PhMuseum’s Best Photobooks of 2022

Our team of curators and contributors is glad to present our personal selection of the top 10 photobooks published this year.

As It Was Give(n) To Me by Stacy Kranitz | Twin Palms | Selected by Laurence Cornet

For the past twelve years, Stacy Kranitz has been making photographs in the Appalachian region of the United States in order to explore how photography can solidify or demystify stereotypes, and interpret memory and history in a region where the medium has failed to provide an equitable depiction of its people. 

Rather than reinforcing conventional views of Appalachia as a poverty-ridden region, or by selectively dwelling on positive aspects of the place and its people to offset problematic stereotypes, this work insists that each of these options are equally problematic ways of looking at place. This work does not attempt to illustrate a certain type of injustice in the hope of remedying it. Instead, Kranitz has come to Appalachia to open up a new kind of narrative, one that examines our understanding of culture and place in a manner that is poised between notions of right and wrong.

As the narrative of As it Was Give(n) To Me unfolds, the book provides an intimate perspective on a region forced to transition away from coal extraction as its dominant source of economic stability, an opioid epidemic that has wreaked havoc on communities, and the role of Appalachia in a politically divided nation.

Big Fence / Pitcairn Island by Rhiannon Adam | Blow Up Press | Selected by Giuseppe Oliverio

In 2015, Pitcairn Island became the focus of Irish artist Rihannon Adam. Over the course of three months, she carried out extensive research on the troubled history of this land and that of its community who settled in the southern Pacific Ocean volcanic archipelagos as a consequence of the Bounty mutineers in the 18th century. Aware of the several sexual assaults on minors denounced for the first time in 1999, Adams gives life to an articulated work that implements landscape pictures, portraits of the inhabitants, archival images, polaroids, newspaper articles, and documents from her research.

The narrative is often developed through contrast: that of a social documentary approach opposite to a more artistic vision; the stereotypic image of a paradise island, with the harsh reality of its community; the dreams of youth with a claustrophobic sense of being trapped. The book succeeds in enhancing all these elements thanks to a sophisticated and sometimes overwhelming use of design - two inverted covers, unfolding pages, Coptic binding, a map, and much more! - which is actually functional to give you all the elements you need to embrace your own exploration of this controversial story, and eventually join the dots to draw your conclusions.

House of Bondage by Ernest Cole | Aperture | Selected by Colin Pantall

This is a reprint of Ernest Cole's devastating visual exploration of the structure of apartheid, the way it infested every vestige of black being in South Africa. Residency, housing, transport, religion, and education are all shown as being used as tools of racism in ways that are both direct and nuanced. There is no room for ambiguity and none is given.

Prelude To the Broken Ram by David Fathi | L’Artiere | Selected by Rocco Venezia

Playing with the odd analogies between photography, readymade, chess, and artificial intelligence Prelude to the broken RAM is an exploratory publication in "beta" form that has been constructed completely with the assistance of brand-new generative AI technologies. The volume questions the new methods that are about to fundamentally alter the way we see and produce pictures, writing, and multimedia. The title is a stretch on the concept "Random Access Memory," a crucial component of computer memory and processing, as well as a reference to Marcel Duchamp's Prelude to the Broken Arm.

Through four major historical junctures, the book serves as a “Zeitgeist” in these historical times where technology redefines what constitutes human creativity and art. Speculating on how AI is now perceived as a danger to the position of artists, similar to how photography was in the past for painters Prelude to the Broken RAM unfolds as a non-linear analysis of these narrative cycles, as well as of the unanswered questions and anxieties about the future.

Signs by the Roadside by Miro Kuzmanovic | Self-Published | Selected by Colin Pantall

Signs by the Roadside is a fantastic book that combines pictures of Kuzmanovic’s departure from the former Yugoslavia in 1993 with screengrabs of war criminals and images of contemporary nationalisms. One of the best books on conflict of recent years/ever.

Sonata by Aaron Schuman | Mack Books | Selected by Lucia De Stefani

A sonata is a classical form consisting of three movements that progress throughout the piece—the exposition, development, and recapitulation—in which the melodic theme is stated, explored, and reaffirmed, respectively.

This classical form guides Aaron Schuman's lyrical study of Italy in Sonata, published by MackBooks—an ideal soundtrack for a modern old country with a long history that dwells on certain stanzas and refrains, evoking a communal imagination that comforts.

Besides the symphonies in our minds—the wine-tone fabric of the cover nods to the décor of concert halls—Schuman is also guided by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Italian Journey (1786–88): “How much can I take with a single glance?” the poet wonders during his travel chronicle. It’s certainly a gripping conundrum for the observant romantic photographer who savours every turn of this journey. Things, objects, architectures, landscapes, geometries, traditions, “the sacred and the profane,” all display to him a bewildering beauty. As picture frames enclose other frames, hanging from a single nail on a peeling wall, pragmatism and nonchalance elevate the banal to the level of poetry—or, rather, music.

A marble bowl brimming with coins—a wish for future visits—and more scattered across the floor: marble layers with white and grey tones, while the marks left by coins on the floor show the passage of time. Astonished statues, foggy café windows, half-open doors on the mysterious and the mundane. A vast, imposing gallery of olive trees—a twisted sign of newfound strength. It's a "road to the city" that carries us through this imagined vision, escorted by the languid yet eternal accompaniment of music.

Stardust by Anna Krieps | Skinner Boox | Selected by Laurence Cornet

Stardust is a book about the relationship between humans and the Cosmos. It concentrates on the transition from the innermost wishes to the collective Dream and conversely, from the infinite small to the infinite big.

The Four Pillars by Eli Durst | Loose Joints | Selected by Lucia De Stefani

Eli Durst’s project started in the basement of a faith-based self-help group in Newtown, Connecticut. Over the course of several years, he came back regularly to photograph the close-knit suburban community as they gathered for events such as amateur theatre, athletics, pregnancy support groups, and family portraits. 

In The Four Pillars, Durst explores—and amplifies, aided by the dramatic effect of black-and-white staged photography—the distance between the privacy of personal, often suppressed, emotions and the public exposure of participation in a group environment.

Despite its anonymity, Durst is drawn to the atmosphere of the basement as he perceives such space as “loaded”; more crucially, the unassuming room is brimming with the energy of individual efforts towards personal growth, self-reflection, and meaning-making.

Durst challenges the idealistic and individualistic American dreams of success, happiness, and self-improvement, by focusing on what lies beyond the obvious, fusing the natural and the artificial, the concrete and the invisible.

The Rooted Heart Began To Change by Allan Salas | Witty Books | Selected by Rocco Venezia

Allan Salas father lived through a heart attack just a month following the passing of the author’s grandmathor. This established a moment of departure for the artist who roamed the country - Costa Rica - for several months in an effort to deal with these existential dreads. 

Salas' grief and sorrow break the quietness of his surrounding, where he arrived and began to represent his internal conflict. In this dark journey, the produced images are revealing the scars left by the passage of time charged with an emotional atmosphere.

The story develops as a poetic investigation of life's precariousness. Moving across the pages of The Rooted Heart Began to Change, we are confronting death and its presence. The sublime power of nature is in the making, sometimes we pause and admire its reassuring beauty, while some other times we experience its destructive power that hangs over us. A personal examination of the soul which makes us reflect on human suffering in the midst of the unknown.

 УYY by Yelena Yemchuk | Depart Pour L'Image | Selected by Giuseppe Oliverio

 The book УYY is an evocative journey into the imaginary and visual research of Ukranian-born and United States-raised artist Yelena Yemchunk. The publication combines photographs, paintings, and personal archives through which the author embraces a brave exploration that revolves around memories and tradition. Women and youth lead the narratives, and a delicate often oniric approach sets the tone.

Her mental and documentary effort hides several layers of interpretation that are well supported by the book design and a division into three chapters in reverse order. УYY is an acronym for Україна Yelena Yemchuk, with the first word being the Slavic for «Ukraine», an intimate journey into a personal story and the infinite possibilities of life.

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To be considered for this and other editorial initiatives related to photobook, feel free to get in touch with us at info@phmuseum.com

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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.

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 works as curator for PhMuseum. Follow him on PhMuseum and Instagram.

As It Was Give(n) To Me by Stacy Kranitz | Twin Palms
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As It Was Give(n) To Me by Stacy Kranitz | Twin Palms

Big Fence / Pitcairn Island by Rhiannon Adam | Blow Up Press
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Big Fence / Pitcairn Island by Rhiannon Adam | Blow Up Press

House of Bondage by Ernest Cole | Aperture
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House of Bondage by Ernest Cole | Aperture

Prelude To the Broken Ram by David Fathi | L’Artiere
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Prelude To the Broken Ram by David Fathi | L’Artiere

Signs by the Roadside by Miro Kuzmanovic | Self-Published | Selected by Colin Pantall
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Signs by the Roadside by Miro Kuzmanovic | Self-Published | Selected by Colin Pantall

Sonata by Aaron Schuman | Mack Books
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Sonata by Aaron Schuman | Mack Books

Stardust by Anna Krieps | Skinner Boox
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Stardust by Anna Krieps | Skinner Boox

The Four Pillars by Eli Durst | Loose Joints
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The Four Pillars by Eli Durst | Loose Joints

The Rooted Heart Began To Change by Allan Salas | Witty Books
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The Rooted Heart Began To Change by Allan Salas | Witty Books

УYY by Yelena Yemchuk | Depart Pour L'Image
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УYY by Yelena Yemchuk | Depart Pour L'Image