From career-spanning monographs to vernacular gems, Alex Merola previews a selection of this year’s most captivating photo books
Against the backdrop of the pandemic, heightened civil unrest and a general air of malaise, many of us have felt a more pressing need to find worlds outside our own, and some have found theirs between the covers of a photo book. With career-spanning monographs, vernacular gems and bold debuts all on the horizon, book lovers have reasons to be excited for the year ahead. After all, as Gustave Flaubert put it: “Pleasure is found first in anticipation, later in memory.” Here are the highlights that 2022 has to offer.
The Drawer by Vince Aletti, published by Self Publish, Be Happy (lead image)
Ephemera, memorabilia and printed matter abound: for the first time ever, Vince Aletti has documented the stacked contents of his antique flat file in his legendary East Village apartment, and compiled them in what is a prize discovery of a book for Bruno Ceschel’s Self Publish, Be Happy. Barely scratching the surface of Aletti’s colossal collection, The Drawer is a teasing glimpse into the universe of a man whose affinity with the page and its associative possibilities is boundless.
A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai) by Jeff Wall, published by TBW Books
TBW Books is a publisher we should all feel lucky to have, and this exquisite book-object reminds us why. Nearly a decade in the making, A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai) is comprised of 98 panels which – when hung as per the publisher’s instructions – rustle with a light air flow, thereby reanimating Jeff Wall’s reanimation of Hokusai’s woodblock print Ejiri in Suruga Province (c.1832). Synthesising scale, materiality and kinesis, here’s a work that conveys meaning in a way that transcends the sum of its parts. And how heartening it is to witness both author and publisher free the photo book from orthodoxy with such daunting ambition.
Judith Joy Ross: Photographs 1978–2015, published by Aperture
An early treat is Aperture’s quietly glorious, clothbound retrospective charting the arc of Judith Joy Ross’ life and career. Approximately half of her 200 plates appear for the first time anywhere in print, activating new dimensions through which readers can appreciate the American’s peerless body of work. Formally restrained yet emotionally transparent, Ross’ lavendery renderings of children, soldiers, teachers and politicians – all of whom seem to have lost any shyness before the photographer’s old, unblinking camera – possess an uncommonly pure faith in the individual and the potential of society. Her work ranks up there with Lewis Hines’ and August Sander’s – they are portraiture’s greatest.
SCUMB Manifesto by Justine Kurland, published by Mack Books
Justine Kurland’s tribute to Valerie Solanas’ hilarious SCUM (Society for Cutting Up Men) Manifesto at New York’s Higher Pictures Generation was among the most urgent work to surface last year, so it’s exciting to see her sliced shreds of photo books authored by white men reassembled in book form via Mack Books. The rip-roaring collages – which announce a kind of quantum leap in Kurland’s practice – are in concert with a host of commissioned essays: Cunts with the Kitchen Knife by Marina Chao, The Common Place by Catherine Lord, We Were Cuts Cutting by Renee Gladman, The First Cut is the Deepest by Ariana Reines and SCUMB by the artist herself. It might just be as sharp and clear-sighted a skewering of the male canon – its myths, its twisting of psyches, its “MONOPOLY ON MEANING AND VALUE” – as you’ll ever witness. Patriarchy, Kurland warns on the front cover: “I’M COMING FOR YOU WITH A BLADE.”
SOKOHI by Moe Suzuki, published by Chose Commune
This summer, French publisher Chose Commune will bring to life Moe Suzuki’s SOKOHI, a hauntingly beautiful dummy book that reckons with her father’s glaucoma (an eye condition) and journey towards total blindness. Appropriating a lifetime’s worth of hand-written journals, notes and letters – all reimagined through photographic and physical interventions that invoke blindspots, haze and occlusions – Suzuki strives to simulate her father’s fluctuating ways of seeing the world and to summon the inner world of a man slowly accepting his fate. The more elaborate and complex Suzuki’s methods become, the deeper the darkness. Clarity is not available here, but some of the most poignant feelings that a photo book can elicit certainly are.
Floridas by Anastasia Samoylova and Walker Evans, published by Steidl
As its title suggests, this shimmering Steidl-published book embraces the pluralities that riddle the American state of Florida. Juxtaposing her photographs with Walker Evans’ (uncannily contemporary) records of the nation’s vacationland dating between the 1930s and 70s, Anastasia Samoylova weaves her way through the continuum of Florida’s contradictions: its seductive vulgarities, its political oscillations, its hubristic expansions yet sinking fate. Floridas makes a fine addition to the flourishing oeuvre of Samoylova, whose lyrical evocations of encroaching environmental disaster have rightly earned her a spot as a shortlisted artist for this year’s Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize. She really is at the top of her game.
Sorry I Gave Birth I Disappeared But Now I’m Back by Andi Galdi Vinko, published by Trolley Books
Hungarian photographer Andi Galdi Vinko has given everything she’s got to her narration of pregnancy and postpartum: its transformations on the body, its infringements of personal space, its grotesque excretions and its life-affirming powers. Published by Trolley Books, here is a work that is unafraid to blow up the myth of maternity while in the very act of celebrating it.
Left, Right by Cai Dongdong, published by La Maison de Z
Cai Dongdong’s frankly astonishing History of Life (2021) is no easy book to follow, but, with Left, Right, the Chinese artist has retained much of his scope while drawing on the comedic and critical impulses that inform his photo-sculptures. Coming courtesy of La Maison de Z – directed by Zhen Shi, who has a penchant for translating found photographs into book form – the book present snapshots of women before 1949, the year the People’s Republic of China was founded, and after. Alternating between the two eras and their respective ideologies, Cai Dongdong once again shows us he is as much an accidental historian as he is an artist.
Lorna Simpson, published by Phaidon
Phaidon’s thorough expansion of their lauded Lorna Simpson survey of 2001 feels entirely necessary, for the artist has built upon her earlier work to an impressive degree. Within this handsome new edition, essays by Thelma Golden, Naomi Beckwith, Chrissie Iles and Kellie Jones contextualise the evolution of Simpson’s incisive investigations into race, gender and sexuality and the ways they are intertwined: from her image-text pieces of the 1980s, through her forays into film, painting and performance, to her portrait of Rihanna for Essence in 2021, which could be one of the most iconic fashion images ever made. Here, the case is clear: Simpson matters because she not only constructs new worlds, but deconstructs the ones we already know.
Call and Response by Christian Marclay and Steve Beresford, published by Siglio
What does an image sound like? What does music look like? Such are the musings of Call and Response by artist Christian Marclay and musician Steve Beresford, the newest release in Siglio’s small but judicious selection of titles. Pairing Marclay’s witty views of a locked-down London with Beresford’s scores, what’s minimal eventually winds up as expansive. This playful correspondence gifts readers a stirring experience for the senses: an ode to image as sound, to sound as image, to the triumph of connectivity over dislocation. Pure magic.
Life and adventures of a silver woman on planet Earth by Thomas Mailaender, published by RVB Books
Rosemary Jacobs, whose exposure to silver nitrate at the age of nine resulted in her skin’s silvery-blue hue, has long been a subject of intrigue. Yet, in Thomas Mailaender’s forthcoming publication with RVB Books, she appears unlike any of her many media portrayals. Mixing Mailaender’s photographs taken during his stay in New Hampshire with Jacobs’ family snapshots, ephemera and auto-portraits, it’s a collaborative, psychological and demystifying portrait of a woman whose affinity with photography – its properties, qualities and capacity for self-realisation – runs deep.
Dry Hole by David Thompson, published by Mörel Books and and the Archive of Modern Conflict
Guided by intuition, editor David Thompson has interwoven 444 “real-photo postcards” to produce this hallucinatory snapshot of early America with Mörel Books and the Archive of Modern Conflict. Around 1900, small Kodak cameras became widely available; in 1905, the postal rate for postcards was reduced to a penny. All of a sudden, people everywhere were able to send these cards, and – as Dry Hole evinces – similar kinds of compositions were made simultaneously. There are the reverberating sounds too: those of farmers digging, sawmills churning, thunder striking. This is one of those rare books that is both specific and sweeping, for it’s in the traces’ accumulative effect that they encompass something total: the dreams of the masses, the land of plenty, a new world gleaned through new vernacular eyes. Prepare to be utterly amazed.