melanie's best books 2007

What better way to start off the New Year and a new photo blog that giving my humble opinion about the best photobooks of last year. Being immersed in the photobook world for over ten years now, I have developed an inclination toward the book as object. I love the overall use of design, type, and imagery to make a complete package. This year, I have selected some of my favorites mostly with this in mind.

My first selection is Bodywork by Liz Cohen. This book is bound in black matte, rounded boards with white racing font speeding across the cover. The pages are auto manual quality with color glossy inserts of a bikini-clad model posing with the car. Upon greater examination, I realized that Liz is the model and the mechanic. She purchased a Trabant in Berlin and shipped it to America to convert it to a lowriding Chevrolet El Camino. She learned to work on the car while simultaneously working with a physical trainer to pose as the model. The title Bodywork relates to both transformations. It is a magnificent conceptual book contrasting the utilitarian with the aesthetic and stereotypical role of male with the female.

Although the publisher listed the book as published in 2006, Bodywork was distributed in the US this year. Liz has two other books by this publisher (see the Bodywork link above) about this same body of work which I have not seen, but guess are just as interesting.

"Actually, the angel ought to have had his dwelling in me. But he knew only angelic truth and understood nothing about man." from Memories, Dreams, Reflections by C.G. Jung.

"Hiroshi Watanabe's new book I See Angels Every Day takes place in the San Lazaro Psychiartic Hospital and the surrounding town of Quito, Ecuador in 2001. Unlike the angel in Jung's dream, Watanabe's manifestations of his visions in photographs reveal an understanding of mankind's truth. As Suzuki Masufumi's states in his prelude to this book, Watanabe is willing to "situate himself within the double-mirror of the gazes" to look outward and embrace being gazed upon-to understand. The book includes 80 plates expanding the work previously seen in the self-published, Faces Vol. 1. San Lazaro Psychiatric Hospital. These photographs, along with still lifes and additional portraits, are divinely printed in monochrome.

In Almost Every Picture is the product of the quirky Dutch publisher, Kessels Kramer. The newest in the series, #6: Passport, once again uses found photos to explore the life of an anonymous sitter. This volume documents the change of one woman though her passport pictures with dates starting in 1926 as a young girl and finishing with the last photo in 1978 a mature woman in her 60s.

Just a side note, be sure to check out the links on the publishing site for KesselsKramer.com and The Other Final.

In the foreword to An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar, Salman Rushdie uses a quote from his novel Midnight's Children to apply to Taryn Simon's newest project, "Most of what matters in our lives takes place in our absence". Simon curiously takes us where most do not want to go--the Nuclear Waste Encapsulation and Storage Facility, the U.S. War Interrogation Resistance Program, the den of a hibernating Black Bear and cubs. She allows us to see what only the privileged few have seen--a tribal member hanging from the Sacred Tree at the Lakota Lone Star Sun Dance, the Death Star model at Skywalker Ranch, uncut notes totaling over $220,800,000 at the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Each of the varnished color plates includes a few paragraphs of informational text, satisfying the intellectual voyeur in all of us.

Last year, the London-based publisher Thames & Hudson release a beautiful softbound book of director Andrey Tarkovsky's polaroids. This year, the Tarkovsky Foundation and White Space Gallery, London, have followed up this simple, quiet softbound book of 2006 with an elegant hardcover. The new book is titled Bright, bright day after a line in the included poem by Andrey's father and poet Arseniy Tarkovsky is wrapped in beige cloth and debossed on the cover with a drawing of Tarkovsky's in gold. In addition to this included text the book also has an introduction by British photographer Stephen Gill and Andrey A. Tarkovsky, the director's son, a conversation on Tarkovsky's Documentary Romanticism, and a story by Andrey Tarkovsky with accompanying photos by his friend Lev Gornung. The essays and photos are connected by the theme of memory and what Roland Barthes calls History. In Camera Lucida, Barthes states when viewing photos of his recently deceased mother, "Photography thereby compelled me to perform a painful labor; straining toward the essence of her identity, I was struggling among images partially true, and therefore totally false."

As a History major in undergraduate studies I learned, sad to say in my final year, that History is not an exact science. It is biased based on what the individual documenting the event brings as baggage and sometimes what political motivational factors might be at work. James Mollison and Rainbow Nelson's exploration of the life of Pablo Escobar published by Chris Boot, The Memory of Pablo Escobar, is a well-documented biography, of sorts, of the iconic figurehead of the Medellin drug cartel. Because of the many gaps that exist in Escobar's life because of destroyed potential evidence, Mollison and Nelson allow each archive to speak for itself. Presented as chapters, the archives display images from a newspaper, a press photographer, the police files and a few friends. The final chapters include some of Mollison's Colors-style photographs of Escobar's family, friends and acquaintances along with artifacts from his life.

Anna Clarén's new book, Holding has no text--only the supposed biographical imagery of a sad, long-lost photo album. In this album, the light is harsh and the colors are faded. Some of the same characters appear again and again, including a blond woman, who I assume to be Clarén or perhaps a model representing her. In one pictures, she stares into the camera over wine and a bland dinner; in another she closes her eyes to the camera--not allowing the viewer in. Roland Barthes (once again) explored the photograph of his mother in a chapter of Camera Lucida. He states "I want to enlarge this face in order to see it better, to understand it better, to know its truth." He flips the image, just as the reader of Holding does with the pages of this album, to delve into the papers depth, only to find the grain of the image.

Despite the fact that it is somewhat disconcerting to me that the person of the cover of Anders Peterson's book Close Distance looks remarkably like the American actor, John Goodman, I still explored farther and did not judge a book by is cover. Petersen's portraits are deep and emotional and his prints are rich, black and grainy. This book by the amazing and very influential Swedish photographer was published in 2002 by Journal, but I just discovered this year. It is worth noting, nonetheless.

Cuny Janssen's There is Something in the Air in Prince Albert, South Africa juxtaposes her landscapes of the middle of the "Great Karoo" with the richly-colored portraits. Despite the youth of many of her subjects, each individual stares in the camera with intention and wisdom creating the same feeling as looking at her photos of the ancient seabed formed millions of years ago. The book design intertwines the two by repeating partial images on the front and the back of each page creating a feeling that the land and people are forever inseparable.

Other books that I think deserving of attention this year are Alec Soth's Dog Days Bogotá, Joel Tettamanti's Local Studies, Kaylynn Deveney's The Day to Day Life of Albert Hastings, Michael Abrams' Strange and Singular, Mark Klett's Saguaros, and Max Kozloff's The Theater of Face: Portrait Photography since 1900.

A book I would love to see and can not recommend first hand is by the artist recently published in Aperture magazine, Pieter Hugo. There is an upcoming book due out in the US in February called The Hyena & Other Men, but has already been published in Europe by Prestel Verlag.

Although this blog entry is not an extension of my position as Book Division Manager at photo-eye Books, I have to acknowledge photoeye.com as a source for most if not all of the books and some of the text that I wrote for the email newsletters.

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