So it's time for a best-of-list. And again, it's not really a best list, it's a favourites list or a list of books that I really enjoyed or appreciated for one reason or another.
I want to squeeze a film in here as well. The most enjoyable film by a mile that I've seen for many, many years was Summer of Soul. Go see it, and don't leave till the very, very end.
This had amazing photography and was combined politics, fashion, protest, and loads of style. Strangely, very few people (even those who are really into music in a way I wish I was but aren't) have seen it. But when they have and you say to them, Have you seen Summer of Soul, the response is always the same - their eyes light up and they get all excited, and you get excited back. That's how good it is. And the photography is amazing.
And so on to my favourite photobooks. Again, it's not a best-of list because I feel like I have barely seen anything of what's been published year. Has anyone? But it's all work that I've enjoyed, really enjoyed, that has some integrity to it.
Unprofessional by Matilda Soes-Rasmussen
This is a fun book in a dark kind of way, filled with unreliable narration on being a model in Asia. The text is great. It starts on the back with a poem.
‘Dreams of idiot sorrow and pebble dash' by Robin Maddock
That's the title of my book. Every copy gets a different English title. But there’s a French title, which is England!? les anglais ont débarqué!
Maddock messes with the copies he sends out, so it's a messy, continually evolving publication, a slap in the face to the platonic idea of the perfect book. Fuck that nonsense!
‘The book was a swansong for me,” says Maddock. “It was my farewell to England. I knew that I wanted to get out after Brexit and the 2019 election. I remember where I was when it happened. I was living in Lisbon at the time and the results came in. I couldn’t believe it. I decided to celebrate with the most French meal possible. I didn’t know the country as well as I thought I did – otherwise I would have seen the result coming.”
Somersault by Raymond Meeks
I got this just before my daughter Isabel went to university. I wrote about that here and then I wrote about Somersault. It's a soulful look at the emergence of a distance of age, geography, and life. But with that distance comes a new closeness.
Five Dollars for 3 minutes by Cammie Toloui
I just got this as a christmas present. This is the blurb...
'The project was photographed in the early 90s when Cammie Toloui was working as a stripper at the Lusty Lady Theater in San Francisco to fund her photojournalism degree at San Francisco State University....
“I smuggled my camera into work and got up the courage to ask my first customer if I could take his picture, offering him a free dildo show in exchange. He didn’t seem at all hesitant, and in fact I was shocked when he came back the following week, asking if I would take his picture again. This was an important lesson in the workings of the male ego and served me well for the next two years as a stripper, and the rest of my career as a photographer.”
Shikawatari by Chieko Shiraishi
This is a beautiful, beautiful book with the most wonderful printing - it follows deer across snowscapes. It's a delicate object.
The San Quentin Project by Nigel Poor
I remember Pete Brook of Prison Photography talking about this project a few years ago, and now here it is in print. Wonderful collaborative practice that sheds light on how visual literacy can have a direct effect on how we see and experience the world. And that ties back to how we see images, archives, power, and impression. And then back to the world again...
Photography: A Feminist History - edited by Emma Lewis
I ordered this for a university library and the following week students were taking it out. It covers everything from performance, body image, and violence against women to the rhetoric of challenging the male gaze, and the linking Instagram Culture to the feminist avant-garde. This book gives accessible and intelligent (hitting both those spots is the difficult thing) entry points into key topics with aglobal and historical perspective.
History of Life - by Cai Dongdong
A really beautiful but simple layout of historical found images laid out to tell a story of contemporary China. This is from a review of it....
'The images in History of Life sweep through the great epochs of Liberation, of the Great Leap Forward, of the Cultural Revolution, of the great economic reopening in images that might allude to these periods but never quite settle. Instead, the pictures used are often quietly personal, giving a glimpse into the hopes and dreams of ordinary Chinese, the people who lived through the political turmoil. It’s a quite beautiful combination of images where the pairings, the sequencing, the occasional flashes of the political and the violent hint at the life that lies beneath the conventional compositions and poses.'
Eikoh Hosoe - edited by Yasufuni Nakamori
Ok, Mack did loads of great catalogues and retrospectives and this is perhaps the best of them. It shows work that isn't really available even in facsimile form, and the accompanying essays are great and get into the idea of creating collaborative spaces through the act of photographing. And Hosoe collaborated with some amazing people. Here's a snippet from a review.
‘Instead of simply photographing a subject, he began to view himself as involved in the collaborative creation of a distinct space and time,’ writes Yasufumi Nakamori. ‘Armed with his camera, Hosoe created a rupture in the conventional time and space of reality, which Hijikata and Mishima could enter and perform within.’