17 December 2019

The Best Book of 2019

17 December 2019 - Written by PhMuseum

Our team of curators and contributors featuring Colin Pantall, Laurence Cornet, Lucia De Stefani, Verónica Sanchis Bencomo, Giuseppe Oliverio, and Rocco Venezia highlights the photobooks that have caught their attention this year.

American Origami by Andres Gonzalez | Co-published by Light Work and Fw:Books | Selected by Laurence Cornet

An investigation of a mass shooting in American high schools, American Origami is served by a sharp visual language that never falls into spectacular nor drama in order for us to think about the issue instead of merely reacting to it. Interviews in the first person, central to the work, also bring in a new perspective on mass shooting and their aftermath. The original design, the brainchild of Hans Gremmen, brings everything together in a metaphoric way, with a binding that both reminds us of origami and hides half of the pages the same way American society hide behind the American dream.

Book of Roy by Neil Drabble | Published by Mack Books | Selected by Lucia De Stefani

Over the course of seven years, British photographer Neil Drabble has documented the adolescence of an American boy, meeting him each year at his house in suburban New England. The result is the voluminous Book of Roy. Space becomes inconsequential as time plays the main role in this coming of age, as Roy transforms from a carefree youth with braces into a young man shaving before the mirror. Rather than adopting the celebratory tone of family albums and frames, Drabble focuses on ordinary moments of domestic life, opening a window into one of the most iridescent and awkward of all ages - adolescence - tracing the turns and nuances that lead to manhood, while reflecting on his own personal evolution as well.

English Journey by John Angerson | Published by B&W Studio | Selected by Colin Pantall

In English Journey, John Angerson follows the route J.B. Priestley took on his 1930s trip from Southampton in the south to Newcastle in the north. Priestley's account highlighted the severe social and economic problems evident in the country and helped inspire George Orwell's Road to Wigan Pier. On his contemporary journey, Angerson imagines Priestley is by his side as he travels. With Angerson as his guide, we see an outsourced, shell of a nation. It's a sober book where the hard facts of the captions layer into formal photographs in a superbly designed book that captures the cold, hard facts of a country past its sell-by-date.

Errors of Possession by Garrett Grove | Published by Trespasser | Selected by Rocco Venezia

Errors of Possession is Grove's first monograph which takes form before, during, and after the 2016 US presidential election. While in the volume, no immediate political imagery is presented, the enigmatic, witty and rich symbolism of the rural landscapes and its inhabitants are clearly exuding the cultural and economic depression of those years. While flipping through the pages of the book, we experience an edit which combines more formal black-and-white images with bright flashy colour photos; this stylistic clash, together with the uneasy universes portrayed in the photographs, propose a present and fresh way of conceiving the American Dream.

Hola Mi Amol by Karla Hiraldo Voleau | Co-Published by SPBH Editions and ECAL | Selected by Giuseppe Oliverio

A Latin lover writing passionate poems on Facebook Messenger. A walking sculpture. Sand-covered muscles. Virility and masculinity are analysed and almost deconstructed by the female gaze of French-Dominican photographer Karla Hiraldo Voleau who is not afraid of staring at those who stare the most. There is something in her voyeuristic approach. She is not afraid of confrontation and exchange; it’s not a problem for her to be considered a tourist even if half of her family comes from Dominican Republic. Most importantly, she seems honest in her sometimes-staged-sometimes-not world and constructive, like if she was encouraging men to embrace their fragility beyond those stereotypes that identify the alpha male - and suggesting that there can be different dynamics in the relationship between a man and a woman. The book leaves space to this dreamlike summer tale, with just a few lines of texts that nurture the reader’s fantasies while making one thing clear: never date a Dominican.

Jardin by Massao Mascaro | Published by Witty Kiwi | Selected by Lucia De Stefani

The 41 photos comprising Massao Mascaro’s series Jardin depict the fragile complexity of a landscape and human experience crystalised into the natural parks and gardens in Europe. Sowing intimate traces of an everyday genesis, like a seed, at once yielding an orchard or a nation, Mascaro’s black-and-white Jardin evolves into metaphors of a lyrical nature, inviting us into a hushed zone of nostalgia and transition - the suspended time of an angular shadow growing between a façade and an unkempt hedge, or a plastic bag casting its stark silhouette beneath the sun, evoking an infinite but transient sense of freedom as well as the isolation of a finite space, a finite life.

La Puente by Charlotte Schmitz | Published by Foto Evidence | Selected by Veronica Sanchis

La Puente is the first book published by Charlotte Schmitz. La Puente (bridge in Spanish) is the biggest brothel in southern Ecuador, in the city of Machala, where more than 150 women are working. Charlotte collaborated with the women to create the images, who later applied nail polish onto their polaroids in order to provide anonymity. The instant gratification of the polaroid and the freedom of the nail polish provided a creative collective project, which breaks-down the expectation of photographing a brothel in South America. The active collaboration of the women and photographer provides us with a fresh perspective into a somewhat clichéd subject matter, and the way it’s been portrayed.

Le Mue by Ayline Olukman | Published by Médiapop Editions | Selected by Rocco Venezia

La Mue - from the French, moulting - is a work that examines the skin, not much as a biological surface rather as the only boundary to access the intimate yet universal geography recurring in every individual. In the volume, the duality of the artist’s work is disclosed: Olukman started as a painter and now uses photographs to facilitate the connection between body and nature. She collects perishable objects like flowers and fruits using them to recreate dream-like scenarios in her studio which are then contraposed to visions from the external universes. So while combining in her practice the use of still life, landscape, and portraiture, we are fronting a process which challenges the idea of creation itself, and at the same time serves the artist to seek for her own identity her body.

Montöristen by Carl-Mikael Ström | Published by VOID | Selected by Giuseppe Oliverio

The extraordinary in ordinary life apparently became clear all of a sudden to photographer Carl-Mikael Ström on the day he became a father. Facing doubts, self-conflict, relationships, and so on were no more the centre of his existence as it was being there for his son. This crucial shift in the life of a young man is the starting point of a visual exploration that goes beyond fatherhood to deal with existential questions - and how somebody’s few wobbly certainties can be wiped out by the arrival of a kid. Carl-Mikael seems not afraid to open up and embrace this exciting and scary inner journey - both with images and a selection of 1700 journal pages written during his son's first year - as VOID’s design to accompany him with elegance and simplicity.

Old Tjikko by Nicolai Howalt | Published by Fabrik Books | Selected by Laurence Cornet

Old Tjikko is not a human but a tree. With more than 9,000 years of existence, Tjikko is the oldest living organism known to man. And to convey this story, Nicolai Howalt used a simple yet powerful apparatus; he collected 97 different photo papers, all expired (some of them dating back to the 1940s), and printed on them the only photograph of Tjikko. Sometimes barely visible, sometimes revealed in all its details, the fragility of the tree appears through the various chemical reactions, themselves witnesses of the passing of time. The accompanying texts, ranging from science to philosophy, work as a moving and timely biography.

Sweat by Reiner Riedler | Published by Reflektor | Selected by Colin Pantall

So the patron saint of photography is Saint Veronica. She wiped the face of Jesus with a veil and an image of Christ's face appeared. The same process of making an image from sweat appears in Reiner Riedler's Sweat. It's a book of faces, bodies, breasts, limbs and hands that have been marked out on sweat sensitive material and then photographed. The book itself is a beauty, a fold-our extravagance of full Saint Veronica sweat-based weirdness in tactile form.

Umbral by Erika Morillo | Self-Published | Selected by Veronica Sanchis

Umbral, by Dominican photographer Erika Morillo, is an intimate book that touches on motherhood and friendship. The book is designed to resemble a letter within an envelope, and it opens with a photograph of her son Amaru welcoming the reader to enter this personal journey. All the photographs in black and white suggest the wonders and curiosity of a child, all delicately recorded by his mother, who seems to learn about the world from a new perspective. The book presents only a small amount of text, which intends to guide the reader, but one can also purely enjoy the images alone.


Colin Pantall is a photographer, writer and lecturer based in Bath, England. His latest book, All Quiet on the Home Front, focuses on family, fatherhood and the landscape. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Laurence Cornet is a writer and curator based in Paris focusing on cultural and environmental issues. She is also the editorial director of Dysturb.

Lucia De Stefani is a writer and editor focusing on photography, illustration, and everything teens. She lives in New York. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Verónica Sanchis Bencomo is a Venezuelan photographer and curator based in Hong Kong. In 2014, she founded Foto Féminas, a platform that promotes the works of female Latin American and Caribbean photographers. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Giuseppe Oliverio is an Italian entrepreneur and filmmaker who founded PHmuseum in 2012. Follow him on PHmuseum and Instagram.

Rocco Venezia is an Italian visual artist. His first book Nekyia, has been published in 2017 and is part of the collection of The National Art Library - V&A Museum. Next to his personal projects he is curator and producer for PHmuseum. Follow him on PHmuseum and Instagram.

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Reading time

12 minutes