From Ben Alper and Joy Drury Cox’s claustrophobic photos of tourist caves to Ka-Man Tse’s photos capturing LGBTQ communities in Hong Kong, these photobooks are worth your time (and – hint-hint – money!)
As we declared last year, just as our open calls aren’t “photo contests,” this is not a “Best Photobooks" list. It’s not a competition, and with just a few editors running the Humble show, feels disingenuous and unrealistic to declare it as such. Instead, this is simply a collection of photobooks that made an impact on us in 2018.
As editors and curators with a broad spectrum of tastes, we responded to critical socio-political discussions, adventurous technical or conceptual potential, new takes on photo historical icons, or just damn beautiful image collections. As you move through this list, we encourage you to dig deeper into these photographers’ work and show your support for their careers and practice by buying a few, preferably directly from the publishers or photographers themselves. Without further ado…
1) Narrow Distances by Ka Man Tse
Publisher: Candor Arts
From the publisher: Ka-Man Tse's image-making begins from that tension between longing and belonging, place and placelessness. narrow distances asks questions of home, identity, community, and subject-hood. What does it mean to look, who has the right to look, what does it mean to be seen? These photographs address a desire to negotiate multiple and diasporic identities and are made within the intersection of Asian and Pacific Islander (API) and LGBTQ communities, and made through a queer lens. The photographs aim to establish a sense of possibility in the context of a contingent, post-colonial, pre-2047 Hong Kong in constant flux and transition.
From the publisher: In her debut monograph, Cromwell expresses a deep and complex view of Havana. El Libro Supremo de la Suerte gathers photographs from Cromwell’s largest body of work to date, made in Havana over a span of seven years. The title translates as “The Supreme Book of Luck” and refers to photocopied booklets used to navigate the covert lottery in Havana. Cubans refer to these booklets, or charadas, to match everyday objects and experiences to numbers; these meanings are by turns straightforward (85 is “clock”), mystical (60 refers to “dark sun”), and idiosyncratic (98 is “old prostitute”). Cromwell found parallels between this intentional look at everyday things and the way she makes pictures.
3) Higher by John C. Edmonds
Publisher: Capricious Books
From the publisher: Higher by John Edmonds is a monograph spanning the first decade of his photographic practice and includes texts by Dr. Aaron Rosen, Durga Chew-Bose, and conversation with Mickalene Thomas.
4) Poolscapes by Karine Laval
From the publisher: Poolscapes brings together two connected bodies of work—“The Pool” (2002–05) and “Poolscapes” (2009–12)—focused on the motif of the swimming pool and realized over the course of ten years. Presenting public pools in urban and natural environments throughout Europe and private pools in the US in two distinct sections, the book is arranged chronologically and shows an evolution in tone and depth, from the real to the imagined, from the photographic to the painterly.
5) Public, Private, Secret: On Photography and the Configuration of Self by Charlotte Cotton
From the publisher: Public, Private, Secret explores the roles that photography and video play in the crafting of identity, and the reconfiguration of social conventions that define our public and private selves. This collection of essays, interviews, and reflections assesses how our image-making and consumption patterns are embedded and implicated in a wider matrix of online behavior and social codes, which in turn give images a life of their own.
6) Friends, Enemies, and Strangers by Oliver Wasow
Publisher: Saint Lucy Books
From the publisher: Friends, Enemies and Strangers is a book about the beauty and power Wasow finds in the people he knows, his desire to believe in the decency of those he doesn’t know, and his despair at the lack of humanity in people in positions of power. Using images he’s taken in his studio and found in flea markets and on the Internet, Wasow employs an array of post-production techniques to create a cast of characters that prompts us to reconsider not only the parameters of photographic portraiture but what we can know of human nature. The book includes an essay by Matthew Weinstein and a story by Rabih Alameddine.
7) The New Tide: Early Work - 1940-1950 by Gordon Parks
From the publisher: Focusing on new research and access to forgotten pictures, The New Tide, Early Work 1940–1950 documents the importance of these years in shaping Gordon Parks’ passionate vision. The book brings together photographs and publications made during the first and most formative decade of his 65-year career.
During the 1940s Parks’ photographic ambitions grew to express a profound understanding of his social, cultural and political experiences. From the first photographs he published in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and his relationship to the Chicago Black Renaissance, to his mentorship with Roy Stryker and his breakthrough work for America’s influential picture magazines—including Ebony and Life—this book traces Parks’ rapid evolution from an accomplished, self-taught practitioner to a groundbreaking artistic and journalistic voice. Co-published with the Gordon Parks Foundation and the National Gallery of Art
8) Pine by Eirik Johnson
Publisher: Minor Matters
From the publisher: Coming upon a rough tree carving (the words “make out tree, with an arrow guiding the viewer in the correct direction), Johnson made a snapshot, but the moment and the marker stayed with him, and he returned with his 4x5 camera to take it in again, slowly. Over the last few years he has scouted trees of all environs, looking for human traces upon them, and musing on the (often) adolescent emotions and explorations that lead to poignant sentiments recorded within a living surface.
Rather than essays, Johnson envisioned and realized a sonic set of reflections to accompany his photographs, revisiting his own history as a musician and bringing in a varied group of collaborators who responded to the photographs with their compositions and recordings.
9) Too Tired for Sunshine by Tara Wray
Publisher: Yoffy Press
From the publisher: Tara Wray confronts depression by documenting the beauty, darkness, and absurdity of everyday life. Drawn from daily life and wanderings, the photos explore loneliness and isolation, as seen through a lens of absurdist dark humor. Too Tired for Sunshine puts a fine point on channeling the pain into creative expression. We are both witnessing the process and experiencing the result. Tara Wray takes us on a visual and emotional journey with disarming humor that lets us lean in to the sadness a bit.
10) NotWrong#1: A Bleak Reality by Kris Graves
Publisher: Kris Graves Projects
From the publisher: NotWrong is the new oversized bi-yearly publication by Founder Kris Graves and Creative Director Luke Atwood Abiol, NotWrong will work with photographic artists to illustrate stories of gentrification, race, power, and discrimination.
Our inaugural NotWrong. + No1 is a project by Kris Graves and Author Thomas Chatterton Williams entitled A Bleak Reality. Originally published on Vanity Fair’s Hive, this oversized monograph takes us to eight locations where young black men were murdered by police officers. All eight murders were caught on camera and became viral videos online.
11) Compound Fractures by Joy Drury Cox and Ben Alper
Publisher: Flat Space Books
From the publisher: The photographs were made in various ‘show caves’ around the Southeastern United States. Also referred to as ‘tourist caves’, these spaces exists at the intersection of commerce and ecology. The cave is an impressive geological site and a metaphor for the mind. It is a place where things evolve and shift over time, where the conscious meets the unknown. Ultimately, these photographs are an attempt to find a formal language that represents both the physicality of these subterranean landscapes and the interiority of human cognition.
12) Real Pictures: Tales of a Badass Grandma by Peggy Nolan
Publisher: Daylight Books
From the publisher: Real Pictures is the result of many decades of photographs recording the day- to- day workings of a large family. As Chris Wiley of the New Yorker wrote “there is a tenderness and a sensitivity in these pictures of family that cannot be faked. Nolan is not embedded with her subjects, she is entwined. As such, the pictures not only show that she has an eye, but also a heart.”
13) Monograph by Deanna Lawson
From the publisher: Deana Lawson is one of the most compelling photographers of her generation. Over the last ten years, she has created a visionary language to describe identities through intimate portraiture and striking accounts of ceremonies and rituals. Using medium- and large-format cameras, Lawson works with models she meets in the United States and on travels in the Caribbean and Africa to construct arresting, highly structured, and deliberately theatrical scenes animated by an exquisite range of color and attention to surprising details: bedding and furniture in domestic interiors or lush plants in Edenic gardens. The body—often nude—is central.
Throughout her work, which invites comparison to the photography of Diane Arbus, Jeff Wall, and Carrie Mae Weems, Lawson seeks to portray the personal and the powerful. Deana Lawson: An Aperture Monograph features forty beautifully reproduced photographs, an essay by the acclaimed writer Zadie Smith, and an expansive conversation with the artist Arthur Jafa.
14) Flowers for Lisa by Abelardo Morell
From the publisher: Best known for his surreal camera obscura pictures and luminous black-and-white photographs of books, photographer Abelardo Morell now turns his transformative lens to one of the most common of artistic subjects, the flower. The concept for Flowers for Lisa emerged when Morell gave his wife, Lisa, a photograph of flowers on her birthday. “Flowers are part of a long tradition of still life in art,” writes Morell. “Precisely because flowers are such a conventional subject, I felt a strong desire to describe them in new, inventive ways.” With nods to the work of Jan Brueghel, Édouard Manet, Georgia O’Keeffe, René Magritte, and others, Morell does just that; the images are as innovative as they are arresting.
15) Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness by Zanele Muholi
From the publisher: Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness is the long-awaited monograph from one of the most powerful visual activists of our time. The book features over ninety of Muholi’s evocative self-portraits, each image drafted from material props in Muholi’s immediate environment. These portraits reflect the journey, self-image, and possibilities of a black woman in today’s global society. A powerfully arresting collection of work, Muholi’s radical statements of identity, race, and resistance are a direct response to contemporary and historical racisms.
As Muholi states, “I am producing this photographic document to encourage individuals in my community to be brave enough to occupy spaces—brave enough to create without fear of being vilified. . . . To teach people about our history, to rethink what history is all about, to reclaim it for ourselves—to encourage people to use artistic tools such as cameras as weapons to fight back.”
With more than twenty written contributions from curators, poets, and authors, alongside luxurious tritone reproductions of Muholi’s images, Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness is as much a manifesto of resistance as it is an autobiographical, artistic statement.
16) To Survive on This Shore: Photographs and Interviews with Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Older Adults by Jess T. Dugan and Vanessa Fabbre
Publisher: Kehrer Verlag
From the publisher: For over five years, Dugan and Fabbre traveled throughout the United States seeking subjects whose experiences exist within the complex intersections of gender identity, age, race, ethnicity, sexuality, socioeconomic class, and geographic location. They traveled from coast to coast, to big cities and small towns, documenting the life stories of this important but largely underrepresented group of older adults. The featured individuals have a wide variety of life narratives spanning the last ninety years, offering an important historical record of transgender experience and activism in the United States.
17) LOST - set of 10 books from 10 photographers around the world
Publisher: Kris Graves Projects
From the publisher: LOST is a ten-city, ten-photographer set of ten photobooks where each artist chooses a city they’ve often visited to make work or have resided within. There are no guidelines besides place. Books include:
Beijing by Lois Conner
Berlin by Andreas Gehrke
Boston by Michael Cardinali
Chicago by Owen Conway
Kolkata by Laura McPhee
Long Island City by Kris Graves
New York by Lynn Saville
Omaha by Zora J Murff
San Francisco by Luke Abiol
Seattle by Joseph P Traina
18) All Things Being Equal by Hank Willis Thomas
From the publisher: Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal presents a survey of the artist’s prolific and extraordinary interdisciplinary career, with a particular focus on the work’s relationship to the photographic image and to issues of representation and perception. At the core of Hank Willis Thomas’s practice, is his ability to parse and critically dissect the flow of images that comprise American culture, with particular attention to race, gender, and cultural identity.
Other powerful themes include the commodification of identity through popular media, sports, and advertising. In the ten years since his first publication, Pitch Blackness, Thomas has established himself as a significant voice in contemporary art, equally at home with collaborative, trans-media projects such as Question Bridge, Philly Block, and For Freedoms as he is with high-profile, international solo exhibitions.
This extensive presentation of his work contextualizes the material with incisive essays from Portland Art Museum curators Julia Dolan and Sara Krajewski and art historian Sarah Elizabeth Lewis, and an in-depth interview between art historian Kellie Jones and the artist that elaborates on Thomas’s influences and inspirations.
19) Littoral Drift by Meghann Riepenhoff
Publisher: Radius Books
From the publisher: This work stems from Riepenhoff’s fascination with the nature of our relationships to the landscape, the sublime, time, and impermanence. Both series consist of cyanotypes made directly in the landscape, where elements like precipitation, waves, wind, and sediment physically etch into the photo chemistry; the prints simultaneously expose in sunlight and wash in the water around them. Littoral Drift, a geologic term describing the action of wind-driven waves transporting sand and gravel, consists of camera-less cyanotypes made in collaboration with the landscape and the ocean, at the edge of both.
20) Phantom Power by Barbara Diener
Publisher: Daylight Books
From the publisher: Phantom Power is a book about the intangible. Barbara Diener is fascinated by unexplained phenomena and, in this book, she has used a variety of methods to capture images that convey the ineffable qualities of human existence.
21) New Songs by Tatum Shaw
Publisher: Self published
From the artist: New Songs is a collection of images taken between 2012 and 2017. The original idea was a selection of recently taken, disconnected photos, that each had their own story, or song. But as I began editing in August of 2016, just before the U.S. elections, I couldn’t escape the heavy feeling of dread that seemed to be hanging in the air at the time. An incoming shift. It reminded me of the line in No Country For Old Men, “You can’t stop what’s coming. It ain’t all waiting on you.” In the subsequent months, the project continued with this line as the dangling carrot, tying together notes of ominous signs and signals. The resulting images reminded me of something akin to a collection of dissonant hymns.
22) TRACE by Tabitha Soren, Kota Ezawa and Penelope Umbrico
Publisher: Yoffy Press
From the publisher: TRACE is part of Yoffy Press' Triptych series and features artists Kota Ezawa, Tabitha Soren and Penelope Umbrico. In each Triptych, three artists are given a word to inspire the creation of a small book of work. The books are sold as a set, inviting the viewer into the collaboration to make connections between the projects and the overarching theme.
The TRACE artists each experiment with appropriation in their practices to explore how we interact with images in the contemporary world.
23) Seeing Deeply by Dawoud Bey
Publisher: University of Texas Press
From the publisher: With images ranging from street photography in Harlem to a commemoration of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing, this volume offers a forty-year career retrospective of the award-winning photographer Dawoud Bey.
Dawoud Bey: Seeing Deeply offers a forty-year retrospective of the celebrated photographer’s work, from his early street photography in Harlem to his current images of Harlem gentrification. Photographs from all of Bey’s major projects are presented in chronological sequence, allowing viewers to see how the collective body of portraits and recent landscapes create an unparalleled historical representation of various communities in the United States. Leading curators and critics—Sarah Lewis, Deborah Willis, David Travis, Hilton Als, Jacqueline Terrassa, Rebecca Walker, Maurice Berger, and Leigh Raiford—introduce each series of images.
Revealing Bey as the natural heir of such renowned photographers as Roy DeCarava, Walker Evans, Gordon Parks, and James Van Der Zee, Dawoud Bey: Seeing Deeply demonstrates how one man’s search for community can produce a stunning portrait of our common humanity.
24) Golden Hour by KangHee Kim aka TinyCactus
Publisher: Same Paper
From the publisher: Golden Hour captures the magic of the golden hour– the moments immediately after sunrise and before sunset–through a time-lapse from daylight to dusk. Golden Hour is a photography collection from her ongoing project Street Errands, a series of collaged photographs portraying everyday errands in New York, California, Colorado, and Hawaii. Because of visa restrictions, she has not been able to return to Korea or travel outside of the U.S for over ten years. Kim copes with restraints through surreal escapism by manipulating images produced from mundane encounters. She liberates herself from the restraints of reality by layering familiar spaces into new ones.
25) Fifty High Seasons by Shane Lynam
Publisher: Self published
About the book: In 1963 President de Gaulle initiated a regional development plan know as ‘Mission Racine', to develop a wild and windy stretch of French coastline between Montpellier and Perpignan into a series of resorts. Avant-garde architects were hired to construct unique and unusual spaces which would be responsive to the local environment and focused on the individual. Although the project provided a new source of income locally, Mission Racine was not only about enriching the region. It included an 18% quota of social housing to allow more French citizens to take advantage of their time off work. It would become an alternative to the expensive Cote d’Azur without the high rise excesses of similar developments further south in Spain.
Fifty High Seasons reflects on the cumulative effect of half a century of tourism on the innovative built environment established by Mission Racine, while showing why I fell for its unique charm.
26) Everybody Wants Somewhere by Jacob Koestler
Publisher: CatLABS of JP
From the book’s essay by Gary Sampson: The stark character of modernist ideology persists in the built environment all around us. From its onset early in the 20th century, the singular urge to strip away ornament, seen as a marker of exploitation, signified the architect’s desire to meet the needs of workers and to seek meaning in the new materials of construction, with the promise of social liberation from the tyranny of class, including the vagaries of fashion. The photographs of Jacob Koestler would cast doubt on the success of these ideals in light of contemporary realities.
As one contemplates Everybody Wants Somewhere, a kind of salvage operation occurs regarding the remnants of places of labor, the impenetrable windows of sequestered lives, the construction and massing of skyscrapers, the dismal evidence of economic disparity without so much as a figure. One may want to avoid any serious investigation of these typically shunned, unappealing elements, but this reclamation through the photographer’s intelligent, perceptual and bodily reconnoitering and chance selectivity in seeing, however, may defeat the immediate response to look away.
27) One Wall a Web by Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa
From the publisher: The book gathers together work from two photographic series, Our Present Invention (2012-14) and All My Gone Life (2014-17), as well as two text collages all made in and focused specifically on the United States. Through a mixture of writing, portraiture, landscape and appropriated archival images, the book describes quotidian encounters with fraught desire, uneven freedom, irrational fear and deep structural division, asking whether the historical and contemporary realities of anti-Black and gendered violence— when treated as aberrations—do not in fact serve to veil violence’s essential function in the maintenance of ‘civil’ society.
One Wall a Web traces a chronological path through the production of two series, the first of which (Our Present Invention) sets out with a particular interest in the entanglement of masculinity with violence. The second series of photographs (All My Gone Life) comprises two chapters, the first of which consists of appropriated archival images which track continuities between past and present circumstances. These revenant images enter into dialogue with the final strand of contemporary photographs in the second chapter, which address themselves to the spectral form and the visceral costs of this history in the book’s penultimate section. One Wall a Web concludes with an extensive essay that explores resonances between the field of black studies, questions of black life, and the strange ontology of the photographic image.
28) Prima Mythica: Mercuria Volume i-ii - by Various Photographers
Publisher: Conveyor Books
From the publisher: From the systematic to the subjective, Mercury makes an appearance across diverse fields of inquiry, creating connections between starkly disparate disciplines. From astrology to geology and from myth to medicine, this shape-shifting quicksilver is the source of the word mercurial.
Featuring work by Roxana Azar, Marion Belanger, Marianne Bjørnmyr, Tony Chirinos, Antone Dolezal, Brendan George Ko, Christopher Rodriguez, David Steinberg, Athena Torri, André Viking, Katherine Wolkoff and Tereza Zelenkova.
29) Manifest by Kristine Potter
Publisher: TBW Books
From the publisher:
Created while working in remote areas along the Western slope of Colorado between 2012 and 2015, Kristine Potter builds on her previous investigations of masculinity and the American Soldier, here fixing her gaze on a parallel archetype, the American Cowboy.
Uncovering a world far more formidable and disorienting than the canon of traditional western landscape photography had previously detailed, Potter encounters men who sparingly dot the terrain, seemingly both tethered to, and in divergence with, the myth that precedes them.
Manifest does not act as a documentary, but rather as a re-coding of the western myth, the territory and its men, it is both fantasy and reality.
Weaving body and landscape, the book lays open the seduction of the West, the opportunities it promises, the disorientation of altitude, and the confrontation of persistent danger.
30) Liberty Theater / Apple Pie Corn Grits by Rosalind Fox Solomon
Publisher: Mack Books
From the publisher:
Liberty Theater by Rosalind Fox Solomon brings together her photographs made in the Southern United States from the 1970s to 1990s, never before published together as a group. Solomon’s images depict a complex terrain of social and emotional issues inherited over generations: a world of class and gender divisions, implied and overt racism, competing notions of liberty, and lurking violence.
Journeying through Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and South Carolina, Solomon draws attention to cultural idiosyncrasies, paradoxes and theatrical displays: a Daughter of the Confederacy sits in costume with a china doll from her collection; a dead tree stump, fenced and suspended with wires is elevated to the status of a Civil War monument; African American boys examine a vitrine of guns as two white police manikins loom behind them. Poised between act and re-enactment, the animate and the inanimate, Solomon’s images reveal how history becomes a vernacular performance and identity a form of theatre.
31) Everything is Regional by Tyler Haughey
From the publisher: Everything Is Regional examines the built environment of northeastern coastal towns and explores how we use, interact with, and remember places designed and known for summer recreation. Combining photographs that Haughey has taken since 2010, the book acts as a monograph, examining the threads that run through his work and various projects.
32) Ghost Guessed by Tom Griggs and Paul Kwiotkowski
From the publisher: On November 13, 2009, Andrew Lindberg, a young pilot, departed from the Twin Cities to meet his father for a hunting trip in northern Minnesota. He never arrived; a few days later, Lindberg’s plane was located deep within the wilderness of the White Earth Indian Reservation.
In Ghost Guessed Tom Griggs and Paul Kwiatkowski examine how absences caused by death make memories, no matter how abstract, more salient and complex. A combination of intimate prose and photographs brings into focus our human connections as filtered through technology and visual media. From Lindberg’s accident to the mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, Ghost Guessed reflects on how we process loss as it plays out in the ongoing digitalization of our lives.
If you’ve made it this far, check out Humble’s photobooks recommendations from the past few years:
A Number of Really Good Photobooks Published in 2017
The Best Socially Concerned Photobooks of 2016
The 16 Best Photobooks of 2015 According to Humble Arts Foundation's Best of 2014
The 17 Best Photobooks of 2014 According to Humble Arts Foundation