It's that time of year -- nearly every photography blog and their respective grandparents compile highly curated yet potentially arbitrary lists of the best of the best, leaving victors with feelings of wild champion, and others heartbroken on the sidelines. In the past few years, narrowing a definitive list like this has become even harder than ever before as, despite claims of the "death of print," we've seen a renewed interest in the photobook. On the independent scale, we're loving what organizations like The Indie Photobook Library and 10x10 Photobooks, and new publishers like Horses Think Press, and S_U_N_ are doing towards promoting and producing innovative new photography books. At the same time, "canon of photography" foundations like Aperture continue to put life in to the printed page in new and innovative ways. While there have been hundreds, if not thousands of thoughtful and beautifully produced releases this year, without further ado, below is Humble Arts Foundation's list of 17 photography books that have moved us in 2014.
1. Robin Schwartz: Amelia & The Animals
From the publisher: Amelia and the Animals is Robin Schwartz’s second monograph featuring this collaborative photographic series dedicated to documenting her and her daughter Amelia’s adventures among the animals. As Schwartz puts it, “Photography is a means for Amelia to meet animals. Until recently, she took these opportunities for granted. She didn’t realize how unusual her encounters were until everyone started to tell her how lucky she was to meet so many animals.” Nonetheless, these images are more than documents of Amelia and her rapport with animals; they offer a meditation on the nature of interspecies communication and serve as evidence of a shared mother-daughter journey into invented worlds, of fables they enact together. Schwartz concludes, “Photography gives us the opportunity to access our dreams, to discover the extraordinary.”
2. Bill Sullivan: Forest Hills
From the publisher: Printed in an edition of 500 with 2 cover versions Forest Hills is a book that follows the 20th century history of tennis and art, confusing and conflating their two stories in order to create a new kind of history. Once the center of tennis in America Forest Hills is now an almost forgotten world, a lost civilization of the sport. Bill Sullivan's book uses photography and image making to tell the story of its rise and fall paralleling its history with that of art and design. The book follows the history of the site and the stadium as it evolved through the various changes to its surfaces and trappings to its ultimate end. Functioning as an ahistorical/historical document, Forest Hills is a story about a real place as well as a long meditation on how this place and its elements may have been viewed by people in the past over time.
3. Lucas Blalock: Untitled (Self Publish Be Happy Book Club Vol VII)
From the publisher: The untitled SPBH Book Club Vol. VII continues Blalock's investigation of stand-ins, or surrogates, with hot dogs acting as line, brushstroke, body part, and still life object. The bodied-ness of this food stuff has an uneasy, uncanny, relationship with the surface-less photograph, and this is a situation that the pictures exploit through humor and ickiness. The book itself is as much object as book with its contents in shifting orientation and the whole thing sealed shut with a sticker.
4. Lauren Marsolier: Transition
Publisher: Kerber Verlag
From the publisher: Lauren Marsolier creates spaces that are convincingly real using multiple photographs, unrelated fragments of the outside world collected over time in a variety of locations. Months or years often separate the capture of elements juxtaposed in her landscapes. Her photomontages are conceived using a personal photo library, following a process that is not unlike the way many painters make sketches at different locations and later combine them in a painting. Located somewhere between fiction and reality, her images represent a mental landscape affected by a world of constant change. They show an unreality become manifest, transitional non-places where human action and inhabitation are recorded in strange antitheses of nature and artifice, or, better still, artificial nature and natural artifice.
5. Charlie Rubin: Strange Paradise
Publisher: Conveyor Editions
From the publisher: Cover and insert design of Strange Paradise by Charlie Rubin, a book of photographs that explore the convergence of the actual and the artificial. The book’s offbeat type treatment was foil stamped on a soft cloth cover duplexed to a patterned navy paper and offset with a clashing teal taped spine. The insert materials reference the mundane found objects that appear in Rubin’s photographs.
6. Jen Davis: Eleven Years
Publisher: Kehrer Verlag
From the publisher: The photographs in this powerful body of work courageously reveal the artist’s desire for love and intimacy, and track the treacherous path to self-acceptance. Davis’ eleven year’s of reflection and introspection expertly bring into focus everyone’s passing sorrow and loneliness, in addition to our common moments of self-doubt and sometimes suffocating fears of inadequacy. Jen Davis’ story is both a personal one and something strikingly universal. These lush, sensitive images rip my heart out and well merit all of the praise they have received.
7. Mossless Issue 3: The United States
From the publisher: The United States (2003-2013) is a book of photographs taken by over 100 photographers in The United States over the last ten years. All photographs were first encountered online (no submissions), then edited into one sequence, punctuated with features showcasing the work of photographers like Bryan Schutmaat, Ilona Szwarc, Daniel Shea, Vanessa Winship, Lucas Foglia and many others. Even printed in the United States, this book argues that the American Photographer of our generation is a chorus of many, bound by mutual inspiration and echolalia by sharing their work online.
8. Eve Fowler: Hustlers
Publisher: Capricious Publishing
From the publisher: Hustlers documents a photographic series taken by Los Angeles–based artist Eve Fowler (born 1964) on the streets of the West Village in New York and Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles between 1993 and 1998. Drawing on her background in both journalism and photography, Fowler explores queerness and social "otherness." Here, her untitled, intimate images lay bare the ambiguities of identity, class, sexuality and gender—all of which combine to lend the figure of the hustler a semi-dangerous allure, and the ambiguous attractions of the social outlaw.
9. Latoya Ruby Frazier: The Notion of Family
From the publisher: In her first book, LaToya Ruby Frazier offers an incisive exploration of the legacy of racism and economic decline in America’s small towns, as embodied by her hometown of Braddock, Pennsylvania. The work also considers the impact of that decline on the community and on her family, creating a statement both personal and truly political—an intervention in the histories and narratives of the region. Frazier has compellingly set her story of three generations—her Grandma Ruby, her mother, and herself—against larger questions of civic belonging and responsibility. The work documents her own struggles and interactions with family and the expectations of community, and includes the documentation of the demise of Braddock’s only hospital, reinforcing the idea that the history of a place is frequently written on the body as well as the landscape. With The Notion of Family, Frazier knowingly acknowledges and expands upon the traditions of classic black-and-white documentary photography, enlisting the participation of her family—and her mother in particular. As Frazier says, her mother is “coauthor, artist, photographer, and subject. Our relationship primarily exists through a process of making images together. I see beauty in all her imperfections and abuse.” In the creation of these collaborative works, Frazier reinforces the idea of art and image-making as a transformative act, a means of resetting traditional power dynamics and narratives, both those of her family and those of the community at large.
10. Photographers' Sketchbooks – Edited by Stephen McLaren and Bryan Formhals
Publisher: Thames & Hudson
From the publisher: From blogs to Instagram and photo-zines to contact sheets: how 43 photographers approach their work. Find out how Alec Soth constructs his projects, why Trent Parke relies on old-fashioned Polaroids and hand-made books, and how forty-one other photographers experiment with new and old technologies, turn their photo-diaries into exhibitions, and attract audiences of millions via online platforms. Each photographer presents his or her sketchbook: several pages of images that convey his or her working methods and thought processes. These intimate, one-off presentations are accompanied by engaging interviews that reveal how the simple act of pressing a shutter can capture and express a fully realized personal vision.
11. Alec Soth's Broken Manual BOOTLEG EDITION
Note from Humble Editors: A couple of unknown rascals produced these photocopied versions of Alec Soth's Broken Manual at the NY Art Book Fair this year. While we first and foremost advocate supporting artists directly, and purchasing the original, non-bootlegged version, we're compelled to remark on the amazing hilarity of this. Both this, and the original publication are out of print.
12. An-My Le: Events Ashore
Publisher: Aperture Books
From the Publisher: An-My Lê's second publication, Events Ashore continues her exploration of the American military, a pursuit both personal and civic. Events Ashore began when the artist was invited to photograph US naval ships preparing for deployment to Iraq, the first in a series of visits to battleships, humanitarian missions in Africa and Asia, training exercises, and scientific missions in the Arctic and Antarctic. As Lê explains, these trips allowed her to study close at hand the military's noncombat activities, becoming "a launching point for an examination of the U.S. military on the global stage across oceans and borders as a symbol of conflict, an echo of the age of exploration, and an unlikely (and unsung) force in the unfolding environmental crisis This work is as much about my perspective and personal history as a political refugee from Vietnam as it is about the vast geopolitical forces and conflicts that shape these landscapes." With this body of work, Lê has assembled a visual narrative of hardware, personnel, destinations, and points of contact that constitutes the American military experience--and influence.
13. Peter Happel Christian: Half Wild
Publisher: Conveyor Editions
From the publisher: Peter Happel Christian’s debut monograph borrows its title from a passage in Our National Parks, written in 1909 by John Muir, who contemplated the public’s “growing interest in the care and preservation of forests and wild places in general, and in the half wild parks and gardens of towns.” Drawing influence from Happel Christian’s pictures of nature quietly persevering in the face of man’s attempts to manage and manicure it, images in the book run wild, bleeding over type, margins, and around pages. The book’s form and typography nod to vintage wilderness survival manuals, while synthetic materials reference the tools, tarps, and artificial representations of nature that appear throughout the work.
14. Susan Barnett: A Typology of T-Shirts
Publisher: Dewi Lewis UK
From the publisher: A Typology of T-Shirts published by Dewi Lewis UK looks at those individuals who stand out in a crowd through their choice of the message on their back. These photographs are not just about the T-Shirt. With their combination of pictures and words these message reveal much about the identity of the wearer with their hopes, politics and personal mantras. The book is a revealing insight into the concerns and obsessions of our twenty-first society. It contains essays by Marvin Heiferman editor of Photography Changes Everything and Harold Koda of the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
15. Paula McCartney: A Field Guide to Snow and Ice
Publisher: Silas Finch
From the publisher: A Field Guide to Snow and Ice invites viewers to consider winter in a new way, abstracted from the vast landscape - a winter of the artist's imagination. Combining images of true snow and ice with forms reminiscent of these substances initiates conversations regarding truth in photography, recurrent forms throughout nature, as well as suggesting and encouraging a wider and more open way of looking. The accordion book includes 48 photographs with an essay by Mark Alice Durant. With the spine detached from the front cover, the book becomes an installation piece approximately 34 feet in length.
16. The Photographic Dictionary's 1st Alphabet Book
Publisher: Lindley Warren/ The Photographic Dictionary
From the publisher: The Photographic Dictionary’s 1st Alphabet Book is a photography book containing the work of 26 International photographers, each representing a letter of the Alphabet. This book is the first publication by The Photographic Dictionary, which is an online photography project that is dedicated to defining words through the literal, figurative, and personal meanings found in each photograph. This book has deviated away from defining the words, such as in a dictionary, and refers back to the basic Alphabet Book, using photos to represent letters, such as “A is for astroturf.”
17. Victoria Sambunaris: Taxmonomy of a Landscape
Publisher: Radius Books
From the publisher: For more than a decade, Victoria Sambunaris (born 1964) has crossed the United States with her five-by-seven wooden field camera and sheets of color negative film. Traveling seemingly every road nationwide, Sambunaris has described herself as having “an unrelenting curiosity to understand the American landscape and our place in it.” This first monograph on Sambunaris’ work consists of two handsome hardback volumes. The first includes a retrospective selection of her images from 2000 to 2013; the second documents the artist’s collected professional ephemera as a photographer and researcher. Included in this fascinating assortment of documents are images of books on geology and history, maps, artifacts such as mineral specimens, journals and road logs, as well as her small photographic sketches. An essay from MOCP Director Natasha Egan provides an insightful overview of this ardent chronicler of contemporary America.