A Year in Ten Titles

02 December 2013

The last twelve months have witnessed a growing collective shift in the interest and focus of photobook production, from the large over-sized/over-produced limited edition box sets, to more independent and self-published releases. This is by no means a new phenomenon—but the scale of the evolution and the quality of the titles being created by independent artists is a wonderful development.

The voracious appetite for photobooks, coupled with the increasing significance artists are placing upon them, has enabled a growing number of exciting, independent publishers to both challenge and reward those that seek smart and inventive photobooks. With over a dozen releases this year, MACK’s output has continued to be galvanized by intelligent, superbly produced titles, littered with the occasional imaginative risk. The increasingly confident rise of the smaller independent publishing house, with imprints such as AMC, GOST, Here Press, Little Big Man, Oodee and RVB, has been the source of many inventive, rewarding and often surprising works.

Self-published photobooks continue to be at the forefront of the medium’s tenacity and vitality. Artists collaborating directly with designers and printers is increasingly resulting in bold photobooks, unshackled from the naïve parameters of traditional self-publishing. The number of projects vying for crowd-sourced funding is potentially approaching saturation point, which in turn may compel more to embrace the control of their own budgets– releasing them from the inflated production costs of publishers blindly driven by the ‘you pay, we publish’ business model. In this climate, the seduction of the large, established publishers and their traditional marketing and distribution models is (quite rightly) no longer applicable to many artists’ approach to photobook production.

I think it would be fair to state that 2013 has been a vintage year, with many titles destined for the long-term accolades they richly deserve. Although the passing of time more often than not forces a reevaluation to any ‘best of’ list, the following ten titles are what I consider to be the photobook highlights of the year (in alphabetical order).


1. Mike Brodie, A Period of Juvenile Prosperity (Twin Palms) - Preview

Expectations were high from this long overdue publication and on release, it certainly didn’t disappoint. Superbly edited by Jack Woody, Twin Palms has crafted this sincere and evocative journal of life on the road into an incredible, almost faultless photobook that will endure for many years to come.


2. Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin, Holy Bible (MACK/AMC).

Beyond the much-deserved awards and praise, this duo’s provocative practice is layered with thoughtful and challenging concepts. This, one of their most compelling works, is a surprisingly smart exploration of religion, death and conflict. Holy Bible is a testimony to catastrophe and a superb example of an artists mastery of the medium.


3. Edmund Clark, Control Order House (Here Press) – Preview

Utilizing mundane photographs of an anonymous suburban house, legal documentation and diary entries, this is a dossier that questions the systems of law and governance that both protects and strips its citizens of their security and freedom. Control Order House is a significant work, quietly affecting with a deliberate and compelling impact.


4. Óscar Monzón, Karma (RVB/Dalpine).

Public and private are fantastically blurred in Karma, one of the boldest photobook releases of the year. Monzón’s invasive images of nocturnal motorists at Madrid traffic lights are full of life; his startling light penetrating every voyeuristic detail while the book’s manic sequence/design further intensifies this energetic experience.


5. Bryan Schutmaat, Grays The Mountain Sends (Silas Finch) – Preview

The individual constituents of photobook production are rarely consolidated as wonderfully as they are in Schutmaat’s sumptuous debut release. This remarkably sensitive and lyrical portrait of small mountain towns of the American West is one of the most thoughtfully constructed photobooks of recent years.


6. Lieko Shiga, Rasen Kaigan (Akaaka).

Shiga has produced a mesmerizing title that draws the viewer into a dark labyrinth of folklore and fantasy. Never fully aware of what is being observed, this is a chaotically charged document, blurring the real and dreamt, the landscape and those that belong to it: it’s a totally captivating journey, that is almost impossible to depart.


7. The Sochi Project, The Secret History of Khava Gaisanova (Sochi Project).

The Sochi Project has released an eclectic and engaging catalogue of photobooks over the last four years and this, one of their last, is arguably the strongest and most intimate title to date. It is a fabulous example of the strength and effectiveness of smart and empathetic storytelling.


8. Lorenzo Vitturi, Dalston Anatomy (SPBH).

Artist Lorenzo Vittiuri adopts an array of materials and practices to choreograph this vibrantly animated portrait of London’s Ridley Road Market. Discarded debris is transformed into glorious sculptures, playfully sequenced alongside the markets cacophony of characters, in a delightful celebration of rich creativity.


9. Henk Wildschut, Food (Post Editions).

Commissioned by the RijksMuseum in Amsterdam to document Dutch food production, Wildschut exposes every detailed facet of the creatures, people, practices and mechanisms of the industry. Food addresses the increasing complexity of feeding an ever-populous planet, in an astute, considered and elegantly designed package.


10. Vanessa Winship, She Dances on Jackson (MACK) - Preview

The American road trip is a well-travelled photographic journey, but Winship brings a dynamic consideration to this familiar narrative. The tender portraits cling delicately to hopeful expectation, and lift the gloom extant in much of this melancholic landscape. A fabulous production, the result of both artist and publisher united in the delivery of a truly exceptional work.


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