Top 20 Photobooks of 2011 by Alec Soth
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.