14 Best Photobooks of the Year 2014: PARTY TIME


Today, one month before the first day of Christmas, I decided to make a selection of thirteen author/photographer books and one exhibition catalogue to represent the high quality of photobooks issued in the highly productive calendar year 2014. What is remarkable is that, except for the children’s book and the photo magazine for kids, all covers are extremely sober, some sheer gloomy. And one way or the other all of the bookworks deal with history and hierarchies, political issues, both local and global, with gender and everyday life, with surveillance and leisure. I will mention the publications in no particular order.  



1. FRIET speciaal. Schrift voor kinderen over archeologie in Amsterdam en omstreken (French Fries special. Notebook for Kids on Archeology in Amsterdam and its Surrounding Areas) published by Van Zoetendaal and BMA. This booklet in a plain cardboard cover, is designed and published by Willem van Zoetendaal and reads like a primer for kids. It is a photo magazine for kids, containing numbered and free-standing objects (meticiously reproduced by Harold Strak) made of plastic material discovered at the Damrak and Rokin during the construction of the Noord/Zuidlijn (North-South Underground)  in 2003-2012. In the index, in the back of the cahier all the objects are clearly described, dated and measured. It goes like this: [25] Cracked red spoon 8,5cm long, 1950-2005; [23] Four dirty fries forks, of which two manufactured by Veriplast in Apeldoorn; [9] Two fragments, in different sizes, of a  broken comb. Red plastic, 3,3cm high, 1900-2005; [21] A piece from a KPN telephone card for 10,00 euro’s, decorated with a scene from a painting by Jan Steen. 2,5cm long, plastic, 1996-2005; [16] several fragments of celluloid film and black plastic holder, 1950-2005.


2. I adore accordion folded photo books. Flipping through the pages of Contemporary Archeology, I wondered about various topics: ‘mental reconstruction’; usage of found and vernacular objects as well as personal documents; a self-made photographic reportage about the mummy transfer of Ramesses I; and the book project itself. I understand everything in the book relates to a CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique) program in Karnak, in the south of Egypt where Olivier Cablat been working since October 2003.The way in which archeological findings from the Amsterdam Underground are reproduced and presented in FRIET speciaal is very similar to the method Olivier Cablat used in Contemporary Archaeology, published by RVB Books. Olivier started from raw material, found objects related to everyday life in contemporary Egypt; he made no hierarchical judgments about the nature of the material, and applied the same treatment to it as scientific researchers do to ancient artifacts. Olivier Cablat: “In the afternoon I used the same tools, the same light, the same technique, to record found objects in the street, in the garbage can at the office, or vernacular objects I bought at the corner shop, like my cigarettes packages”. Read all about it: A conversation with Olivier about this accordion fold.


3. Southbound by Knut Egil Wang, I discoverd it at UNSEEN/Offprint art book fair. The funniest documentary photobook, I already spotted it online, is published by Journal in Sweden. This is a publishing house that makes exquisite photobooks (such as Trying to dance by JH Engstrom), but maintains low profile; e.g. Journal doesn’t attempt to increase its exposure through a website. Knut Egil Wang is a Los Angeles based Norwegian photographer with a surname that sounds Chinese. His documentary style has both a Martin Parr and Alec Soth edge to it. The narrative in this publication is related to local culture, warmer climate and simple amusement during ‘long dark winters’ in the Northern hemisphere. A small cute illustration of an aeroplane landing on the French title page and the bright yellow flyleaves introduce you to sunny destinations. We see elderly Western people in groups with Christmas hats on, poles in their hands, small backpacks on passing through a white wooden porch that looks like a misplaced prop in a movie like Paris Texas.


4. The same counts for a three-volume publication Vienna MMix 10008/7000 in a sleeve published by Scheidegger & Spiess, I discoverd that numbered limited edition of 600 copies at East Wing Gallery during UNSEEN festival. Jules Spinatsch made 10.008 images, as part of what he called Surveillance Panorama Project at the Vienna Opera Ball. The Vienna State Opera was not amused with the end result, but did give permission for the project. Volume I, entitled Every Three Seconds, is bulky and dark green. It contains the integral sequence of the ten thousand pictures chronologically arranged in grids of 36 pictures on a spread.The images were made during an opera performance with two camera’s that moved every three seconds in a vertical line six positions downward along a rail, and up again after six shots. In this manner neither image selection nor editing took place. Volume III is a cahier containing two essays. One by neuroscientist Wolf Singer, who is exploring the transition of human perception in this age of social media and big data, and surveillance technology. Volume II entitled 71 photographs contains this exact amount of selected images, grainy and faded in colours: purplish, reddish, and yellowish, making them appear voyeuristic in nature.


5. One more discovery at the UNSEEN festival/fair, last September in Amsterdam was a large-size children’s photobook, both conceptual and documentary in nature by the Slovakian female photographer Lucia Nimcova (1977). Animal Imago, published by sitcomm.sk & cee photofund, is containing pictures of abused, stuffed, encased, and misplaced animals in eastern and central Europe. We see a stuffed Nile crocodile in a shabby (what look like a natural history) museum presentation next to a stuffed monkey on the back of a scooter. Another double page shows a gracious grey cow’s head popping up behind a tree, opposite a sticky dead duck attacked by horseflies and dumped on a garbage can along a park lane. As is done with children’s books, the publication opens and ends with empty coloured pages, to make a drawing or take notes. There are no captions, and no other text. The publication Animal Imago is an ode to the photographer’s deaf-born son.


6. And there is Pieter Hugo’s brand new oblong Aperture publication KIN. I bought at the gallery booth of Stevenson during Paris Photo. It reads like an album, I am pleasantly surprized. On the very first page Tasmyn Reynolds (it doesn’t say ‘my wife or girlfriend’) poses naked, with wet hair and pregnant with their first child. On another page his parents are portrayed, together in bed, all dressed, the mother with glasses on, the father with coffee cup in hand. After 10 pictures we see Hugo naked, lying down with his new-born daughter on his lap: a squirming little baby on top of his huge tattooed athletic body. While leafing through the pages I see his grand mother, his nanny, his second kid, and his extended family, and then the photographer just walks into the gallery booth. I turn around and there he is in person: the healthy looking tall blond Viking! I would not have recognised him otherwise. I say: “You must be Pieter Hugo, I just saw your portrait in your new book”. I asked him whether he speaks Dutch. “Ja”…. “My father was a French Huguenot”, he says in Afrikaans. I don’t get it all, but he continued explaining something like his family roots are in Denmark. Than I asked him how this publication came about. “Well, … in fact after the birth of my daughter six years ago. I’ve just seen the book once…well printed …paper a little thin.” I ask him what the three capital letters of which the title consists actually means: KIN. “Family in a broader sense… medemens!” [Fellow man], he exclaims. ‘KIN’ refers to ‘KINSHIP’, my partner explains a few days later on the phone. I requested Pieter to write that Dutch word in the copy of his book that I purchased on the spot, paying cash. With ‘medemens’ Paris Photo 2014 in Grand Palais starts. 


7. 17.15 Friday November 14th, I am receiving an email in which Aperture announces The winner of The Photobook Awards. The First Photobook Award is for Hidden Islam (2013) by Nicolo Degiorgis and with good reason (even without the recommendation and foreword by Martin Parr). The publication was also awarded the author’s book award in Arles during the very last edition of the R.I.P. Nicolo was signing his books at Dirk Bakker’s booth at Paris Photo. Dirk handed me his plain textbook accompanying the already second edition of Hidden Islam. It contains 479 posts on an article entitled: ‘Arles 2014: Nicolo Degiorgis lifts the veil of Italy’s Islamophobia’, written by Sean O’Hagan for The Guardian, and published on July 15th, 2014. People had five days to leave comments. The insides of the fold out text pages show schematic drawings and coordinates, corresponding exactly with the number of pages, themes and locations in the awarded photobook. This is new; this has never been done before, to my knowledge. I buy the textbook in situ ( I purchased the first edition of Hidden Islam earlier this year) for 25,00 euro. He signs it with a pencil: ‘keep looking, Paris 15/11/2014.’



8. Since the 2014 Paris Photo – Aperture Foundation Photobook Awards is including ‘The Photography Catalogue of the Year’, I decided to select one: MODERN TIMES RIJKSMUSEUM, designed by Irma Boom and published by the Rijksmuseum in association with nai010publishers. Not everyone may know but a large collection of photography is in the keeping of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. A cross section of different formats, techniques and genres selected from the growing collection of 20th century photography is now exhibited in ‘Modern Times’. Divided over nine rooms of the brand new Philips wing 300 black-and-white and color photographs are mingled. Small insignificant work prints, prelimenary studies, advertising and vernacular photography are combined with  war-, street- and art photography. Dummies of photobooks, photo albums, scrapbooks, magazins and posters are displayed in window cases. Amateur- photography is intertwined with professional photography, as a token of equivalency. Irma is also responsable for the clear and clever environmental design of the exhibition. Knowing Irma Boom, she gets ‘carte blanche’, blowing up a detail from a nude portrait by Ger Fieret and juxtaposing it to a sliver from an icon of the New Photography. These full bleeds are like gongs banging in your eyes, both in the front and in the back of the bulky catalogue. Spreads from books like Naked City (1945) by Weegee, reproductions from magazines such as LIFE,  and even the front and back of the sleeve of Brian Ferry’s LP record Another Time, Another Place (1974)  are nicely clustered in the essays. And emerging from the matt black front cover is Olympic High Diving Champion Marjorie Gestring in 1936, photographed during class by John Gutmann. Her stretched out left arm and hand are an omen of Nazi Germany and the Third Reich. And what a contrast between the black surface and the coloured page edges in fluorescent yellow.


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9. I nominate two books by one author/photographer, Valerio Spada, as Best Photobooks of 2014. One is to be considered a re-worked and re-issued existing book title. Twin Palms Publishers just released the third edition, which is a first American edition, of Valerio Spada‘s well-received book Gomorrah Girl, and has issued his next publication entitled: I am Nothing. Both publications are dealing with the Mafia in southern Italy, both photobooks are telling a grim story on a father-daughter’s relationship, one in Naples (Gommorah Girl), the other in Sicily (I Am Nothing). Both titles are remarkable for their outstanding documentaries, graphic design and bookmaking. Read more in the conversation with Valerio about both publications.



10. Karaoke Sunne by JH Engström and Margot Wallard (I don’t know who did what) is published by SuperLabo. I like the size of the booklet, the choice of paper, the swopping format from landscape to portrait on a spread. The beautiful black hard bound cover with the title embossed in silver. Just imagine a pizzeria turned into a karaoke bar on Saturday evenings, in the outskirts of Sweden. Color photographs show this mixture of sadness and joy in Karaoke bars: people drinking, smoking, showing their tatooed bodies, clinging to each other, hands grabbing body parts, grubby faces loosing themselves for a second in front of the microphone. Just on the fly leafs, a small white cross scribbled on a google maps reproduction of Sweden indicates where it all happens.



11. Max Pinckers‘ recent publication Will They Sing Like Raindrops or Leave Me Thirsty is just like The Fourth Wall self-published, designed by Jurgen Maelfeyt, and India is the focus. The edition of 1000 copies was commissioned by Europalia International Arts Festival / Centre of Fine Arts in Brussels. First the portfolio and then the book have been praised by both Martin Parr and Alec Soth. The author Hans Theys describes the project and levels in the layout so well in his essay ‘Photographs as Poems’ printed on salmon pink thin paper in the back of the book, resonating the commercial slogan ‘visit colourfull India’. Here is a quote:

For his most recent work, Max Pinckers (born in Belgium in 1988, but raised in Asia), traveled to India for months, accompanied by his partner Victoria Gonzalez-Figueras. There he has attempted to document, capture, stage and bring to life various specific aspects of love and marriage. Searching through newspapres and magazins, watching films and roaming through cities, he has been looking for subjects  that suited his theme, such as couples on their honeymoon at the foot of the Himalayas, men on white horses, Victoria’s (carts on which newlyweds strut around), photo studios where couples have their portraits taken, strange decors for marriage ceremonies, a stranded photograph of a married couple (which is offered to to a river, lake or sea after their death), a set of discarded photos from a studio next to the Taj Mahal and many other things. […] Another series of ‘images’ consist of vertically arranged, bleeding texts, extracted from the weblog of the Love Commandos. Together with the documentary sequences, they seem to weave a basic grid for the book. There is also a set of ‘images’ consisting of found material. These can be found documents, but also found photographs or ‘found footage’ such as inscriptions in bamboo trees or on posters on walls. […] A last series of images consist of idealized digital landscapes retrieved from a photo studio, where they are used as backfrops for portraits.  



 12. In my copy (#185) it reads published in October 2013 by the Archive of Modern Conflict (AMC) in London, and RM Verlag in Barcelona, and Editorial RM in Mexico City. On the website of AMC it says Party. Quitonasto Form CHANMAIR MAO TUNGEST (the funniest and most cryptical title ever for a contemporary photobook) by Christina De Middel has been published in March 2014. Party is the English language title on the spine of the book, in gilt debossed patted boards. This cleverly created artist’s book, this cute and well designed – by Jose Luis Lugo (cover design) and Nova Era (additional design) – booklet just has to be on this list.  

‘Party’ refers to Mao’s Little Red Book. That publication is the most reprinted literature after The Bible, but can only be found nowadays in China at some tourist shop. De Middel’s appropriation of the famous booklet (print run 1.715, all numbered), is already a collector’s item. In fact, any publication she compiles turns into a collector’s item. The booklet itself contains reproductions of text pages from The Little Red Book, from which the actual text has been mostly wiped out with correction fluid Tipp-Ex, before reproduction. The remainder of the text fragments reads like: ‘change the enemy’; ‘over and over again in endless spiral’; ‘it is impossible to get work done’; ‘the bandit gang… achieved great discipline’; ‘propaganda is not good’. Party is interleaved with loose-leaf small and square colour photographs in perfect binding to the spine of the book: most are self-made, some have been selected from the Archive of Modern Conflict (AMC). During Paris Photo at Grand Palais, ‘The Party’ was presented as a series of ‘spreads’ in golden frames on the wall, about 40 by 60 cm each. In the frames you look at, on one hand, the censored Tipp-Ext text page, on the other hand, a colour photograph showing e.g. a portrait of a Chinese woman in profile, or a broken Mao figurine, or a table tennis table without a net.



13. It is a typical American colloquial expression: ‘calling it a day’. I Am About to Call it a Day is a book on A-3 format. No. 169 in the row of books published by Patrick Frey in Zürich. This particular publication has been issued in cooperation with Hannibal Publishing, I read on the cover and in the colophon on the inside of the Brown minigolf cardboard cover. You can hardly call it a ‘book’; it has the appearance of an oblong calendar in a carton sleeve. And the title (in a large bold Franklin Gothic Condensed font) printed in black on the front cover slays in your face. Why did you and the Dutch designer Mevis van Deursen choose for this format? This is one of many questions for Bieke Depoorter in the upcoming interview with the Magnum nominee, soon on theloggingroad.



14. I have been debating for quite a while which titles not to include (e.g., FROWST by Joanna Piotrowska, because it has been widely praised in the press; Peter van Agtmael who puts a spell on you in his well written chronicle of America’s wars from 2006-2013, entitled Disco Night Sept. 11). So finally I chose Something like a Nest, self-published by Andy Sewell. Because indeed, it is a ‘visual meditation’, ‘quieten our illusions’, and because the very first (color) and very last (black and white) picture of a kitchen sink with the window in front looks pretty much the same as the one my parents have, and still have, since 1973. In that year I was 13. They bought an old brewery in the province of Brabant. Our neighbors were farmers. I loved to visit them, get fresh milk, smell the cows, climb on a tractor. I like the serenity of the layout, the textual and visual puns in this documentary photobook. The kitchen sink is a returning theme in the book. A sign on the wall reads ‘product waiting area’ showing rows of stainless steel charts on wheels filled with… I don’t know what … chopped carrots? An egg carton filled with six eggs is placed on a plastic table cloth covering a kitchen table. The fabric is decorated with roosters, chickens and youngsters. The vastness of cultivated rural Norfolk, Yorkshire or Kent is so captivating. The cruelty and beauty of killing feasants or a dear are stunning. A rhythm of one picture per right page, landscape mode, and you may find only twelve photo pages on the left. All of them classically framed. The design is by Ivan Markovic. I love the transparant celluloid wrappers, with the title printed on the inside of it, in corn on the cop yellow. It reminds me of Dutch post war company photobooks like vuur aan zee (1958) and De draad van het verhaal (1960).  

I appreciate your comments.   

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