‘slant’ rhyming scheme employed by Emily Dickinson are seamlessly woven together as one. The sense of paranoia present in this small Massachusetts community – a microcosm of the bigger picture of course – is palpable; it’s a place where almost any unexplained activity is deemed suspicious. The star of the show is the anonymous composer of the reports, who writes sparely and with a wonderful sense of irony. (My favourite: ‘6:32pm. A man described as having ‘a “wild hairdo” on a West Street porch was not located by police. The man was likely a solicitor going door-to-door in the neighborhood.’) The cover is in gorgeous green cloth with the single word ‘Slant’ embossed in Dickinson’s own handwriting.
Scene by Alex Majoli
Alex Majoli is a genius, and I don’t use that word lightly. I’ve been waiting for this book for a long time and although, as an object, it’s frustrating, any design issues are lost in the overall magnificence of the work. Majoli’s photographs operate on many levels – they’re aesthetically beautiful, they record important events and they push at the boundaries of documentary. But perhaps most fascinating of all is that they demonstrate how, even in the remotest corners of the world, we’re all learning how to be photographed. All the world is indeed a stage.
Stockholm by Anders Petersen
Most of us understand that making photographs in the place we live can be problematic. Familiarity can be a burden difficult to overcome, and it can seem pointless to even try. Yet here is a book that proves it can be done, and brilliantly at that. The result of four years prowling the streets of his native Stockholm, Petersen (as we might expect) challenges any preconceptions we might have had about the city, and his trademark eye for the strange and bizarre is as sharp as ever. A lot of book for your buck.
Stadtrand Berlin 1993/94 by André Kirchner
I’m a sucker for photographs made at the edges of cities, so this would be the perfect book for my Christmas stocking. Published to mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall (although a quarter of a century after the pictures were made) this is a series of topographic views made along the historical border of Berlin as defined in 1920, all looking inwards towards the centre of Berlin.
Pillars of Home by Csilla Klenyánszki
While I’m obviously not a mother, I did sometimes stay at home to look after our two children when they were very young. Klenyánszki, however, used her time, and in particular those precious moments when her child was sleeping, far more creatively than I ever did. These endlessly inventive sculptures using household objects, herself and (presumably) her partner, which are always made and photographed within 30 minutes (apparently the maximum time of each nap) are at once perilously fragile and beautiful.
A Hunter by Daido Moriyama
I’m eternally grateful for this facsimile reprint because this is a book I’ve been hankering after for years but the original was always too expensive. I have a lot of Moriyama books, but this is right up there with his best. It’s a beautiful production as well, with an English-language text, and although it’s still a little pricey, it’s worth every penny.
Sleep Creek by Dylan Hausthor and Paul Guilmoth
A beautiful little book from the excellent Athens-based ‘Void’, this was my most exciting find at Paris Photo. Devoid of text, the book appears to blend fact, fiction and myth, with pictures consistently strange and often difficult to read. We get several bats, lots of fire, a corpse, naked people in forests, an old man with a nosebleed and a fish in a tree (to name but a few). A little research reveals the work was made on a small island off the coast of Maine, where the pair “lived together in a cold house”. It’s a brave publication, but one which (I’m sure) will continue to reveal itself over time.
Errors of Possession by Garrett Grove
Garrett Grove is yet another graduate from the excellent MFA programme in Hartford, following in the footsteps of Bryan Schutmaat, Morgan Ashcom, Matt Eich, Matthew Genitempo and many others. Another book about small-town America (a preoccupation of mine at present) this is work of the highest calibre made within rural and coastal communities of Washington and Oregon, and includes some truly memorable photographs.
Evokativ by Libuše Jarcovjáková
Raw but poetic self-portraits, domestic scenes and the hedonistic underground world of 1970s and ‘80s Prague merge together as one in this beautiful little book. ‘Evokativ’ was principally photographed in the ’T-Club’ a clandestine gay bar, which Jarcovjáková visited frequently, and is hugely evocative (sic) of time and place. It’s designed by the always brilliant Ania Nałęcka-Milach, who lives and works in Poland, a country where official attitudes to the LGBTQ community remain comparable to those of the homophobic Communist state in which these pictures were made almost 50 years ago.
Inventions 1915-1938 by Luce Lebart
I love pictures of industrial design, and here’s a book of photographs produced in the early 20th century for the French National Scientific and Industrial Research and Inventions Office (wow!) which were intended to encourage innovation. The book reminds me of Sultan and Mandel’s groundbreaking ‘Evidence’ (1977) since, removed from context, many of these inventions appear very strange indeed. The difference here, however, are the extensive captions at the back to explain what we’re looking at, if we want to know (which I do). One fabulous picture shows a couple of gentlemen photographers making one of the images in a Heath-Robinson-style studio… One of them wears a pair of aviator goggles and a pith helmet, part Monty Python, part O. Winston Link. Brilliant.
Elf Dalia by Maja Daniels
I’ve looked at this book many times, but I still find it difficult to understand. I know it’s about historical witchcraftery, and I know it’s about an archive which is documentary, scientific, chockfull of photographic trickery, and downright weird all at the same time. I also know that Maja Daniels has photographed this same small Swedish community, and that her Grandparents used to live there, and I know she makes very fine pictures. But this is all I know, and I love it for that… along with the sad, melancholic beauty which pervades the whole, which is utterly seductive.
New Dutch Views by Marwan Bassiouni
One of the most formative books of my early career was ‘Picture Windows’ by John Pfahl (1987), a series of American landscapes seen through windows, each defined by the shape of the frame. ‘New Dutch Views’ is a similar, equally simple idea, but it’s more specific, in that it reveals views of the Dutch landscape made from within Mosques that Bassiouni visited throughout the Netherlands. We also see part of each interior (in Pfahl’s book we don’t) which is always in perfect disharmony with the outside. This kind of photography needs to be executed flawlessly, almost to the point that we forget we’re looking at photographs at all. Thankfully, Bassiouni has achieved exactly that.
The Unforgetting by Peter Watkins
I was so pleased to discover Peter’s intensely moving project has been published at long last. Beautifully sequenced, with great attention to detail (a list of the contents of the bag his mother left on the beach before taking her own life, or the captions to the images printed on the back of the book are just two examples). One advantage of having to wait so long for the work to be published is that we get, in a separate insert, several installation pictures (the work was conceived as an exhibition as much as a book) and an interview with Watkins made at the time. An important and vital publication.
The Coast by Sohrab Hura
The well-deserved winner of the Paris Photo/Aperture Photobook of the Year, Sohrab Hura continues to challenge Western preconceptions of his homeland of India. However, unlike his previous books, this takes us beyond a domestic setting and into a bigger and even stranger world. Ritualistic festivals merge with the everyday in a relentless barrage of colour and energy. But beyond all this, what makes this book especially fascinating is the sequencing. Every picture is used twice, on successive pages, but each time in a different pairing. It’s a simple idea, yet completely original, and brilliantly executed.
Mark Power has been a lover of photobooks for longer than he cares to remember. He has published eleven books of his own, the most recent being Good Morning, America Volume One and Volume Two, the first two installments in a five book set. Power has been a full member of Magnum since 2007.
Images: top – Errors of Possession by Garrett Grove, below – Scene by Alex Majoli