In this month’s blog post we look at the favourite/best photobooks of 2023. The best photobooks list phenomenon is a tradition that goes back to the early days of the internet through booksellers like Photo-Eye of Sante Fe.
They would select luminaries of photography to select their favourite photobooks of the year. These tended to be smaller publications, not the coffee table books you see on the shelves of major booksellers. It’s a specialist world in other words, but one that punches above its weight in terms of global photographic and artistic influence.
The most successful of these ‘best books’ might sell a few thousand copies, some of them might sell a few hundred. In the past, there would be a ‘buzz’ around the best of these books, and they would sell out quickly. That’s less the case now, though it’s worth noting that Trent Parke’s Monument sold out in a few hours and is already on its third edition.
There are multiple best books lists. Photoeye’s 2023 Favourite Photobooks, PhMuseum’s Photobooks we love from 2023, and Photobookstore’s Photobooks of 2023 have some of the best of them. And for an accumulation of all the best book lists of 2023, go to Viory Schellekens Metalist.
But here in no particular order are some of my best books of 2023:
L’Amoureuse by Anne de Gelas
First published in 2013, this is the first book Anne de Gelas made following the sudden death of her husband on a beach in Belgium. The feelings of loss, how she comes to terms with this, how she recalibrates her relationship with her son make for a heartbreaking story that also talks of survival, resilience, and creative endeavour. Truly wonderful.
22 Days in Between by Salih Basheer
The title of the book tells a story of loss, the 22 days being the space between the death of Basheer’s father and mother. Basheer was 3 years old at the time. Through photographs, drawings, pictures from the family album and a beautifully written text, Basheer tells the story of his home in Sudan, the places he visited and the continuing story of how grief affected him and his siblings. It’s a beautiful book.
Monument by Trent Parke
Monument is the culmination of 20 years of Parke’s Australian photography, a condensation of his visually arresting and technically demanding work on the streets of Sydney and beyond. It’s a book on melancholia, on the sorrow of urban life, on the fate that we are creating for ourselves. It’s outstanding.
The Uncanny by Leonard Pongo
In The Uncanny, Leonard Pongo returns to the country of his heritage, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and photographs the daily life, the culture, the nature, and the family events. Part stream-of-consciousness, it is also an attempt to understand the country, his place in it, amidst all the complexities of family, conflict and belonging.
Pictures from the Outside by Chantal Zakari
Pictures from the Outside is my favourite of this year’s collaborative projects. Created from an in-prison class, it is a book where Zakari is given prompts to photograph areas on the outside that have meaning to prisoners on the inside. The resulting images are a touching reflection on home, family, and social and economic change in the Boston area.
You will look to the Mountains by Anne Rearick
Deadbeat is a US publisher that makes books that have a classic, often black and white, feel to them. Rearick’s book fits right into that category, being both classic and classy, the pictures in the book showing life in Appalachia in the late 1980s. It’s a book about Appalachia, but it’s also a book about a family, the Riddles. In some ways, it’s modest (she spent a week with them), but at the same time it is filled with affection, with curiosity, with the day-to-day of rural people living a rural life, with a beauty and openness that is quite special.
Coming and Going by Jim Goldberg
Coming and Going is a big book. It’s too big. It's a book where images are collaged repeatedly. Earlier this year, Stinus Duch gave a talk where he talked about the problem of editing 10,000 images down to a couple of hundred. No such problem for Jim Goldberg who thinks in collage. Text is used to highlight key moments, to nail down a personal narrative (that is at the same time universal), to tell the reader the key moments of life, love, birth, and death.
What really does it for me are the times when it goes into the specific sensory elements of a relationship; his mother giving him brisket (which he hates) and water that tastes of onion when he visits.
New Danish Documentary by multiple authors
This book is in here for the clarity and conciseness of the text that accompanies it, a text that disrupts outdated ideas of a standard documentary. There are contextual essays that you don't read, that are redundant, but the short text by Mette Sandbye is not one of them. First of all, it is short, and then it links into the work in the book, and ideas of what documentary can be.
Nicolai Tobias’ The Ritual (a cinnamon based hazing event) or Matilde Soes Rasmussen's Unprofessional are just a couple of examples of why this might still be needed. The idea of a standard documentary form is past-its-sell-by-date if you know your photography, but in the wider world beyond the few thousand people who are interested in this kind of stuff it really isn't.
Nucleo by Wouter Van de Voorde
Wouter Van de Voorde lives on the fringes of the Australian bush with his family. Nucleo tells the story of that life. It’s a story of crumbling rockfaces and shimmering trees, of nighttime walks along dusty trails, of rough-hewn back yards and shanty-town sheds.
If Morganna Magee makes dreamtime photographs of the Australian bush, the first half of Van de Voorde’s book is more on the Mad Max spectrum, a world where things are coming apart at the seams. The book is a real object, a double book bound on the outer edge of the back page with metal studs. It opens up as it goes along, moving from the claustrophobia of multi-image black and white sequences into full-bleed colour images of a more lyrical Australia, and relief is found.
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