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Wednesday, 4 December 2019
Best Books 2019, kind of
Covers of English Journey by John Angerson
It's best books time again, so here is my list. I don't know if it's a best-of list, because I haven't seen everything, because I find it difficult to look at books at fairs or bookshops because of the sensory overload, because some of them are from last years, and simply because there's just so much that escapes the relatively parochial surroundings of the southwest of England (the England part being the parochial bit).
But these are all books that gave something to me that has remained with me, that have a human element, that have kindness and understanding at their heart (or maybe not). Anyway, here's the list in all its massive imperfection.
Apples for sale by Rebecca Sampson
Your maid wants a day off? Your maid wants a room of her own? Your maid wants her own clothes? Your maid has Body Odour. Your maid has sex? The problems of maid ownership are laid bare in Rebecca Sampson’s wonderful Apples for Sale.
The chapters in Photobook Belge have sections on 19th-century photography, The Congo, Word/Image, Belgitude, The World seen from Belgium, and Artist’s books. It’s a serious book with a serious voice then, but one where there is a merging of the photographic with the historical, a feeling for why images were made and how they reflect a nation that is divided by language, class, and geography, but still manages to retain a defined sense of identity (however split it might be) despite having France, Germany, and the Netherlands as neighbours.
Enghelab Street, edited by Hannah Darabi, is another book of photobooks, and magazines, and pamphlets and tracts made between 1979-1983. It's a book about how images create history, feed on history, destroy history. And how a country's very identity and origin story is rooted in the cannibalisation of photography. The book was made in a ridiculously short time frame and as such it's a beginning not an end. But isn't everything. Except the ends.
The Coast by Sohrab Hura
I like this for the 'flashy pictures' and he multiple layered narrative that stretch along the Tamil Nadu Coastline. Here Sohrab Hura is moving away from his domestic life to show an India that is at odds with its present, its past, its everything. And how you represent that is the question. Coast is a question that has no easy answers, that puts photography centre stage and then shifts it to the shadows again.
English Journey by John Angerson
I was blown away by the design of this book when it arrived unheralded in the post. That never happens. Angerson's English Journey is a reinvention of the book of the same name by J.B. Priestley. It's a book of faded empire, disappointing nostalgia, and lifelong disappointment. But in an uplifting, resilient, English kind of way. It's miserable. But chipper. Especially with the design.
Sweat by Reiner Riedler
Sweat is 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-out extravagance of full Saint Veronica sweat-based weirdness in tactile form.
The story of Sweat began when Riedler found his body marked, in Turin Shroud style, on the t-shirt he was wearing. Intrigued by this example of pre-photography with spiritual overtones, he got in touch with the Fraunhofer Institute in Munich.
Family by Masahisa Fukase
In the summer of 1971, the great Japanese photographer Masahisa Fukase began making studio portraits of his family. Over the next 20 years, he made portraits that became monuments to failed relationships, to death, and to the power of photography to both record and destroy life.
Claude and Lily by Vincen Beeckman
Vincen Beeckman first photographed Lilly and Claude in 2015. He made pictures of them holding hands, kissing, embracing. They were pictures for Lilly and Claude, simple pictures of love and togetherness. In the 23 years they were together, Lilly and Claude led difficult lives in Brussels, moving from small flat to street and back again. In June last year, Lilly passed away, and Claude was left alone. This book was made for Claude, for his memories of Lilly and the years they were together. It is also made for everybody, a reminder that love is for everyone, everyone. This is the story of Lilly and Claude, this is A Love Story. My little text is in this, so it's a bit of a biased view.
Rise by Alexa Vachon
Best football photobook ever? Alexa Vachon’s Rise is a book about a group of refugee women who play football. It’s also about life, love, home, family, dress, friends and finding a space that is free from male violence and control.
Here, Waiting by Maroussia Prignot and Valerio Alvarez
I got this in the post the other day and alot of it is familiar territory. Painted on, drawn on, decorated pictures of refugees - but there are nods to another life, to the bureaucratic motherload that being a refugee carries, to lost identities. And it's got photocopy pictures in!
Miki hasegawa Internal Notebook
I remember opening this a couple of days after seeing the film Shoplifters. That's a film about the neglect of a child in Tokyo, Internal Notebook is about the neglect and abuse of children across Japan. It's from the Reminders Stable and an example of the layers of meaning working to devastating effect.