My favourite photobooks of 2016
ZZYZX – Gregory Halpern
I knew this was my book of the year within minutes of opening it. Halpern makes pictures like no one else and the sequencing – at once awkward and perfect – is innovative too. I was re-reading Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’ when Halpern’s book arrived, and it’s still difficult for me to look at the photographs outside of that context. Simply brilliant.
The Prospect of Immortality – Murray Ballard
Someone once said that good access is 90% of photography. But the paraphernalia that surrounds cryonics is bland, repetitive, and not so easy to make pictures of; the subject moves with a snail-like pace or, more often, doesn’t move at all. But Ballard’s eloquent still-lives (how appropriate) are a timely insight into a fascinating subject often written about but rarely seen, and certainly never to this degree. Murray’s understanding of all things cryonic runs deep (the project was ten years in the making) and the book mixes images and an informative text so that you end up feeling you’ve learned something. My second favourite book of the year.
Post – Marta Zgierska
An understated book of interventions, sculptures, and intricate performance-portraits made following a serious car accident, and testimony to the power of art to heal. The image of a bloodied coat hanging on a blank domestic wall will stay with me for a very long time, as will a number of other memorable pictures by this talented Polish artist.
My Air Force – Vojtech Veskrna
I’m grateful to Ania Nałęcka-Milach for making me aware of this gorgeous little book. With the potent imagination of a child, Veskrna demonstrates his passion for aeroplanes, mixing models (subjected to various terrifying experiments) drawings and photographs from a Czech airbase (it’s here we really get a sense of his longing to be a pilot). It’s a book about dreams of freedom and adventure, and includes a handmade dust jacket made from a technical print of an L-39 Albatros, whatever that is.
Macht/Power – Arwed Messmer and Annett Groschner
By crikey, this is an epic piece of research. Meticulously created panoramas (1,059 to be precise) of the entire Berlin Wall using recently discovered images taken in 1966 by East German border guards. Surprisingly, the Wall isn’t a continuous concrete monolith at all, but is more often parts of buildings joined together with a tangle of barbed wire. I would never have had the patience to finish this myself, but I’m so glad Messmer and Groschner did. The book, in two volumes, is so vast I doubt I’ll ever get through it all, but it’s a must for anyone interested in the Cold War and the novels of John le Carré, like me!
Sugar Paper Theories – Jack Latham
Photographer as detective, Latham’s obsessive investigation into an unsolved murder is a story told with intelligence and visual flair. The book cleverly weaves together Latham’s own pictures, archive material, maps, documents and all sorts of other ephemera into one delicious whole, as complicated and multi-faceted as the case itself.
The Difficulties of Nonsense – Robert Cumming
Madcap and often hilarious, these playful sculptures, all made in the 1970s for his 10×8 camera, demonstrate a wonderfully creative imagination. Taking advantage of the simple and straightforward way his machine records in two dimensions, Cumming plays games with our perception. It’s good to see this fascinating artist finally getting the recognition he deserves.
Discordia – Moises Saman
There have been a number of excellent books published this year about the Arab Spring and the subsequent chaos and carnage across the Middle East – ‘Hello Camel’ by Christoph Bangert and the much-lauded ‘Libyan Sugar’ by Michael Christopher Brown to name but two – but ‘Discordia’ is my favourite. At first the cutout collages made little sense and I’ll admit I thought the book was over-designed, but having read through it carefully I now understand what Saman and Daria Birang (the designer) were trying to do. A tragic tale of our times by a great photojournalist.
Provoke: Between Protest and Performance – Diane Dufour and Matthew Witkovsky
A meticulously researched tome about the avant-garde magazine that was so influential for young Japanese photographers in the 60s and 70s and who, in turn, would go on to make their own mark in the West. As well as faithful reprints of the first three copies, the book also acts as a manifesto for the movement and includes interviews with Moriyama, Araki, Nakahira and others. True, the lusciousness of Steidl’s printing is sometimes at odds with the rough-and-ready production of the original publications, but it works. A book to savour for many years to come.
Tokyo – Gerry Johansson
For me, Gerry Johansson can do no wrong. Another wonderful book by the Swedish master about the simple joy of looking and meticulously recording.