13 Best Photobooks and 2 Worst Photobooks of the Year 2015: And There is the Cosmos, to Capture Her Soul….

1. Unfinished Father by Erik Kessels, published by RVB is a personal book about his father’s ‘hobby’. A beautiful theme, a graceful way of parting, by way of experiencing his meticulous proceedings, by feeling and smelling the environment, the tools and objects, and roaming the workshop. Erik’s father suffered a stroke and left his work in progress: restoring a Fiat 500, ‘a vero Topolino’, unfinished. The reflection on and dedication to the project and the olds mobile itself were meticulously exhibited in Reggio Emilia last summer.

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2. Find a Fallen Star by Regine Petersen, is published by KHERER Verlag. This is how the conversation with Regine starts:

I have never done a preparation for an interview in this way: I was leafing through your recently published ‘triptych’ Find a Fallen Star (2015), and enjoyed the ‘narrative’, or the lack of it, so much; I like your ‘style’. I made a random choice of pages, events, names from this poetic constellation, if I may call it so, your book project Find a Fallen Star, as the narrative unfolds and I discover links between pictures, documents, oral history and events.

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3. The Chinese Photobook From the 1900s to the Present curated by WassinkLundgren and Martin Parr, is published by Aperture. Ruben Ludgren is a gateway to China, he lives and works in Beijing. I feel so ignorant on the topic, that also counts for ‘the Japanese photobook from the 1900s to the present’ but this helps: a handbook which incorporates “an unprecedented amount of research and scholarship”.

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4. Alec Soth, The Song Book, published by MACK celebrated a second printing of the first edition in no time. There is always something innocent and childish about Alec’s work. His website reads and looks like a children’s book. “My name is Alec Soth (rhymes with ‘both’). I live in Minnesota. I like to take pictures and make books. I also have a business called Little Brown Mushroom.” The Song Book has that allure too. The manipulated documentary is about the artifice of social change, about ‘meeting’ and the absence of human interaction in the era of digital social networks.

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5. Thomas Sauvin’s SHUANGXI (Until Death Do Us Part)published by Jiazazhi Press in a first edition of 1000, contains found photographs compiled in a miniature booklet shaped in the form of a pack of cigarets showing Chinese marriage smoking ceremonies. This is about the most absurd book in my collection: in terms of photographic theme and in terms of book technical solutions. I received it wrapped in a spread from the Shanghai Business Daily from 2014.12.23. I saved it. All these photographs are selected from the Silvermine Archive. I bought a signed copy for 28.00 EUR and 3.90EUR shipping costs, through Kominek.

It reads:

Until Death Do us Part focuses on the unexpected role cigarettes play in Chinese weddings. As a token of appreciation, it is customary for the bride to light a cigarette for each and every man invited. The bride and the groom are then invited to play  some cigarette-smoking games of an unprecedented ingenuousness. This publication pays homage to a tradition in which love and death walk hand in hand.

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6. Bruce Gilden’s FACE, released by Dewi Lewis Publishing is meant as a counterpart of Facebook faces. And, Oh God, do they all look wicked and weird; too real to be true. The human face as an arid landscape.


7. You Haven’t Seen Their Faces, by Daniel Mayrit, a Riot Book, is the photobook of the year, in fact of the past 7 years. THIS IS IT, in terms of content and book technical solutions. ‘They’ are ‘nailed’. Handwritten notes by Daniel, about wages, stock index, liaisons and scandals, are scattered on, what look like, CCTV portraits. The utmost provocative artist’s strategy towards found photography (blurry surveillance camera shots from Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) – in this shortlisted book for the Best Photobook of the Year 2015 – is manifested in You Haven’t Seen Their Faces. A smart appropriation of surveillance technology to instigate photography as evidence in the current financial and economic crisis, targeting the 100 most powerful people in the City of London as criminals, assuming their guilt. The title is a wink to a survey about the desperately poor working-class people in rural America, the southern states, by Margaret Bourke-White, published in 1937: You Have Seen Their Faces. And once again, that title is partly reminiscent of a short story by Whittaker Chambers: ‘You have seen the Heads’ (1931).



8. There is a relationship between WEALTH management and the fake Swiss WTF bank created by Carlos Spottorno in a website and a book.

This is a view of the world of the ultra-rich and their agents: a supposedly better life, where money does not always bring happiness and where the greatest luxury of all is being invisible, inaccessible, and therefore invulnerable.

It shows euphemistic pictures from the websites of UBS, HSBC, and LLoyds Bank, or an appropriated Patek Philippe swiss watches advertising campaign.  Faces of people are computer-generated into the pixelated images, into non-overlapped blocks, because face detection today is a common mechanism in security and entertainment. This time he did not appropriate the imago and features of The Economist, but a prototype of a bank brochure on ‘how to’ build wealth.The slick looking website contains fierce slogans like: ‘I have money. I just need to hide it.’ 

The crucial question remains, however: if given chance to be part of that privileged layer of society, would any of us be willing to redistribute our wealth, or would we simply tap our nose and play the game?



9. Anders Petersen. Valparaiso is published by FIFV Ediciones. it’s a strong photographic essay carried out in 13 days, in August 2014, on Anders first visit to Latin America, during an Artist in Residence for the International Festival of Photography in Valparaiso. The booklet is just a little smaller than the classic Valparaiso by Sergio Larrain, and it doesn’t contain a poem by Pablo Neruda. It is all there: the people, the suffering, the roughness of life, the signature of Anders Petersen.

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10. (in matters of) karl, is a book by Annette Behrens and issued by Fw: Books. It’s more than a photobook, well documented and supported by a meticulous lay-out and design by Hans Gremmen. Annette hesitated to do it, being remembered of her own German roots and the history that goes with it. The screen print on the front cover leaves some ‘blood traces on the French title page. Reproductions of Polaroids are showing the picturesque Solahutte, in the year 2007. Other self-made images show the whole setting of the ‘Hocker album’ at the research department of USHMM. The personal histories and reflection on research findings by Annette, all in Courier letter font, read like a diary note or a forensic report, or both.


11. Philip Toledano made a very personal document, after his parents died: When I Was Six. They left him a box full of personal belongings from his sister, who died an early age. The book has a pitch black linen hardcover, in a swiss binding, stitched with a light green cord. Little white dots, likes stars in the cosmos, are scattered around a hand written title. A story is arising from black matt pages, with a cold green coating on the backside, containing memories of his sister: ‘Claudia was nine, I was six’. Short personal statements in white on a black void, are hitting you like a hammer, or making you contemplate on the vastness of being and life experience. We see the baby birth facts on a perforated carton hospital card with ‘notes or recommendations’, two pages after that the printed card sent on behalf of both parents after Claudia’s death expressing their ‘appreciation for kind messages of sympathy’ by friends and family. A lock of her hair in cylophane, and handwritten letters of her ability to show empathy at such early age, her school photo in a paper envelope, handwritten captions by a parent on the back of her portraits. The tombstone design is her father’s.The book is literarily unpacking ‘nine years. into a box’. It is heart breaking, it’s amazing grace, amazing strength, I went through the book twice, I cried twice. And there is the cosmos, the infinity, to capture her soul.


12. Christopher Williams‘ Printed in Germany (green edition) is one of three volumes, catalogues slash artist’s books if you wish, accompanying the major MOMA exhibition The Product Line of Happiness. The ‘Yellow catalogue’ is the first publication in the trilogy The Production Line of Happinness. It’s mainly a text book, in line with the sobriety of academic syllabi. It contains essays, manifests, formal oration footnotes, an ‘index’ and ‘supplement’, as well as painstakingly described captions of re-photographed material that re-appears as a ‘stand-alone visual object’ in the second, Green edition. Some pictures are added, some are left out. In the Yellow edition it reads: SOURCE (1981), the first image in the supplement, is a quartet of photographs, that Williams presented as part of his MFA degree exhibition at California Institute of the Arts  (CalArts).

The work resulted from a process of filtering images sourced from the archives of the John F. Kennedy Library through a set of selection criteria and enacting several procedures to reprint and re-present them. During the 1980s Williams continued to work with existing archives and complex systems of selection. […] These prints are noticeably well made.


Although this specific image is not re-appearing in the green edition, in the supplement caption to SOURCE his rigid criteria for selection and technical procedure are described in extreme detail, and this artist’s strategy Williams has maintained for a lifetime.

1. From SOURCE: The Photographic Archive, John F. Kennedy Library,  Columbia Point on Dorchester Bay, Boston, Massachusetts 02125. U.S.A; CONDITIONS FOR SELECTION: There are two conditions: the photograph or photographs must be dated May 10,1963, and the subject, John F. Kennedy, must have his back turned to the camera. All photographs on file fulfilling these requirements are used. TECHNICAL TREATMENT: The photographs are subjected to the following operations: rephotography (4 x 5 ” copy negative), enlargement (from 8 x 10″ to 11 x 14″ by use of the copy negative), and cropping (1/16″ is removed from all sides of the rephotographed, enlarged image) […].



Williams appropriates front covers of Elle, winter holiday brochures from Switzerland, TAI Afrique campagnes, product photography of cameras manufactured in former German Democratic Republic. In case of the latter, his model is Christoph Boland. The re-photographing is mainly executed at Studio Thomas Borho in Düsseldorf. The green edition, is kind of a paper sample book: interleaved with plain green wood containing paper sections. On the front cover of each edition is a portrait of a black man: Mustafa Kinte (Gambia), each time slightly different – a moment after a moment. Mustafa is wearing a snow-white Van Laacken Shirt Kent 64. Printed in Germany is related to the preceding ‘orange edition’ and  exhibition catalogue dating from 2010: For Example: Dix-Huit Lecons Sur La Société Industrielle (Révision 11).

13. The WORST book of 2015, actually released in 2014, is The Bungalow by Anouk Kruithof, published by Onomatopee. It is number 106 in the publisher’s catalogue. Kruithof objectifies every single image; crops them, stacks them up, makes cut-outs. The subject is nullified, the content remains unspoken. The private collection of Brad Feuerhelm has earlier been delivering source material for a more thrilling artist’s book: Miss Titus Becomes a Regular Army Mac by Melinda Gibson. #Evidence is another Kruithof-twist of a collection of institutional photographs collected by Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel in the 1970s. Kruithof: ‘claims the imagery as her own and robs it of her promotional intent’, which the authors intent was all together. Indeed her merit is much ‘less concrete, less stable, and less transparent’, to use her own words. Cutting and pasting and sculpting and re-photographing, photoshopping and cropping, till the image is a dead as a doornail. There is no new meaning, no added value. It totally ‘lacks integrity’, indeed ‘to be viewed as ‘pure evidence’.



14. The second WORST book of 2015 is Lockdown Archive by Mike Mandel & Chantal Zakari. The publication is a typical Blurb book production, missing the finesse and craftsmanship of contemporary photobook making. It is simply a transfer of found photography on the Internet (the police manhunt during the Watertown lockdown of April 19, 2013, a suburb in the greater Boston area) to a rigid digital book format. Images are selected, re-organized by the artists, according to location or other ordering principles. I would not dare to call the end result an ‘artistic encyclopedic overview’. Poor printing, poor lay-out, poor typography, poor cover.

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15. Will Steacy’s, Deadline is a state of the art newsprint edition from the heart, a ‘FINAL CITY EDITION’. Full of large type front page headlines like: ‘The Disappearing storyteller’; ‘A quarter century at The Inky’. And it’s all about the era ‘When newspapers were a Family Business’. And his was. The cream of the crop is ‘section D. That’s The Press, Baby’, showing the Plate Room, the Press Room, an Ink Stained Wall. Deadline by Will Steacy is the first of two newsprint publications, I understand, deriving from the family archives, and is in line with Down these mean streets (2012). This first monograph and artist’s book by Will Steacy brings back in mind both the sketchbook of Hannah Hoch: Album (1933, 2004) and Pornografie (1971) by Klaus Staeck. Staecy is also a collage artist par excellence. In Down these mean streets self-made photographs on ‘fear and abandonment in America’s inner cities’ are juxtaposed to classy, banal, and propagandistic US newspaper clippings. Full page double spreads with headlines, cut out fragments of newspaper articles and handwritten notes on ‘financial crisis’, ‘zero jobs’, ‘bailing out’, ‘benefits and bargaining’ in American politics in the first decade of the 21st century as well as the historical events that got the country that far: post-World War II industrial growth, The Reagan years and 911. In short the ‘betrayal of the American Dream’. Excellent printing. It all has to do with ‘The Ink in His Blood’: His grandfather (I assume) wrote a college essay about his summer job at the York Dispatch in 1938.


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