Notable Books: 2017

To effectively split my list into two halves from the start: There are a number of books that I have not reviewed this year, that I am not adding to this bedroll of notable books from 2017. There were some giant books published by Steidl, including the Gordon Parks Collection, and David Freund’s “Gastop”, for instance. Books like these defy reduction; so, I’ve left them off to concentrate on smaller publications. I have also left off some even smaller books, also because of their incomparability and distinction, and maybe because they are closer to the heart: In particular Between Dust and Sky comes to mind, “An Intimate Wilderness”, and “A Good Stress”.

So what is left, the best of the rest? I don’t mean to say that these are lesser books, but they do have more in common, and there are some interesting thematic links. Without further ado, my notable list for 2017.

Landscape and Longing, Sternfeld, Gohlke, Mehta. Steidl

I excitedly Tweeted about this book in May, having discovered Suketu Mehta’s enveloped essay at the back of the book. I liked how the writing displaced the boundary of where longing has a place, which is a neat trick given how writing is photography’s nearest neighbour.

Walden, S.B. Walker, Kehrer Verlag

The photographer Walker returns to Henry David Thoreau’s pond. These pictures ironize the place, altering the place surrounding the seminal environmental text. It may be said, the whole project of simple living as social action, and closeness to the land, seem as eroded (and enduring) as the environment these photographs frame.

Halo, Kawauchi, Aperture

And what would an elemental photography of fire, and water, and air look like anyway?

One: Minimalism and Photography, Various, Radius Books

The book uses a nice quote from the author of “The Little Prince”… “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” It reminds me of how Georges Perec managed once to write a whole novel without using the letter “e”. “One” simultaneously defines the maximal impulse as the other side of more or less the same coin.

New Realities, Various, Rijksmuseum

This follows the catalogue for the 2014 “Modern Times” exhibition, which was the first ever held at the Amsterdam museum, and while that initial volume is very good, this one is thrilling. Photography arbiters have long had jealous prejudices that they applied with Capri, leaving out images from the canon of art on various basis. The result of this show was a re-evaluation of less vaunted genres of advertising and travel photographs from the 19th century. Like the last volume of the MoMA series “Photography at MoMA”, I find the now distant 19th –century picture a chthonic vision that I inexplicably long for, so this is the most visually satisfying book on this list for me (and the best gift).

Photobook Phenomenon, Various, Editorial RM

Another museum catalogue, this book is inventively and interestingly comprised of eight small, stab bound booklets on differing aspects of the photobook, described once as photography’s “natural” home”. While that may be a matter of debate today, I appreciated the sections on Martin Parr’s photobook collection, and the typographic fantasy devoted to William Klein.

Think of Scotland, Parr, Damiani

What do you say about Martin Parr? Ah dinnae ken!

A Glass Darkly, Kevin Lear

Made in the 1970’s, these photos, like the rest of the books I have tried to choose, have distinctiveness, singularity, and incomparability: A vision, lacking a better word. These are images of the world turned upside-down, and are surreal distortions of the everyday, but they make the everyday in turn seem more like what it actually is: Distinctive, singular, and incomparable.

Eternal Friendship, Durand, Siglio Press

What is it? A graphic novel? A fictional revision of an archive? A melodrama? All of the above! The story is told in a collage, using archives of State propaganda pictures to tell a fictional story of a personal, individual, singular resistance, in the form of friendship. A development in this novel concerns politically driven preferences for tri-tone colour process versus Kodak’s “Imperialist” technology and is worth reading for the sheer absurdity.  Fake friendship, strategic alliance, dies. True friendship, elective affinity, lives forever.

Listening to Images, Campt, Yale

Forever now, the turn in photographic criticism to “read” pictures has been in the rear-view. Over the last few years, books with little legitimate claim to do so (catalogues of fashion pictures, books of ambient, unfocused and ethereal cloudscapes) have all referenced French Semiotics to the degree that the reference to Roland Barthes critically legitimized “art” photography, but over and above that legitimization, this tendency has shaped a way of seeing. For this reason, I have long felt the need in the discourse for a new way of evaluating pictures, inasmuch as discourse can be used as an instrument to understanding. It seemed promising how psychoanalysis and philosophy made inroads into film theory, making local, minor sensations a worthwhile locus for criticism. Campt does not utilize this line of flight while studying images specifically, but the concentration she has on the haptic, quotidian frequencies that belie the surface of photographs of slavery make dispossessed senses rise up, so for all the intellectual rigour of this book, I found it touching. I hope more students of photography have “Listening to Images” assigned to them over “Camera Lucida” in the future.

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