10 December 2020

PHmuseum’s Best Photobooks of 2020

10 December 2020 - Written by PhMuseum

Selected by our team of curators and contributors, we are glad to present our personal list of top 12 photobooks published in this unprecedented year.

Afterlife by Vasantha Yogananthan | Published by Chose Commune | Selected by Rocco Venezia

Afterlife is the sixth chapter and the penultimate book from A Myth of Two Souls, the ambitious series started in 2013 by Vasantha Yogananthan, inspired by the Indian myths of The Ramayana. Although all the titles featured some unique approach and interpretation to the stories, Afterlife signals quite a drastic departure from the early chapters of the series. Even without showing the violence, Afterlife tells the story of the epic battle between the protagonist Rama and Ravana. The calm and light pastel colours characterising the previous titles have been abandoned and leave now a sort of exploration of darkness where obscure tones and unstable energies are playing a main role. The time of processing material has always been an important feature of the working methods adopted by Yogananthan, and this time a new technique is introduced - the collage - giving a completely new context to previously made images. The photographs and the collages are combined on two different sizes of papers that give the possibility of hiding and revealing images accordingly while creating every time a new dialogue where the same image can be associated with a different photo on a diverse page. The process of removing enhanced by the use of collage is giving away only a few elements that are giving us a context of the time we are living - the clock on one of the first pages, the belt of a child later on - most of the book gives the perception that all these characters are suspended in a timeless and dark realm, a realm of calm conflict maybe not so different from the one we are living in these strange days.

A Small Guide To Homeownership by Alejandro Cartagena | Published by The Velvet Cell | Selected by Giuseppe Oliverio

Over the past 13 years, we have learned about Alejandro Cartagena and his ambitious project of documenting and understanding the effects of mass constructions and suburbanisation of the metropolitan area of Monterrey, Mexico. Yet it is only with this book that we can have a clear understanding of Alejandro's work, its depths, and importance. The design of a proper guide with all the tips and tricks to real estate investments hides a more profound reality centred around impressive documentation of the city's new neighborhoods, some sort of deserted non-places, and the people that revolve around them, such as families, investors, brokers, and the now-famous car poolers. The formal and apparently neutral approach of the author's visual records contrasts with the guide's persuasive, positive, and often grotesque style. The narrative progressively offers us all the elements to suggest what it will mean to own an American house in Mexico. It's a timely work started before the biggest property crisis of all time. It's a smart way to show what's going on starting from facts. The causes and effects of a certain approach to capitalism, and its consequences on people and the environment. A careful look at the American Dream served with Taco sauce that leaves us with a bittersweet question: does all of this make sense?

A Voice Above the Linn by Robbie Lawrence | Published by Stanley/Barker | Selected by Lucia De Stefani

Visiting a remote span of coastline in the west coast of Scotland, in the Rosneath peninsula, in 2016, Robbie Lawrence photographed the “botanical zoo” that is Linn Gardens and the botanist who devotedly ran them, Jim Taggart. Because of the region’s microclimate, the Linn Gardens can grow plants and flowers from all over the world, earning them the title of the most biodiverse place in Scotland. Jim’s son, Jamie, who also ran the gardens with his father years ago, ventured into the mountainous region of northern Vietnam in search of new plants to bring back home, never to return. So Jim, who died last year at 84, kept the garden as a memorial for his son. As per the original tradition of 1840s photography and his unmistakable romantic trait, Lawrence seems to apply pictorial art to the grain of his photographs in A Voice Above the Linn. The leaves, branches, landscape, and Jim’s portraits all appear bathed in light or enveloped in shades, and are infused by a faded elegance and a tactile vibrant presence - in fact, a "voice" - that Lawrence delicately extracts from every modest form passing the air, the water, or the plants at the Linn Gardens. Each frame is a visual poem humming the conventional but unfathomable beauty of which life is made of.

Day Sleeper by Dorothea Lange, Sam Contis | Published by Mack | Selected by Lucia De Stefani

We’re so familiar with Dorothea Lange’s Depression-era body of work, her iconic Migrant Mother photographed for the federal Farm Security Administration, and the mark her style has left on documentary photography at large, that this newly published body of work, Day Sleeper, leaves the viewer enchanted, one more time, even incredulous, wanting for more. This newly found, and unexpectedly contemporary work by Lange focuses on unconventional frames capturing small gestures, enigmatic hands, silhouettes, fragments of bodies and limbs, but also the everyday life that happens in front of Lange’s very eyes. Photographer and artist Sam Contis took two years to collect the images that compose Day Sleeper from Lange’s personal archive, many of them never published before. Contis recalls the fascination that Lange had with “how bodies move through space,” and how mesmerising her way to capture the ordinary was. It’s the fascination that permeates every frame of Lange’s work in Day Sleeper - and it shows.

Rabbit Hare by David Billet and Ian Kline | Published Deadbeat Club | Selected by Colin Pantall

The emphasis here is on enjoyment. There are great images in Rabbit Hare, fitted into narratives that somehow manage to be both direct and enigmatic, with a story that draws a picture of a road trip to Texas that hits all the American high notes but with a playful undercurrent.

Recetario para la Memoria by Zahara Gomez | Self Published | Selected by Veronica Sanchis

Recetario para la memoria is a gastronomic, photographic and social-based project created by Argentine-Spanish photographer Zahara Gómez together with Clarisa Moura, Tai La Bella Damsky, and Las Rastreadoras - a group of 130 women who look for their missing children in Mexico. Motivated to give a homage to desaparecidos - those people who have been forcefully disappeared, presumed killed by authorities or gangs, commonly in Latin America – the book looks at the victims’ favourite meals cooked by their mothers. The book comprises testimonies, recipes, and photographs of these humble and loving dishes. Along with the book, they have also created a website open to the public, which features more information about the victims, videos, and a collaborative project. In addition, 50% of the book sales will be donated to Las Rastreadoras del Fuerte, a group of women tracers in Los Mochis, Sinaloa, Mexico.

Segni Migranti by Mario Cresci | Published by Postcart Edizioni | Selected by Rocco Venezia

This book is the result of a collective process undertaken by a working group from ISIA University (Urbino, Italy) lead by designer Mauro Bubbico with artist Mario Cresci. The volume is much more than a photography book, it is closer to an anthropologic set made of signs and images: the most complex iconographic account on the artist ever composed so far.

Some of You Killed Luisa by Valeria Cherchi | Published by Eriskay Connection | Selected by Giuseppe Oliverio

Kidnappings represented a true plague for Italy over the second half of the 20th century, with many emblematic cases such as that of Prime Minister Aldo Moro in 1978 or that of Farouk Kassam in 1992. While researching the phenomenon in Sardinia, her homeland, Italian photographer Valeria Cherchi came across the story of Luisa Manfredi who was shot dead on the terrace of her house in 2003 aged 14. She is the daughter of Matteo Boe, the man responsible for Farouk's kidnapping and many others. This key discovery triggers a series of connections and feeds the author's thirst for understanding. Where does the culture of silence come from? What brings an educated man to mutilate a child? What changes in the victim's life? The book's small format feels like something between a diary and a detective's notebook. The combination of narration in the first person, archival images, and Valeria's visual research drag you into the story until you find yourself flipping quickly among the pages, going back and forth to connect the dots. Valeria's approach is brave, bold, and delicate at the same time. Interviews, relevant information, and personal thoughts mix in a sort of behind the scenes look at the author's discovery process. Some of You Killed Luisa is an important work that goes beyond the pure documentation of a tragic phenomenon and where all the diverse textual and visual elements function properly, making us wonder if silence can become a cause or consequence of social disequilibrium and lack of justice.

The Adventures of Guille and Belinda and The Illusion of an Everlasting Summer by Alessandra Sanguinetti | Published by Mack | Selected by Veronica Sanchis

The Adventures of Guille and Belinda and The Illusion of an Everlasting Summer is a continuation of Alessandra Sanguinetti’s long-term project with Belinda and Guillermina, two cousins whose lives in rural Argentina she has followed since they were children. This new volume follows them from puberty to their early-twenties, witnessing the changes that both cousins experienced as young adults; pregnancy, motherhood, family, and young passion. In this new long-term documentation, Sanguinetti again captured the beauty and poetic landscape of the South American country. The photographs are intimate and touching, the romantic accompanying light adds that painterly quality that makes this story somewhat oneiric.

Ukrzaliznytsia by Julie Poly | Self Published | Selected by Colin Pantall

Ukrzaliznytsia is a series of short stories photographed in and around the trains of the Ukrainian Railway system. Made by Julie Poly (former train conductress and alumni of the Ukrainian State Academy of Railway Transport), it is a book where the specific weirdnesses of Ukrainian geography and travel come up against gender and sexuality in the overheated intimacy of the train compartment. It's a great big gem of a book and my favourite of the year.

What Photography & Incarceration have in Common with an Empty Vase by Edgar Martins | Published by The Moth House | Selected by Laurence Cornet

To address incarceration, Edgar Martins shot everywhere but inside jails. Rather, he used metaphors and symbols, brought together with triggering design elements and a full notebook of inmate’s diaries. Beyond incarceration, his project offers a reflection on photography in terms of its limits and potential when documenting essentially invisible issues.

Where the Birds Never Sing by Soumya Sankar Bose | Published by Red Turtle Photobook | Selected by Laurence Cornet

In Where the Birds Never Sing, Indian photographer Soumya Sankar Bose investigates a drama known as the Marichjhapi massacre, where thousands of Bengalese refugees were killed on the occasion of a bloody eviction by the Indian police in 1979. Facing a historical event with no palpable archive, Bose relied on oral history to re-enact some testimonies of the survivors, creating a one-of-kind archive of events that would otherwise soon be erased from collective memory.


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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