Top 20 Photobooks of 2011 by Alec Soth

Posted in lists by LBM on December 12, 2011

While reviewing my favorite photobooks of the year, I noticed that numerous selections could be classified as crime stories. So in creating this year’s list, I thought it would be an entertaining exercise to categorize all of the books by genre. Given the quantity and quality of books being published, it is now feasible to think of photobooks in much the same way as we think of literature and cinema. These genre pigeonholes are reductive, of course, but like year-end lists, they are mostly a lighthearted excuse to analyze and discuss quality work.


Crime: A Criminal Investigation by Watabe Yukichi (Xavier Barral-Le Bal). Following a police detective investigating a 1958 murder in Tokyo, Yukichi’s photos almost look like stills from a Chandleresqe noir. Elegantly mixing text and image with perfect printing and design, this is a masterpiece of photographic storytelling. My favorite book of the year. Runner-up: Redheaded Peckerwood by Christian Patterson (Mack). Like A Criminal Investigation, Patterson’s book was inspired by a 1950’s killing spree. But rather than a linear narrative, Redheaded Peckerwood is like an investigator’s dossier in the age of Google Images.


Comedy: Paloma al aire by Ricardo Cases (Photovision). A documentary on pigeon racing that manages to be funny, mysterious and strangely touching. Runner-up: Animals That Saw Me by Ed Panar (The Ice Plant). Panar’s book could also be classified as the children’s photobook of the year.


Family Drama: In the Shadow of Things by Léonie Hampton (Contrasto). A mother and daughter try to come to terms with shipping boxes, mental illness and memories. Along with the excellent photographs, be sure to read Hampton’s interview with her mother. Runner-Up: Mom & Dad by Terry Richardson (Morel). A fascinating glimpse into the legendary shock-photog’s roots.


Romance: Eden is a Magic World by Miguel Calderón (Little Big Man Books). A heartbreaking look into a Korean man’s obsession with a Mexican soap opera actress. The second brilliant narrative photobook by Calderón. Runner-up: Book of Ruth by Robert Seydel (Siglio) Told in photo-collages and poems, the fictional tale of a woman who falls in love with Joseph Cornell.


Horror: The Wedding by Boris Mikhailov (Morel). Another hard-to-swallow masterpiece from the great provocateur.  Runner-up: Series by Enrique Metinides. A fascinating opportunity to watch Metinides horrific tragedies play out in time.  Be sure to check out the incredible crime story, The Black Trunk.


Regional/Travel: A by Gregory Halpern (J&L Books). A is for Abandoned, Acrid, Animalistic, American and Ambiguous. Runner-up: One to Nothing by Irina Rozovsky (Kehrer). A beautifully understated Israeli travelogue.


Female artist monograph: Illuminance by Rinko Kawauachi (Aperture/Foil). An exquisitely produced monograph with wide international distribution. This book should make Rinko a household name. Runner-up: About Love by Gay Block (Radius). With the death this year of Milton Rogovin, it is great to see the tradition of quiet and humane portraiture living on in the work of Gay Block.


Male artist monograph: Dirk Braeckman (Roma Publications). Described by Braeckman as “a cross between an artist’s book and a survey publication,” this is a terrific summation of his mysterious and distinctive world. Runner up: A New Map of Italy by Guido Guidi (Loosestrife Editions). Guidi’s complicated excavation of simplicity edited and packaged by John Gossage.


Historical/Archive: Photographic Memory: The Album in the Age of Photography by Verna Posever Curtis and Denise Wolff (Aperture).  A beautifully produced book on a fascinating subject. Runner-up: War Primer 2 by Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin (Mack). A searing update of Bertolt Brecht’s Photo-epigrams.


Independent/self-published: Lang Zal Ze Levan (Happy Birthday To You) by Anouk Kruithof. Ten joyous birthday celebrations in a psychiatric institution. Runner-up: Gomorrah Girl by Valerio Spada. Another excellent crime book, this one a mashup of documentary portraiture and a Neapolitan police report

Did I miss any genres? Do you disagree with my selections? What were your favorite books of 2011? I want to hear your comments.


48 Responses

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  1. Loic said, on December 12, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    Ed Panar was one of my obsessions this year. Children’s book of the year, can’t agree more:
    Also check out Noel Camardo’s Monsters. Great for kids, though no book yet:
    Merry Listmas

  2. Aware of the Void said, on December 12, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    Great selection thanks for sharing. I wish I could read them all…

  3. Gay Block said, on December 12, 2011 at 9:30 pm

    Thank you, Alec – I do have great respect for Milton Rogovin. I spent time with your book at Radius today – it should be on your “best” list. That’s a gorgeous image you made and the story, nightmare really, leading up to it belongs to us all! Your blog is great, as are your pictures.

    • Amanda Jobson said, on January 2, 2012 at 4:10 pm

      Hey Alec you mentioned Stuart Griffiths Myth of Airborne Warrior Book but i cannot see a mention on the blog
      Thank you.. I’m enjoying this site.

  4. douglaslowell said, on December 13, 2011 at 1:03 am

    So glad to see Dirk Braeckman getting some props. And Illuminance by Rinko Kawauchi is a mesmerizing series of invitations down the path of an intriguing mind. So many books I don’t know yet, so once again thank you, Alec, for pointing the way.

    • john glenn said, on March 22, 2012 at 12:08 am

      Rinko? first book was good, second a repeat, wow the world is so wonderful- lol even a baby learns to see. this was a terrible book.

  5. Bears said, on December 13, 2011 at 1:38 am

    I saw Ricardo Cases book the other day and was blown away by the colours and edit, fantastic choice! Wandering Bears.

  6. Iris Sikking said, on December 13, 2011 at 3:52 am

    Hi Alec,
    Please have a look at Sarah Carlier’s book, from earlier this year:

    Four years, three deaths, sweaty armpits and a fetus
    Sarah Carlier
    23 x 30 cm, 132 pages
    Edition size: 500
    type of printing: offset
    Price: 38 euro

    “Four years, three deaths, sweaty armpits and a fetus is a fragmented tale from the life of the Romanian family Fuliash, who I became acquainted with fourteen years ago. The quick succession of events – death, new life and a marriage, all happening in a short period of time – were the reason for me to make this project. Specific for this book is the combination between realistic and metaphorical fictional situations translated in photos, video (stills) and text.” (from Joerg Goldberg’s website)

    Best wishes,
    Iris Sikking

  7. L said, on December 13, 2011 at 4:18 am

    I’m also very happy to see Dirk Braeckman’s opus in the list… his work is, for me, one
    of the most fascinating in Europe.
    And Léonie Hampton was a very fine discovery this year.

    Illuminance was a real deception… as i feel this work like a replay.

    Then i would add in the “Historical category” Aus Anderer Sicht – The Other View, published by Hatje Cantz, documenting the Berlin wall.
    And also, Takuma Nakahira’s Magazine Work 1964-1982 (Getsuyosha) as a counterpoint to Moriyama.

  8. photobook.taiwan said, on December 13, 2011 at 8:14 am
    The best Taiwan Photobook of 2011

    Cheng Shang-Shi The Birds (Origin 1963, reprinted in 2011)
    Shen Chao-Liang Stage
    Wu Piin-Hsien – Memo Flora
    Alishan and Mint Mountain Shashin Cho (origin in Japanese period, reprinted in 2011)
    Deng Bo-Ren – Le Temps Perdu
    Wu Cheng-Chang Taiwan Lanscape II
    Huang Tse-Shiau – 82 Retrospective
    Lou Han-Chang – Mt. Dam Point
    100 peoples, 100 years young
    Wu Yung Shun – Looking at Old Taoyuan
    the eye of times, Taiwan Photographs Retropspective
    Simon Cheng, Midva

  9. Tomas said, on December 13, 2011 at 8:59 am

    Excellent selection, many of my personal favourites of this year are on the list. Thank you Alec!
    I miss, however, Claudius Schulze’s great self-published volume ‘Socotra’ which explores an imaginary adventure island. Claudius’ paid great attention to the detail, making the book a revealing work about the cultural tradition of travel and coffee table books that includes colonial explorers and fiction classics such as Robinson crusoe. Also, he paid great attention to the object ‘book’ with a unique binding, manually inserted photographs, fold outs, etc, that make his book simply stand out.
    I saw (and immediately bought) the book at offprint in Paris. You can browse through the book at – but be warned – the real book is way more impressive than the online faksimile. Try to get hold of the real book… it is a real gem.

  10. William C said, on December 13, 2011 at 9:02 am

    I am still loving Taryn Simon’s A living man declared dead.

  11. Afra Mare said, on December 14, 2011 at 3:30 am

    uh, what a long christmas wishlist this makes… Some I have at least already! But I have to agree with Tomas. Marc Poussemier of Librairie Photographique in Paris recommended Claudius’ Socotra the other day on Actuphoto ( I haven’t heard of the book before – a trade of self-published books: no marketing? – but truly love it…

  12. Ralph said, on December 14, 2011 at 4:23 am

    ANIMALS THAT SAW ME book – what a ridiculous concept..

    • maro said, on December 16, 2011 at 10:51 am

      ridiculously brilliant! Not nearly enough satire in contemporary photography.

  13. Hau, Sebastian said, on December 14, 2011 at 8:20 am

    I’m thinking of “Canary-Mon”, by Lieko Shiga, “Let’s sit down before we go” – Bertien van Manen, “I don’t sleep” – Aya Fujioka, “Stefan Kielsznia – Ulica Nowa 3” – Ulrike Grossarth, “Visitor” – Ofer Wolberger, “The Knife cuts through the Apple” – Adam Etmanski, “El Taco” – Guillermo Faivovich & Nicolas Goldberg, “83 days of Darkness” – Niels Stomps, “In the Picture” – Lee Friedlander, “Tristes Tropiques” – Laurence Aëgerter i’m thinking about those books that had me engaged the most ..

  14. LBM said, on December 14, 2011 at 8:34 am

    Fantastic Sebastian. Thank you. Hey everyone, go to Le Bal, Sebastian is the best in the business:

  15. Angel Luis Gonzalez said, on December 14, 2011 at 8:43 am

    How about a section of books on Photobooks? I’d recommend ‘Martin Parr’s Best Books of the Decade’:

  16. Rémi Coignet said, on December 14, 2011 at 8:54 am

    Waoooh Sebastian !

  17. peter van beveren said, on December 14, 2011 at 9:27 am

    My Top 20 Photobooks of 2011:
    Verna Posever Curtis and Denise Wolff: Photographic Memory: The Album in the Age of Photography
    Sarah Carlier: Four years, three deaths, sweaty armpits and a fetus
    Michael Wolf: Tokyo Compression revisited
    Heidi de Gier: A Falling Horizon
    Jan-Dirk van der Burg: Desire Lines / Olifanten Paadjes
    Boris Mikhailov: The Wedding
    Paulien Oltheten: Photos from Japan
    Anoek Steketee and Eefje Blankevoort: Dream City
    Pieter Hugo: Permanent Error
    Paul Kooiker: Sunday

    Catherine Opie and Alec Soth: Rodarte
    Paulien Oltheten: A Sort of Lecture
    Jamey Stillings: The Bridge at Hoover Dam
    Anouk Kruithof: A Head With Wings
    Robert Adams: The Place We Live
    Hans Michael Koetzle: Photography in Print A-Z
    Dan Colen: Peanuts
    Chris Killip: Seacoal
    Hans Eijkelboom: Amsterdam by Numbers and New York by Numbers
    Johan Nieuwenhuize: Made in China

    • LBM said, on December 14, 2011 at 6:52 pm

      Peter, great, great stuff. Thank you!

  18. xilll said, on December 14, 2011 at 10:55 am

    Hi Alec,

    Thank you for the very impressive selection!
    I like 4 books too:
    a catalog of the winners of the “ Kolga Photo Competition 2011”
    (photographers from Georgia and Germany participated in this competition)
    Tokyo Compression from Michael Wolf
    Permanent Error from Pieter Hugo

    Merry Christmas!


  19. Bas Peters said, on December 14, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    Here are my favorites of 2011: The list contains: A New Map of Italy by Guido Guidi – Bad Driving by Louis Porter – Farms by Bernhard Fuchs – Permanent Error by Pieter Hugo – Animals That Saw Me by Ed Panar – The World Won’t Listen by Laurent Champoussin – A Criminal Investigation by Watabe Yukichi – Illuminance by Rinko Kawauchi – On The Plane by Phillip Kalantzis-Cope and 83 Days of Darkness by Niels Stomps.

    • LBM said, on December 14, 2011 at 6:56 pm

      Thanks for this Bas. More hunting to be done!

  20. atsushisaito said, on December 14, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    Thank you, Alec
    I love criminal investigation too.

    and this is my 2011 best photo book.
    what do you think?

  21. john gossage said, on December 15, 2011 at 6:55 am


    The comments from you list bring home the fact more forcefully this year than ever before, that none of us see more than a small part of what is being done in photobooks these days. So many things that touch people. A good time to be alive.


    • LBM said, on December 15, 2011 at 9:34 am

      It really is extraordinary, isn’t it? Even more incredible is that it doesn’t appear to be money driven. This engine behind the flood of books seems to be an authentic passion for the medium.

  22. Patrick Maille said, on December 15, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    Great books in your list but for a few ones I haven’t sen yet (and one or two I would disagree with) and for a lot that are missing; as John Gossage said “what a good time to be alive” (I am not sure the bankers thinks alike seing such a spending in books and not only for that reason) and it seems that the production as increased in numbers and quality with a year is not over yet.

    Following your categories and a few additional ones (without hierarchy or the ambition to rank them, without even thinking that I have seen it all or mention all that I should) I would add to your list and to the books mentionned by everyone above:

    1. A tout seigneur tout honneur (You must give honor when honor is due):
    ‘Gitans’ by Koudelka (Delpire french edition for the afterword by Robert Delpire), ‘Record #20’ by Moriyama, “Les amies de la place Blanche” by Christer Stromholm, “Pangnirtung” by Robert Frank, “Chromes” by William Eggleston, “The prototype works” by Lewis Baltz

    2. Comedy:
    ‘Predominantly Orange’ by John Reid / “King of photography” by Tiane Doan Na Champassak / “Hose variations” by Bjarne Bare / “New Cars 1964” by Lee Friedlandler

    3. Family Drama:
    “Makulatur” by Paulo Nozzolino / “Sasha” by Claudine Doury

    4. History of Photography and Photobooks:
    “El Fotolibro Suramericano” by Horacio Hernadez”/ “Magnum Contact Sheets” by Kristen Lubben/ Lewis Hine by TF editores/ “Naked Hollywood, Weegee in Los Angeles” by Richard Meyer / “Fabrik” by Jakob Tuggener (Steidl’s facsimile)

    4. Politics:
    ‘Berlusconians/No berlusconians’ by Nico Baumgarten, “Permanent Error” by Pieter Hugo / “Grow Heathrow” by Jessica Summerling

    5. War:
    “Burke + Norfolk” by Simon Norfolk / “Outpost” by Donovan Wylie

    6. Poetry:
    “Mexico Roma” by Graciela Iturbide / “Don’t Fade to Grey” by Olaf Unverzat/ “Pïcture Sculpture” by JSBJ (Je Suis une Bande de Jeune) / “God , Seen at birth” by Seiji Kumagai / “Nature Symbol” by Aya Muto / “On Thin Ice, In a Blizzard” by Paula McCartney / “Parasomnia” by Viviane Sassen / “The Knife cuts through the Apple” by Adam Etmanski

    7. Region/Travel:
    “A Falling Horizon” by Heidi de Gier / “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” by an unknown american photographer, a guy called Alec Soth, anyone heard of him ? (Anyway a very godardian, for its allegories, vision of Rome that also connects with the Grand Painting tradition of the city) / “Mad in Sète” by Tendance Floue / “Black Landscapes and Hidden Interiors” by Calin Kruse / “Murmures” by Yoann Hagnéré & Viola Korosi / “Ama” by Ninna Pope / “Hudson Valley” by Stephen Shore

    8. Society:
    “Boulevard” by Katy Grannan / Tokyo Compression Revisited by Michael Wolf / “Aveugles” by Sophie Calle / “Irene” by Roswitha Hecke/ “Rue des Lombards” by Jane Evelyn Atwood / “Tristes Tropiques” by Laurence Aëgerter / “Showa 88” by Kazuyoshi Usui


  23. Barrie said, on December 15, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    Thank you for the wonderful list. for me the best photobooks this year are:

    A Criminal Investigation by Watabe Yukichi
    The heath by Andy sewell
    The brothers by ELIN HØYLAND
    Color Correction by Ernst Haas
    Fabrik by Jacob tuggener– Reprint
    The gypsies by koudelka– Reprint
    Les Amies De place Blanche by christer stromholm– Reprint

  24. Minus said, on December 18, 2011 at 7:00 pm

    I wish I could get my hands on A Criminal Investigation, everyone says it’s amazing.

    • SeanyB said, on December 21, 2011 at 12:53 pm

      Maggs Rare Books in London have copies of Watabe Yukichi’s book ( Also try Husson Editeur ( Still at retail price.

  25. Alex Howard said, on December 19, 2011 at 4:03 am

    Here are a few of my favourites that haven’t been mentioned (or mentioned enough) –
    Monalisen der Vorstädte by Ute & Werner Mahler.
    Höfe/Farms by Bernhard Fuchs.
    Pretty Girls Wander by Raymond Meeks.
    The Auckland Project by Alec Soth & John Gossage.
    Probably my favourite of all this year, A New Map of Italy by Guido Guidi.

  26. jimib123 said, on December 19, 2011 at 9:17 pm

    I recently met with Serge Clement of Montreal and he showed me his new hand made book from his NY 2010 project. I found his work at Dashwood Books on Bond streeta couple years ago when looking for a Sudek book. Serge is an absolutely amazing photographer, and this new book completely blew my mind. They might have one at Dashwood if you find yourself in NYC.
    Its worth a special trip.

  27. Marc said, on December 21, 2011 at 7:21 am

    For those of you that are into lists, here is my ‘list of lists’

    • LBM said, on December 23, 2011 at 1:44 pm

      Great job putting this together Marc. Bravo!

  28. SeanB said, on December 23, 2011 at 12:11 pm

    Also worth a look, but not mentioned so far:

    Foreign Affair by Wallard and JH Engstrom: joyful and raw
    Myth of the Airborne Warrior by Stuart Griffiths: conscientious objection

  29. LBM said, on December 23, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    Hadn’t heard of the Stuart Griffiths book…thanks.

  30. briancarnold said, on December 24, 2011 at 7:23 am

    The only genres I might add are

    *Best reprint – Prairie, by Robert Adams. Reprinted by the Denver Art Museum in conjunction with the retrospective now open.

    *Best survey – The Place We Live, by Robert Adams

    If you are curious, I wrote a review of the Adams’ retrospective here:

  31. john gossage said, on December 25, 2011 at 11:23 am

    OK Alec a different question on this subject:

    Is there one book in your list that changed you as an artist? One of these that allowed you to take something from it that you could use to move forward?


    • LBM said, on December 26, 2011 at 10:16 am

      I’m chewing on this question. This deserves a follow-up post…

  32. Barrie said, on December 26, 2011 at 6:43 am

    A question for you john Gossage, did any book this year changed you as a photographer/artist?

    The book that impressed me most this year is “The Breothers by Elin Hoyland´´ I am not a photograher/artist i most say.

    • john gossage said, on December 26, 2011 at 8:59 am

      It was this one that changed me the most:

      Le Luxe, Roe Ethridge – Mack. Another great failure of a book, by someone whose failures are more interesting than others successes. Or to paraphrase Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now “ Goldman don’t surf”


  33. Aunt Elly said, on December 26, 2011 at 9:49 am

    Sean B,

    I agree that Foreign Affair by JH Engstrom is a gem. There’s another book not receiving much coverage: Things Here and Things Still to COme by Jose Pedro Cortes. I got a copy at Offprint and keep returning to it.

    Don’t you think it’s been a vintage year for photobooks? To me it seems that well made (material) photobooks will become precious treasures as electronic books arrive.

    Aunt Elly

  34. guilherme said, on December 28, 2011 at 8:52 am

    alec, by the way, how many books do you buy/receive every month?

  35. Scott Jarrold said, on December 30, 2011 at 9:22 am

    I know it’s an old book, but I had the chance encounter with Mandel & Sultan’s ‘Evidence’ recently (not recommended by anyone, just browsing the University library) this book had a profound effect on me on a train journey home, as did John Gossage’s The Pond last year, when I really looked at it! (not on a train)
    One of my top finds this year is Julian Baron’s C.E.N.S.U.R.A.
    Are we living in a golden age of the photobook?…I’ve only discovered the wonders of photobook in the last couple of years, there’s an abundance of great work out there new and old to be discovered. exciting times for sure!¬)

  36. Jason Hobbs said, on December 30, 2011 at 10:08 am


    I’m joining this a little late and I don’t have a list (I’ve really enjoyed looking at the work mentioned in the list(s) here and elsewhere). I found this book yesterday and thought I’d share it:



  37. Donald Sinugba said, on May 24, 2012 at 2:01 am

    really Great Photobooks. Love it.

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