Favorite Photobooks of 2021 – Compiled by LensCulture Editors

Photobooks deliver joy and delight in many, many ways. Amidst the isolation and uncertainty of the past years, photobooks have been especially bright sparks for connection, bringing readers and visual storytellers into an intimate interaction that transcends time and space. A leisurely afternoon spent perusing a photobook reminds us of the luxury of seeing other worlds through an artist’s eyes, and being able to visit and revisit images that capture startling new ideas, people, places, events, and different ways of thinking and seeing.

This list is testimony to the unwavering creativity of artists, designers and publishers across the world who made this year a great one for new photobooks. To find some gems, we reached out to curators, artists, editors and other photography experts, and asked for their personal favorites of the year. We were delighted to receive 39 heart-felt recommendations that range from meditative and poetic, to academic, novelistic, visionary, conceptual, and those that feel absolutely essential.

Without a doubt this collection represents just a fraction of the many great books of 2021. But for now, take a look at our recommendations. We hope you’ll find lots of inspiration here!

Suburban Bus by Alejandro Cartagena. Published by The Velvet Cell.

In Suburban Bus, Alejandro Cartagena’s compelling visual storytelling about the daily struggles of the commuter experience creatively draws attention to social injustices in the context of the urban development crisis in contemporary Mexico. The book’s cardboard sleeve case evokes commercial exchange and the shipment of goods, linking the bus passengers’ plight to capitalist habits. Taken from the inside of a bus, the cinematically sequenced photographs bring the reader on a journey that begins before dawn and ends after dusk from Juárez to Monterrey and back.

The book is full of inventive compositions that express the anxiety, intimacy, and intensity of the riders’ lived experiences. Using the bus sunshades, window frames, seats, and handrails, Cartagena sensitively frames the experience inside and outside the bus while capturing empty gazes and details like hands touching the ceiling in search of stability, all while calling into question larger socio-economic inequities.

—Kristen Gresh, Estrellita and Yousuf Karsh Senior Curator of Photographs, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Amma by Vasantha Yogananthan. Published by Chose Commune.

I came across this beautiful book called Amma by Vasantha Yogananthan during Paris Photo. It immediately drew my attention because of the soft cover and the amazing 60 photographs tipped-in by hand. No titles, just images showing bright scenes of life on the Indian subcontinent. The use of soft colors and the acrylic paint obscuring the subjects’ faces creates a surrealistic world that shows a modern India but also gives a glimpse into the past.

The story has neither beginning nor end. Going through this book I felt I was traveling through time and space. Fact and fiction, past and present intermingle in an intriguing way. It’s a reinvention of an old mythological tale, but it’s not forced onto the viewer, on the contrary—this book invites you to look at it however you want to.

—Anaïs López, visual storyteller

My favorite is Amma, by Vasantha Yogananthan. It is the closing, moving chapter of the seven-books-long saga A Myth of Two Souls, in which Vasantha creates his own mythical saga drawing inspiration from the epic tales of the Ramayana, and its strong persistence in the life of contemporary India.

Perhaps the most emotional, personal of all seven, this book is really an ode to the beauty of Vasantha’s photography, while the object is a masterpiece of craft. It is a very potent ending to such a strong and multilayered body of work, which I am certain we will be talking about for many years to come. Moreover, after seeing his ambitious multi-year project been rejected by established publishers, Vasantha set out to publish it on his own. Together with the amazing talent of Cécile Poimboeuf-Koizumi, they founded the publishing house Chose Commune, based in Marseille, which is responsible for many incredible publications over the past few years.

—Elisa Medde, Editor-in-Chief, Foam Magazine

The Fish That Never Swam by Kirsty Mackay. Self-published.

I pick Kirsty Mackay’s The Fish That Never Swam for my favorite book of 2021. I wonder if there has ever been a project in which a photographer has documented her hometown in such an in-depth way, socially and politically, from her own experience. I think it was very good that the result of her years of documenting and interviewing was not just a collection of photos that she was trying to push through.

She makes a visual proposition of the segregation, alienation, mass unemployment, high suicide rates and short life expectancy caused by decades-old policies, through the streets of Glasgow, the people of different generations, and their words. She also connects them with the latest academic experiences to give us the information we need for maximum understanding. And it is through the visual book in which these are compiled that she hopes to begin a discussion for change. It is a book that reminds me of the paramount mission of photography and documentation.

—Yumi Goto, Reminders Photography Stronghold

After Us the Deluge by Kadir van Lohuizen. Published by Lannoo.

Most photobooks these days seem to be made in the category: art for art’s sake. It unfortunately leads very often to much ado about nothing. The world of today has many challenges, and I like photographers like Kadir who take on long-term projects that enlighten us about stories that matter.

His book about the rising sea level takes us step by step around the world on a visual journey and he has made sure his story is backed up by facts and figures. Climate change is by far one of the biggest global challenges, and this book is leading the way in visual storytelling about it. Well designed, well written texts, and insightful illustrations. Important work and a must have.

—Lars Boering, Director, European Journalism Centre Foundation

The Eyes B-Side: Photographie, Afropea, Fusion curated by Johnny Pitts. Published by The Eyes.

The Eyes is more of an in-depth, high quality magazine rather than a book, but its latest edition is my favorite photobook of the year. After an excellent edition entitled “Transgalactic” with guest curator, the artist Smith, this issue continues the idea of questioning societal and cultural phenomena through the prism of photography by giving carte blanche to experts directly concerned by the subject.

Taous Dahmani, the photography historian, invited British writer and photographer Johny Pitts to be guest curator. Pitts is recognized for his book Afropean: Notes from Black Europe (Penguin Random House, 2020). This issue of The Eyes is therefore a visual exploration of what it means to be Afropean, that is to say both black and European. We find both historical photographs and also a very good selection of contemporary photographers from different European countries and generations that explore this question, such as James Barnor, Mohamed Bourouissa, Sofia Yala Rodrigues, Délio Jasse, Maud Sulter, Marvin Bonheur… Excellent!

—Jeanne Mercier, art consultant, curator, critic

Whatever You Say, Say Nothing by Gilles Peress. Published by Steidl.

I have a theory that a photobook should have fewer pictures than the age of its author. Either Gilles Peress is 1300 years old, or this book obliterates my theory. A singular and undeniable masterpiece.

—Alec Soth, photographer

1078 Blue Skies/4432 Days by Anton Kusters. Published by Kehrer.

1078 Blue Skies/4432 Days by Anton Kusters references the mass slaughter of millions of civilians, primarily Jews, that was implemented by the Nazi regime from 1933-45. Kusters made Polaroid photographs, each exposed the same way, of 1078 blue skies over the same number of World War II concentration camps, having had to locate many of them using a geo-positioning device. “More than half of the places there was nothing left to see,” Kusters says…. “Often I was hopeless along the way.” Ten notches, each representing a day, annotate the bottom of each page while marking the temporal progression of the industrial-scale extermination; the changing colors of the pages and the number of images shown reflect its horrendous unfolding.

I would normally not have selected this book since, although not its author, I participated in its creation, having written an essay for it and having advised on its design. But given the lack of attention that the book has garnered, as well as its innovative, rigorous, and embracing conceptual approach, acknowledging the blue skies that even now hover over those who are suffering in grievous ways, I thought that rather than recusing myself a rare exception might be made.

—Fred Ritchin, Dean Emeritus, International Center of Photography

Archive by Bertien van Manen. Published by MACK.

This book really knocked me off my feet. It’s a very intimate, completely engaging, extended story of Bertien van Manen’s life and her in-depth personal documentary projects. Of course, the stories are told as seen through her eyes and her cameras, but with the added insights of some stunningly blunt personal journal entries, reproductions of hand-written notes for contact sheets, and insightful essays by Hripsimé Visser and other scholars. At nearly 400 pages, Archives includes a generous selection of photographs from her personal life and many longterm projects in Holland, China, the Soviet Union, Appalachian Mountains, Romania, Ireland and more.

I’ve been a long-time admirer of Bertien van Manen’s work, but this book allowed me to connect the dots of her adventures, and it made all of the work that much richer to see it in the context of a full life of exploration, curiosity, humanity and compassion. Her work is often (mis-)labelled with the pejorative term ‘snapshot aesthetic’ but these photographs are clearly the work of someone who has pursued her passions and her craft with deliberate intensity and intentionality… close up, un-self-conscious, eyes wide open and in the moment.

This book feels like a generous gift. It made for two full days of enthralling reading from cover to cover, and I continue the pleasure by going back to re-visit favorite sections.

—Jim Casper, LensCulture

In Search Of Appropriate Images by Mattia Balsamini. Published by Skinnerboox.

Since the start of the pandemic, I’ve received many photo projects related to the lockdown. Because of the forced stop, many photographers began to reflect on the issue. Mattia’s project struck me as having a narrative that set it apart from others.

He says: “I was sitting in the studio where I spend most of my day. I look out the window towards the mountains a few kilometers away, and I think of the enormous fortune of living in this house, in this area. Once a day, at dusk, I walk silently in the fields that separate me from those mountains, I photograph what is available, and associate it with older images, trying to look at everything with a new gaze — this is my exercise.”

The images were not taken inside the house walls, as has often happened with other projects. Mattia chooses to give himself a daily appointment with the outside world, with the places of his heart that have become his personal diary.

—Manila Camarini, Photo Editor, D La Repubblica

Fantastik Fangst by Witho Worms. Published by Bijzondere Boeken Brigade.

In Fantastik Fangst, Witho Worms elegantly merges book form with book content. It is made from one photograph, depicting the heads of a variety of Norwegian cod called Skrei. The fish annually travel by the millions to spawn on their native soil. Fishermen then preserve those they catch by cutting off their heads, splitting them in half, and gutting them. Worms divided his photograph of this scene into different grid formations, separating each fragment throughout the book. For example, the image was divided into four segments (or a 2×2 section grid), and each was printed on one of the first four pages. The following nine pages are made from a 3×3 section grid of the image, and so on. Even though no page is the same, together, the highly detailed fragments of the image show the entire photograph in full six times ––or seven times, including the print that accompanies the book.

—Liz Sales, artist, writer and educator

How Photography Became Contemporary Art by Andy Grundberg. Published by Yale University Press.

The former photography critic for the New York Times, Andy Grundberg was both witness and participant in the transformation of photography as it intersected with major art moments of the day. The book takes readers from the 1960s into the 1990s. It is both a personal story as well as providing insights into the artists, exhibitions and institutions in New York City during this time.

Grundberg provides us with a history of photography that was directly lived and experienced, tracing a specific time and place when the medium came into its own as art. How Photography Became Contemporary Art is an important read for any one interested in understanding the vital mix of ideas and talent that challenged our understanding of photography and its ascendance as contemporary art.

—Deborah Klochko, Executive Director and Chief Curator, Museum of Photographic Arts

Fingerprint by Jim Goldberg. Published by STANLEY/BARKER.

Fingerprint stood out to me because I have a particular fascination with photographs that are object-like, such as polaroids, old images from archives, etc. This book is very special because of the extreme attention to detail in reproducing the objects, almost in facsimile form. They’re about as close as you can get to an exact copy. On top of that, the photographs have the exceptional immediacy that Goldberg is an expert at capturing.

—Todd Hido, artist and avid photobook collector

Hafiz: Guardians of the Qur’an by Çimen Sabiha. Self-published.

Hafiz by Sabiha Çimen is my pick as it is replete with what I believe to be the most important element in a photobook: good photographs. Çimen worked with a Hasselblad photographing all-girls schools in Turkey where young women spend three to four years memorizing the Quran. With a mixture of portraiture, still life, and spontaneity, Çimen creates a lush and intimate environment that both celebrates and pulls back the veil on the life of young Muslim women in Turkey. A beautiful, enchanting book made with the heart and with appreciation for the profundity of this tradition.

—Justin Herfst, writer

And, do you still hear the peacocks? by Miho Kajioka. Self-published and by Ibasho.

Photography as poetry in its purest form—this is how I would describe Miho Kajioka’s pictures. In this book it’s the first time her pictures are shown in a bigger format and this surprise is a wonderful one. For the special edition, Miho has created a wooden box. The lid is coated with a picture printed on rice paper, and it perfectly works as an art work you can hang on the wall. Each edition comes with a different motif. Here we see that the book becomes an art object and the other way around. The book has three parts and consists of different papers. In December 2021 Ibasho will publish a regular edition of only the book in a small print run.

—Regina Anzenberger, artist, curator and founder of the Anzenberger Agency, Gallery and bookshop.

Pez Suelto by Francisco Canton and Pato Martinez. Published by Solab.

Set in the Moroccan port city of Essaouira, Pez Suelto is a publication where notes of Argentine directors Francisco Canton and Pato Martinez intertwines with the story of a local child fisherman striving to break free and start a new life. The result is a delicate narrative where documentary and fiction meet to frame suspended moments that otherwise would get lost over time. Pez Suelto is indeed a spontaneous record of the complexity of youth, which can end quite early for those of us who have to grow fast. A nostalgic testimony that recognizes how ephemeral life is, and how important it is to question your own fate.

—Giuseppe Oliverio, Founder and Director, PHmuseum + Lab + Days

Abandoned Moments: A Love Letter to Photography by Ed Kashi. Published by Kehrer Verlag.

A lot of photojournalism expects the photographer to be invisible, approaching the impossible ideal of objectivity by ignoring the very passion, knowledge and creativity that made certain pictures possible. Career photojournalist Ed Kashi has unpacked his archive to re-contextualize images that were once news, creating a compelling, heartfelt autobiography that honors chance and intuition. The pictures, removed from their original contexts, take on a new expressive character, while Kashi’s text, presented in fragmentary sentences, conveys the story of a thoughtful image-maker’s life in deeply personal terms.

—Alison Nordström, PhD, Independent Scholar/Curator of Photographs

The Last Summit by Shu Watanabe. Published by Reminders Project Stronghold.

The Last Summit by the Japanese artist and designer Shu Watanabe has stayed with me this year. The book follows the artist as he comes to terms with his father’s death in a climbing accident. Watanabe explores his conflicting feelings of grief, anger, resentment, and sadness through a combination of family photographs, solarized prints, xrays, journal pages, and ultimately by climbing the last mountain his father did. The mix of photographic styles and ephemera alongside the unfolding of his physical journey build a book that melds concept, form, and content seamlessly. The structure of angled pages, as Watanabe says “allows the reader to experience the thrill of climbing a mountain trail.” The book’s corners appear behind the spreads as if a mountain is always on the horizon. The Last Summit is a gorgeous tribute not only to his father but also to the creative possibilities of bookmaking.

—Magali Duzant, artist and writer

Peaceable Kingdom by Sage Sohier. Published by Kehrer Verlag.

To my eye (and heart) the best book of 2021 is the new book by Sage Sohier, who is one of the best photographers in the world. The photographs in Peaceable Kingdom are portraits of extremely loving multi-species families that include various combinations of alligators, alpacas, apes, cats, chameleons, cheetahs, chickens, cockatoos, cows, dogs, donkeys, flamingos, foxes, goats, herons, horses, humans, lambs, lemurs, lions, lizards, mackaws, monkeys, mules, opossums, otters, owls, pigs, rabbits, raccoons, ravens, skunks, sloths, snakes, tigers, tortoises, turtles, and wolves. The images are magnificent compositionally, often very funny, and they add up to a vision of a utopian world that Rousseau (and I) would dream of living in. This is Sage’s seventh monograph and they are all supremely fabulous.

—Christopher Rauschenberg, photographer

4 a.m. by Paul Cupido. Self-published.

Can you remember the last time you woke in the night and saw the shadows of a tree prompted by moonlight on your bedroom wall? Held in the liminal space between the real world and the dream world, perhaps you felt an epiphany—a realization that you are alive, and in the moment, that is enough. Paul Cupido’s book does not dictate information, it gives us the opportunity to feel: the roughness of a tree trunk, the specific curve of a ginko leaf. The outline of a sunflower, a snowflake magnified and blurry. We become the body we see floating through midnight waters, we praise the shadows as we roam through the nocturnal Japanese countryside. Life is a fleeting experience: Cupido’s work encourages us to practice transcendence and find weight in the details.

—Laura Moya, Director, Photolucida

Mundus by Sophia Tolika. Self-published.

To make it clear from the very start: I am presenting a book that I helped create. Why? Because it was self-published in a region that is usually underrepresented in the photobook world, and therefore not easy to find. But mostly, because it was made with a great personal effort and reflects years of hard work that have led to a truly wonderful little publication. As for the content, Mundus is a journey to a mostly invisible underground world below the surface of the city of Thessaloniki. The photos were taken between 2010–2019 by Sophia Tolika, an engineer, who worked in the construction of the metro system and converted her photographs into a playful and deeply intelligent art project that questions visual and factual realities of our lives in the narrow zone between the earth’s core and the infinite expanse of the universe.

—Moritz Neumüller, curator, educator, author

The Forgotten by Rosalind Fox Solomon. Published by MACK.

The Forgotten introduces us to people from all parts of the world whose lives are chained to historical events that have permanently affected how they live. With no essays of explanation, this solemn march of photographs is supported only by identifying their location and year. A snippet of text from Bertolt Brecht, a poem by Ilya Kaminsky, “We Lived Happily During the War”, and an excerpt from Masuji Ibuse’s “Black Rain”, are all you need to set the cadence of lives often soured by circumstance. Each Fox Solomon photograph is a story of a life waiting to be discovered. Wherever she finds herself in the world, she finds individuals willing to share themselves with the camera, and ultimately with us. What allows us to look deeply into Fox Solomon’s photographs is her compassionate point of view on subjects that might typically persuade us to look away, trying to forget what’s right before our eyes.

—Michael Foley, owner, Foley Gallery

Family Matters by Gillian Laub. Published by Aperture.

Gillian Laub’s new monograph, her third one, is a unique, intimate, social and political body of work, about love and family and how politics in Trump and post-Trump’s America, can divide us, challenge us, and eventually, if we are lucky, bond us and inspire us to accept one another.

Separated into four acts, viewers are drawn into the theatre and drama of family dynamics, into moments filled with emotions, joy, arguments, and crises. Laub, a photographer and a storyteller (with her images and words) is bringing the viewers into the personal and the universal. It shows not only how divided we are but how we can come together, as her family did, and also as a metaphor or even inspiration to how we can do so as Americans. This book will make you cry and laugh, question and think.

—Elinor Carucci, fine art photographer

Angela Merkel, Portraits 1991 – 2021 by Herlinde Koelbl. Published by Taschen.

My personal favorite photobook of 2021 is the result of a 20-year, annual portrait project featuring Angela Merkel photographed by Herlinde Koelbl. Here is what the publisher writes about the book: Between 1991 and 2021 this remarkable politician was photographed year after year, with a short hiatus, by Herlinde Koelbl. Each time they came together, a headshot and a three-quarter-length shot were taken before a plain white background; images that document with authenticity the astonishing ascent of a 37-year-old political outsider to one of the most powerful politicians in the free world. This long-term photo study strikingly shows how the traces of power changed Merkel, who at the start of this extraordinary photographic ritual was still almost 15 years away from becoming the first woman chancellor of Germany.

—Andreas Trampe, Senior Picture Editor, Stern

Asylum Archive by Vukašin Nedeljković. Self-published.

Originally released in 2018 by Dublin-based artist Vukašin Nedeljković, Asylum Archive presents a new and expanded 2nd edition in December 2021 including recent work. In what is arguably the most critical and significant work to come out of, and about, Ireland in recent years, Vukašin documented his experience as an asylum seeker within Irish Direct Provision centres over the course of many years.

The Direct Provision system was established in Ireland as an emergency response to provide housing for asylum seekers in search of international protection. The average length of time spent living in DP is 2 years, though there have been cases of up to 12 years. The system has been criticised by human rights organisations as illegal, inhuman, and degrading.

The uneasy photographs represent the uncertainty of these current and past lives; the absence of people in the images portraying the experiences of displacement and invisibility.

—Ángel Luis González and Julia Gelezova, PhotoIreland

Fine Line by Martin Hill and Philippa Jones. Published by Bateman Books.

Twenty-six years in the making, Fine Line is a remarkable project. The New Zealand artists Martin Hill and Philippa Jones have created twelve ephemeral sculptures and land installations at locations connected by a line encircling the globe that passes through the polar snows and the equatorial mountains, the European Alps and the Pacific isles. Their sculptural forms harness the very processes they promote, elegantly demonstrating the sustainable, circular designs evolved in nature; cyclical processes in stark contrast to profligate human designs that follow a straight line from manufacturing to discarding. In its range of geography and span of time, the sheer magnitude of this project takes us beyond witnessing the sculptures themselves. This book of photographs is essentially the culmination, an artwork of profound existential grace and rational poetry.

—Alasdair Foster, writer, curator, academic, and publisher of Talking Pictures

Rato, Tesoura, Pistola by Pedro Guimarães. Published by XYZ Books.

The photobook Rato, Tesoura, Pistola by Pedro Guimarães stole my heart. I saw it first as the dummy while selecting publications for 2020 Kassel Dummy Award, and since then had been looking forward to seeing it published. Designed by Dayana Lucas, the dummy looked like a book ready to be born. Guimarães released the book in 2021 with XYZ Books (Portugal), of which he is a co-founder. The title translates as “mouse, scissors, gun,” and is as playful as the contents of the volume—a co-production with the artist’s children. Besides being models, Nuno Engstrøm Guimarães (7 years old) made drawings and Emma-Sofie Engstrøm Guimarães (5 years old) made monster pancakes—important components of the story. In line with the overall practice of Guimarães who mostly produces autobiographical projects, this is a touching personal story about spending time together, learning from each other, and creating magic and art together.

—Daria Tuminas, curator of FOTODOK, author, and organizer of photobook fairs.

Odds and Ends by Marie Quéau. Published by Area Books.

There’s a feeling that I get from staring into a fire that I don’t think I get from anything else. It’s a feeling that puts me into a place of almost childish freedom and creativity—like finding meaning in the shapes of clouds or making up stories about the person sitting across from you on the bus. Marie Quéau’s book Odds and Ends puts me into a similar space—but simultaneously it totally disorients me.

You know when you close your eyes as tightly as you can and colors start to burst through the darkness? Odds and Ends acknowledges that internal mythic chaos, but also gives you stunning clarity after you open your eyes and reminds you of the fact that our world is still on fire.

—Dylan Hausthor, photographer, writer, book maker

Instagrampier by Pierfrancesco Celada. Published by Muddyisland Books.

This is the first editorial effort of Pierfrancesco Celada, an Italian photographer residing in Honk Kong, who documented, with the refined curiosity and intelligence that distinguish him, the pilgrimage of a large number of Instagrammers, photographers and onlookers to the loading dock located in the west side of Hong Kong Island. Going daily to the pier, he noticed that people constantly found themselves repeating poses and situations that were always the same but played by an infinity of interchangeable actors. “Clean” in the graphics, without many frills or prefaces, the author goes straight to the content that tells us about the pier that becomes a transit place between reality and the virtual world of self-representation, between us and how we would like our life to be perceived and represent.

—Enrico Stefanelli, Photolux Festival

Street Portraits by Dawoud Bey. Published by MACK.

Dawoud Bey’s Street Portraits is my most treasured photobook of the year. Bey’s career spans over five decades, yet I only discovered his work this year while having a conversation with artist, Oriana Koren. We were discussing our frustration with our arts education, specifically the fact that none of the photographers taught in school reflected our lived experience or the color of our skin. Why were living greats such as Dawoud Bey not included in the curriculum? When I saw the release of Bey’s new book, I purchased it right away. And my goodness! What a profound experience it is to sit with this book. Dawoud has an incredible eye for detail, and subtle gestures fill each page. The photos reflect on what it means to be seen and centered in a thoughtful, non voyeuristic way. Thank you, Dawoud.

—Sara Urbaez, art director and founder of LISTO

England!? Les Anglais ont Débarqué by Robin Maddock. Published by fire/hole.

For this his third book about his homeland (following Our Kids Have Gone To Hell and God Forgotten Face, both published by Trolley), Robin Maddock traveled England for three years, “trying to get to know my own country better.”

Shot in the wake of Brexit, during the fervor of hotly contested expressions of national identity, he refuses to come to any easy judgments or conclusions, not least because—like for the British government—the process of getting it done became so tortuous. There were countless dummies and ideas for how to name the project. Ultimately, he decided to make a virtue of his indecision. The idea that it would never be finished became the perfect metaphor for Brexit’s aftermath. And this is written into the very fabric of the book, with its freeform bricolage of photographs and collage, its torn-out pages and its hand-painted cover and notations. Even the title is different for each of the 750 copies.

There’s a documentary impulse at work here, but the narrative is more that of a drunken bard, with its rambling verse, ranging from anger to sentimentality, trickling between a diaristic stream of images, spitting lines, sometimes poetic, sometimes revelatory, other times nonsensical. The result is thrilling, and like Brexit itself, peculiarly English.

—Simon Bainbridge, writer, editor and lecturer

Between These Folded Walls, Utopia by Cooper & Gorfer. Published by Max Ström.

Artist duo Sarah Cooper & Nina Gorfer’s books always reflect their artistry; multi-layered, detailed and visually stunning images with roots in real experiences of the portrayed. Between These Folded Walls, Utopia weaves powerful portraits of young women along with symbolic details and architectural structures, telling stories of migration and finding your utopia in a world that can force you from your home, to perhaps never return. Cooper & Gorfer’s dreamlike images go beyond what the eye can see; they are witnesses and truth-tellers.

—Pauline Benthede, Vice President Global Exhibitions, Fotografiska

Sorry for the War by Peter van Agtmael. Published by Mass Books.

Peter van Agtmael is a photographer’s photographer. There is genius and visual poetry behind every single one of his frames. Sorry for the War is one of the most timely and necessary photo books of the year. Agtmael’s unexpected juxtapositions offer a stark look at the absurdity of what has unfolded from the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan for all involved. Earlier this year, The New Yorker contributing writer Luke Mogelson aptly wrote of the work: “If you had to beam a single artifact back in time to warn Americans in, say, 2002 how surreal and grotesque the world they were about to create would be, you might do well to show them this book.”

—Thea Traff, photographer and photo editor

What She Said by Deanna Templeton. Published by MACK.

Nothing I write would do this book the justice it deserves.
Simply stated — it is brilliant!
I encourage you to seek it out, and spend time with it.
It will slowly reveal itself to you.
And, inevitably you will make connections the author intended.

—Christopher McCall, Pier 24 Photography

What They Saw: Historical Photobooks by Women 1843-1999. Edited by Russet Lederman and Olga Yatskevich. Published by 10 x 10 Photobooks.

The first history of the photobook appeared just 22 years ago. One might hope that such a young area of study would be more diverse and ecumenical than the early histories of photography. Alas, its contents remained largely white and male until now. What They Saw re-envisions and remaps the history of the photobook by peopling a chronology of the medium with work by female practitioners from around the globe. What marvelous and surprising creations have, until this book, languished in obscurity! Prepare to be amazed and delighted. This 351-page book had its beginnings in the historical suggestions submitted to a 2018 project by 10 x 10 Photobooks, How We See: Photobooks by Women. Each of the volumes is an invaluable resource on the history of the book, of photography, and of women artists.

—Barbara Tannenbaum, Chair of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs and Curator of Photography, The Cleveland Museum of Art

Photo No-Nos: Meditations on What Not to Photograph by Jason Fulford. Published by Aperture.

“Chauvinism, cheap shots, cheerleaders, cheese sandwich.” These are a few of the photo ‘no nos’ that make up this huge list of subjects to avoid, a collective effort of over 200 contributors brought together by Jason Fulford. A quick glance at the title and you could misread this as an anti photobook of sorts. What it is actually is a moving look into the hearts and minds of photo obsessives across the world, their personal and political concerns coming together to form a weird, frankenstein portrait of their craft, warts and all. In the end, it reads more like a resounding yes as we discover, as the introduction concludes, “there are no nos.”

—Sophie Wright, photographer, writer and editor

The Poverty Line by Chow and Lin. Published by Lars Müller Publishers.

How much food can you buy per day if you are poor? Over the course of about ten years, Stefen Chow and Huiyi Lin visited thirty-six cities on six continents and photographed the exact amount of food they could buy in each place with an income that lies at the poverty line. The result is a unique visual understanding of poverty and inequality.

—Elena Boille, deputy editor and photo editor, Internazionale

Photography, A Feminist History by Emma Lewis. Published by Chronicle books.

An important, and let’s not be shy, downright glorious book, richly researched by Emma Lewis, curator at Tate. This is both a historical and contemporary survey of feminist narratives in photography, from the early days of Julia Margaret Cameron to artists working with photography today such as (my artists, full disclosure) Poulomi Basu and Haley Morris-Cafiero. I learned a lot, even with names familiar to me, I also discovered some new names, and after reading it felt any holes in my history were well and truly filled.

—Hannah Watson, Director, Trolley Books

The Shabbiness of Beauty by Moyra Davey and Peter Hujar. Published by MACK.

In The Shabbiness of Beauty, released in the Spring of this year, artist Moyra Davey delves into the image-archives of the late Peter Hujar and edits his photographs into a new series together with her own. Upon reviewing the book at the time of its release, I noted that what was most fascinating is how Davey works as both photographer and curator in the same way, moving intuitively—emotionally, even—through pictures by her own hand and by Hujar’s. What has really stayed with me is the quiet, blended sensitivity of the sequence. It’s a gargantuan task to edit another artist’s work, especially one of Hujar’s standing in photographic history, but Davey does it masterfully. As a longtime fan of Hujar, this book introduced me to new images from his oeuvre, and new favourites to take with me.

—Joanna L. Cresswell, writer, editor, researcher

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