The Best Photobooks of 2018
Our team of curators and contributors featuring Colin Pantall, Laurence Cornet, Lucia De Stefani, Verónica Sanchis Bencomo, Giuseppe Oliverio, and Rocco Venezia highlight the photobooks that have caught their attention this year.
ANGST by Soham Gupta | Published by Akina | Selected by Laurence Cornet
Angst, German for Anger, is a documentary portrait of marginality in Calcutta, India. For several years, Soham Gupta wandered his city’s streets at night, shedding light on the poor – or so to say, since his dark images need time to be deciphered. As if to translate the denial for a wide class of forgotten, Gupta’s distorted faces and bodies appear subtly. And if some representations may look devilish, it’s rather to express a dire criticism of an ancestral tradition. Deprived of judgement against his subject, Gupta’s study is an angry cry against India’s social system, accompanied by strongly written testimonies. The whole is served by the high quality of the printing, and there is even a handmade edition for the lovers of collectable gems.
Chauvin En Colombia by Guillaume Chauvin | Published by André Frère | Selected by Laurence Cornet
The title of Guillaume Chauvin’s latest book sounds like that of a children adventure novel. He also borrows from the latter a graphic element – some text written in large characters spread throughout the book and referring to various discoveries he made when navigating a country that he knew nothing about but clichés. Behind the naïve features and apparent lightness though, Chauvin offers an ingenious depiction of this multi-layered country. “The piranhas' aquarium is empty. Maybe they have all eaten each other, even the last one”, he writes. This sentence only could summarise his approach.
El Libro Supremo de la Suerte (The Supreme Book of Luck) is Rose Marie Cromwell’s largest body of work. Cromwell has photographed colloquial events as well as objects while in Havana in order to represent Cuba’s coded lottery booklets. In the quiet scenes and banalities of the streets of the Cuban capital, she found parallels to represent these symbols. Yet, her photographs also captured the warmth and spontaneity of the Caribbean culture.
Er is geen boek ('There is no book') by Emilie Lauwers | Self Publish | Selected by Colin Pantall
This book wasn’t widely available because it was the product of a 10-week workshop that Lauwers ran in a high school in Zelzate, Belgium. It was made for the students. The title comes from the fact that there is no book about the town of Zelzate. No book, no history, no pride in a town seen as a dead-end place for dead-end people. And that’s from the schoolkids taking part in the workshops. Lauwers book is divided into individual chapters. The two-dimensionality of her ‘difficult’ class is thrown into sharp relief by the drawings, the interactions, interests and geographies of the town they live in. There are no dead-ends in this collaboration. And now there is a book.
Except The Clouds by Berangere Fromont | Published by VOID | Selected By Rocco Venezia
“In a landscape where nothing was recognisable, except the clouds, and in the middle, in a field of forces crossing tensions and destructive explosions, the tiny and fragile human body.” This quote by Walter Benjamin constantly informed Fromont along her Greek journey. In her work, photos of an ephemeral reality, set in a contemporary and decayed Athens are alternated with re-appropriated archival imagery of the clashes and protests which took places in the capital during the most profound years of the recent crisis. The book concentrates on the modern events of Greece but while turning each page, the entire atmosphere of the work could inspire a reflection on the notions of existence and presence, on a more universal scale.
Experimental Relationship by Pixy Liao | Published by Jiazazhi | Selected by Lucia De Stefani
In this current and cyclical time of self-seeking questioning, heavily charged with identity arguments about the ever-shifting dynamics of couplehood, Pixy Liao indulges in a peculiar exploration of intimate relationships and gender roles. Pushing the boundaries of intimacy and subverting couple dynamics, she plays with irony and grit, winking, tickling, biting, ultimately shifting paradigm of how we act and react with our romantic partners. Asking her Japanese boyfriend to pose - sometimes alone, sometimes together - in all of sorts of kinky scenarios - now as a nigiri sushiroll, now dangling half-naked from a hanger - Liao challenges codified gestures of romance, dominance and expectations, continuously altering the couple’s roles, a cogent and quirky reflection on gender and power particularly apt for today’s uncertain times.
Swiss designer and photographer Nicolas Polli conducted an extensive research that starts from the discovery of a Feroxite meteorite in the Swiss alps on 10 June, 1944. His meticulous approach comprising photos and text, also featured on an open source web archive, aims to prove that Mars has an undiscovered third moon. Yet, there is a little detail: nothing in this story has ever happened. In times of social media and information overflow - where some people still believe that the Earth is flat and that NASA lies - this book brilliantly engages with the current conversation on post-truth and makes us reflect on the use of photography as a scientific medium.
Heroes del Brillo by Federico Estol | Published by El Ministerio Ediciones | Selected by Verónica Sanchis Bencomo
Heroes del Brillo (Glitter Heroes) is Uruguayan photographer Federico Estol’s latest book publication, in which he documented the lives of a group of shoe polishers working on the streets of La Paz, Bolivia. Even though the project was conceived under a documentary concept, the approach feels more fictional, and this is thanks to Estol’s addition to portraying the workers as superheroes, showing them in a new positive light to get away from negative stereotypes of poverty. The publication’s design emphasises Estol’s photographic purpose in not judging the subjects, quite the opposite, humbly understanding the peoples' need to work.
Look, It’s Getting Sunny Outside by Sohrab Hura | Self Publish | Selected by Colin Pantall
This book is the story of Sohrab Hura’s mother, her mental illness and her struggle to keep her house in order. Most of all though, it’s the story of her dog, Elsa, and their companionship. It’s a beautiful story, and a terribly sad one – Elsa dies in the end – played out against the backdrop of Ma’s messy house. And Hura’s photography and its incidental intimacy is part of that backdrop. It made me cry. I loved it.
Midnight at the Crossroads by Cristina de Middel & Bruno Morais |Published by This Book Is True | Selected by Giuseppe Oliverio
Following the path of Esù, a West African spirit who left Benin, crossed the ocean and reached the shores of Cuba, then Brazil and Haiti, the Spanish-Brazilian duo Cristina De Middel and Bruno Morais undertook a 3-year journey to portray and reflect upon the defining role that the African influence has held in the shaping of Latin American culture. Their mixed approach combining documentary and fiction ingeniously narrates this story and serves the scope of connecting us with the African spirituality, while discovering ceremonies, myths and legends that still survive today despite being more and more in danger. A beautiful well designed book about a cultural imaginary and the importance of preserving it.
My Birth by Carmen Winant | Published by SPBH | Selected by Lucia De Stefani
What’s the essence of birth? What does the self-experience, what do mother and child subconsciously know? In her book My Birth, printed by Self Publish Be Happy, Carmen Winant asks these questions repeatedly, exploring various perspectives with the viewers. The act of birth she contemplates through the bodies of hundreds of women - her mother, primarily, but also many anonymous pregnant women whose photos she finds in books, pamphlets, magazines. As the questions multiply in the accompanying text, Winant indulges in a compulsive repetition of images, which trace thematic threads. At the same time, she begs viewers to interrogate her - "just ask me." My Birth provides the answer. Chronologically ordered photos of women just before, during or after giving birth, My Birth shows their bodies stretched, convulsed, collapsed, wriggling. We see newborn heads peeking, as others await them with magical wonder. We sense the ebb and flow of pain, the momentary suspension of a hallucination. In My Birth, the marvel of life, the time between the before and after, the trepidations of waiting and the pains of pushing, define a circle of feeling, the grace and spasms that bring us closer to the most intimate moment of revelation.
On Abortion by Laia Abril |Published by Dewi Lewis Publishing | Selected by Colin Pantall
In On Abortion, Laia Abril lays out the history of women’s fertility and how it has been regulated, controlled, and sacrificed at the hands of political, religious and economic power. It’s about the control of fertility, the control of women’s bodies, and the death, suffering and misery that results because of it. It’s a book that’s about something, a book that advocates, a book that matters.
Piedra-Padre, Universo by Clara de Tezanos | Self Publish | Selected by Verónica Sanchis Bencomo
Piedra-Padre, Universo is a mystic visual journey that touches on concepts about family heritage and memory. Clara de Tezanos approaches her family’s story not with a linear narrative, but combining family photographs, objects, patterns and nature, creating visually coded layers to the viewer to interpret freely. The book design is as organic as the delivery of her images. The edit is dynamic and unpredictable, always keeping us in awe.
Per Strada by Guido Guidi | Published by Mack Books | Selected by Lucia De Stefani
In this series of 285 images taken between 1980 and 1994, now published in three volumes by MACK, Guido Guidi’s Per Strada (On the Roads) draws a geographic line that subverts conventional perceptions of urban space. The unassuming beauty of the stark suburban landscape beckons through his devoted lens and his unique perspective in this contemplation of the suburb’s nuances and pace. Born in Cesena, less than ten miles from the Adriatic Sea, Guidi spent fourteen years photographing along the Via Emilia, traversing the small towns that this road connects, from industrialised Milan to the east coast. Until then, touristy road guides had offered glossy postcard-like photos of the vistas, but Guidi generously brought a radical aesthetic language (enchanted by the large-format camera), mesmerised by what was still viewed as familiar - a contemplative, heartfelt homage to the raw suburban surroundings and its main characters. A lesson in looking, a gift.
Subterranean River by Łukasz Rusznica | Published by Palm Studios | Selected by Rocco Venezia
Rusznica visited the Kagawa province as part of the European Eyes on Japan residency program. During his stay, nature, spirits and mythologies of the Nipponic region guided his journey. The harsh flash in Rusznica's photographs combined with stories and characters rising from folklore and legends of the past are capturing several invisible elements offering a dream-like representation of contemporary Japan. The cinematic edit of the book - published by Palm Studios - will easily put each reader in the photographer's shoes, ready to face its own quest for the unknown.
The Arsenic Eaters by Simon Brugner | Published by The Eriskay Connection | Selected by Rocco Venezia
This highly designed volume comprised of two parts is based on several stories which are indicating the presence of arsenic eaters within 19th Century rural Austria. The first section includes the work produced by Brugner during his investigations, here, he created a parallel between the past and present mixing his own colour flashy pictures of forests and "creatures" with black and white archival images of supposedly arsenic eaters; the second part instead have the feeling of an encyclopedia or a guide, it is composed of a selection of writings, illustration and all the major scientific research conducted by the authors on pre-existent materials. A very scientific, semi-fictional documentary.
The Heavens by Barbara Bosworth | Published by Radius Books | Selected by Giuseppe Oliverio
Gazing at heavenly bodies through the eyes of American artist Barbara Bosworth, we are invited to contemplate the beauty of the universe and our relationship with it. In our hectic times these patient and carefully taken images of the sun, the moon, and the stars feel more than welcomed to me. They remind us of where we come from as human beings, our ancestral origin, our role in the natural world, and how our lives are moving at crazy pace.
The Parallel State by Guy Martin | Published by GOST Books | Selected by Laurence Cornet
What started as an examination of a Turkish soap opera turned into a study of Erdogan’s political apparatus. Appropriating the codes of fiction inherent to his subject, Guy Martin pushes the boundaries of documentary photography. By doing so, he creates layers contextualising what’s openly presented as entertainment and what’s thoroughly kept from view by both Turkish and foreign media. A counterpoint to the controlled image that is distributed by the government, Martin’s 5-year investigation is a much-needed view of the fall of a democracy. Using archive, screenshots of TV screens, old movie posters, as well as text and Whatsapp messages along with his own images, he proves that the definition of documentary deserves to be expanded.
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 Brooklyn focusing on cultural and environmental issues.
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.
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.