River’s Dream by Curran Hatleberg
The American south has long been fertile territory for photographers in search of atmosphere and a sense of otherness, but Curran Hatleberg’s book, River’s Dream, possesses a dreamlike quality all of its own. The setting is the sprawling south east of the country (Virginia, Louisiana, Florida, east Texas) and the mood shifts between the observational – people hanging out on the street – and the hallucinatory – a man with a beard of bees. Throughout Hatleberg establishes a deep sense of place and evokes a mood of listlessness, the sense is of communities made weary by neglect and disappointment. In many of his images, nature is a threatening presence: abandoned buildings, flood damaged homes, the unsettling presence of snakes and alligators. Though his deeply immersive approach, Hatleberg creates a visual poetry that is haunting and otherworldly.
Some Say Ice by Alessandra Sanguinetti
Atmosphere, suggestion and an acute sense of place also underpin Alessandra Sanguinetti’s Some Say Ice, a book of stark and mysterious monochrome images made in Black River Falls, an American small town previously immortalised in Michael Lesy’s 1973 book, Wisconsin Death Trip. Using found photographs and press reports of local crimes, strange events and superstitions, Lesy presented a determinedly gothic glimpse of life there in the late 19th century. The result had a lasting effect on Sanguinetti, who discovered it as a child in Argentina.
Gli Isolani (The Islanders) by Alys Tomlinson
The remote mountainous regions of Sardinia and Sicily are the main setting for Alys Tomlinson’s Gli Isolani ( The Islanders), which comprises portraits and landscapes that allude to the atavistic ritual celebrations held there during Holy Week and on saints’ days. Having made her name with Ex Voto, a quietly powerful book of deftly composed monochrome portraits of contemporary Christian pilgrims at religious sites across Europe, Tomlinson chose once again to isolate her subjects, photographing them on deserted village streets and in elemental landscapes using a large format plate camera mounted on a tripod. The results are quiet and beautifully composed, but the grotesque animal costumes and masks worn by the locals make for altogether more surreal and unsettling images.
Judith Joy Ross: Photographs 1978-2015
The veteran American portrait photographer, Judith Joy Ross, has long been revered by other photographers – Tomlinson has cited her as a key influence – while remaining a relatively low-key presence in the wider photography world. This year, a touring retrospective and accompanying book, Judith Joy Ross: Photographs 1978-2015, made clear her singular genius. Over several series across over 35 years, she captures ordinary people in moments of private reverie or in intense, but unselfconscious, engagement with her camera. Her 1983 series, Portraits at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, remains a touchstone for a certain kind of intimate, respectful and incredibly resonant, observational photography.
SCUMB Manifesto by Justine Kurland
Perhaps the most subversive – and surprising – photobook of the year was Justine Kurland’s SCUMB Manifesto, an assault on photography’s patriarchal history that took its cue from radical feminist, Valerie Solanas’s wilfully provocative SCUM (Society for Cutting Up Men) manifesto. Kurland’s creative rage took the form of cutting up and reassembling some of the most iconic photobooks by male artists such as Brassaï, Robert Frank, William Eggleston and Stephen Shore. The results are wonderfully intricate collages that possess a presence of their own, so much so that it is often difficult to identify the source material. Angry and provocative, for sure, but elaborately beautiful, too.
Odesa by Yelena Yemchuk
Had it been published a few years ago, Yelena Yemchuk’s visual ode to the vibrant youth culture of the Ukrainian city of Odesa would have been a beautiful surprise. Given all that has happened since Russia invaded the country last February, it cannot help but seem elegiac. Yemchuck, a Ukrainian immigrant whose family left for America in 1981 when she was 11 years old, first travelled to Odesa in 2003 and experienced the wonderful “chaos of a new nation”. Her book took shape over several return visits and captures the sense of vibrancy, bohemianism and everyday surrealism of the historic port city in the heady years between independence and invasion. One cannot help but wonder what has happened to her subjects in recent months as Russia has targeted their beloved city with air strikes.
Carnival Strippers Revisited by Susan Meiselas
In the early 1970s, Susan Meiselas spent several summers trailing carnivals across small towns in New England, Pennsylvania and South Carolina. The resulting book, Carnival Strippers, first published in 1976, has since become a classic of documentary photography not least because of its deeply immersive approach, Meiselas’s empathy for the women dancers she encountered, and her distinctively female gaze. The first edition included often candid interviews with the dancers as well as their boyfriends, the men who hired them and the men who paid to see them. This new expanded edition also includes previously unseen colour photographs, contact sheets, correspondence and ephemera from the time. A wonderfully illuminating insight into the making of a classic photobook.
From “blaue horse” till now days 1965-2022 by Boris Mikhailov
Finally, three exhibition catalogues worth your attention. Boris Mikhailov’s oddly titled From “blaue horse” till now days 1965-2022, was published to mark the veteran Ukrainian photographer’s retrospective at MEP Paris. It is a big, densely packed book filled with Mikhailov’s often absurdist images of his homeland as well as extensive quotes from the artist. Too singular and subversive to fit easily into any photographic tradition, Mikhailov’s oeuvre is not for the faint-hearted, so be warned this is not so much a primer, as a deep dive into his instinctively transgressive way of seeing.
A Great Turn in the Possible by Carrie Mae Weems
Spanning four decades and accompanying a retrospective at the MAPFRE Foundation in Madrid, Carrie Mae Weems: A Great Turn in the Possible traces the constantly inventive photographic work of an artist whose conceptual thrust is matched by an acute understanding, and interrogation, of the power dynamics of race, gender and class in contemporary America. Sometimes placing herself in the work, sometimes responding to found or iconic images, Weems also questions photography’s power dynamics and its role in constructing – and perpetuating – archetypes. An illuminating, if tantalising, book that makes one hope the retrospective will travel this way some time soon.
Chris Killip: 1946-2020
Published to accompany a retrospective of his work at the Photographers’ Gallery, London, Chris Killip: 1946-2020, is a survey of one of the most influential bodies of work in post-war British photography. Killip’s main subject was the rapid de-industrialisation of the north-east of England in the 1970s and 80s, and he photographed it with an unerring eye for telling detail, whether in images of looming shipyards towering over terraced streets or portraits of working communities who, as he put it, “had history done to them.”