I just noticed that Photoeye has their list of the best photo books of 2009 up. Seeing as they do such a comprehensive job with a large list of "photo luminaries" choosing them, I'm just going to pick and chose a few from the list over the next few days and possibly add in any I think they have missed (one thing about their list is that I enjoy seeing who picked which books).
Before I pick books for today, just a couple of thought. First, it seemed very noticeable how many of the books are from small presses. In many cases they are either done through some form of self-publication by the photographer - though often the photographer has already made a practice of doing this and they are on book number three or four. Or there is a sort of small collective attelier where four or five photographers seem to be "self"-publishing their work together (presumably this helps with leveling out the costs among other things?) through their own small scale imprint. And then there are a few smallish publishers who seem to have grown from a sort of self-publishing project to now being a photographer who (I'm guessing?) has more fun being a publisher. Whichever way, there seemed to be many more of these books around over 2009, and many of them seem to have made their way to the "best of" lists for the year, simply because many of them are just so damned good.
The other thing I noticed has been discussions about the future of the photobook and/or the publishing of photography books in general. This has often mirrored similar discussions in the broader publishing industry (though usually with nowhere near as much paranoia and angst - in fact such discussions are much more likely to be positive). A couple of examples, out of many, can be found here and here.
So on to books. The first pick is Landmasses and Railways by Bertrand Fleuret. This is a great book. I hadn't encountered Fleuret before, but this book which has the size and heft and feel of a good 200 page novel, is one of my real favourites from the last year. And it isn't just that the physical book itself resembles a novel, but that is also the sense I get from the contents as well - albeit a surrealist or magical realist novel. It's also the nearest I've seen to date of a completely visual, photographic version of one of W.G. Sebald's novels or books:
"Bertrand Fleuret’s Landmasses and Railways is a photographic travelogue to our interior, or perhaps an exploration outwards, to the encircling spheres above. Divided into five sections – I. The Melancholy of Departure, II. Approaching the City, III. Inside The Walls, IV. An Empty Building, and V. The Garden – the book takes us on a winding journey through a strange but familiar world. It seems appropriate that Fleuret begins our trip with a cryptic photograph of an antique booth . . . or is it some ancient space-pod? No time for questions. We quickly crash down into the ocean. Past the swarming jellyfish, we scramble for land, gasping for breath before safely making it ashore..."
The quote is from Adam Bell's review of Landmasses and Railways at Ahorn Magazine. The book is published by J&L books where Jason Fulford is, to my mind, one of the most imaginative photo book publishers out there.
Another book from a fairly new publisher (but by a well known photographer) is New Mexico by Lee Friedlander. In many ways this is classic Friedlander - which is just fine by me. So many of his great earlier books are out of print and now virtually impossible to afford, so as far as I'm concerned I try and grab any new publications by him as they come out... and while I can still afford them. The book was also the catalogue for an exhibition of the same title at the Andrew Smith Gallery in Santa Fe.
(Photo: Lee Friedlander)
"Friedlander has been visiting Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and northern New Mexico since the late60s. This new volume of work presents a sequence of images made during his travels in these regions between 1995 and the present. Armed with his signature Hasselblad camera and wandering the back roads in an assortment of rental cars, Friedlander has journeyed from the Plaza of Santa Fe to adobe strewn neighborhood barrios and into the gorgeous, high-altitude desert. In Lee Friedlander: New Mexico, we see the same attentive curiosity that we’ve come to expect. He is a master of creating unity out of diverse shapes and complex tones in the two dimensional picture plan"
That's it for today. I hope to get another post or two up soon with some of the other books.