My Best Books of 2011

My list of Best Books of 2011 as posted on photoeye.com.

Mexico Roma.

Last year, Graciela Iturbide was able to actualize a long-awaited project with work she produced in Mexico City between 1974 and 2009 and Rome in 2007. Iturbide images make Rome fell like Mexico. The book is a small perfect bound object printed on a warm paper and wrapped in gray cover with simple adhesive labels that Iturbide bought in Bolivia adorning the exterior of the back and front covers. Each label displays the title and photographer's name handwritten by the photographer herself. With her multiple personal touches, each book a unique object. This book is modest, unassuming and sweet. 
Before Silence.

The stark blacks showing everyday moments remind me of black and white films. They are not as disquieting as the work of Ingmar Bergman or photographs of Anders Petersen, but Grate's work is buried in that of his Swedish predecessors. I want to live in the quiet moments of Before Silence

Jim Krantz's Homage is a benefit project for the Natural Resource Defense Council and houses essays by novelist Askold Melnyczuk, scientist Scott Clearwater, NRDC's Henry L. Henderson, blogger and recovering alcoholic John King, and Krantz. The publication is a well-rounded advocacy book project plus really well composed and produced images. 

I guess this is something that I should not truly admit, but I was never in love with the previous publications of Josef Koudleka's Gypsies work. This newer edition contains many more images than originally seen in the older editions and shows Koudelka as a master craftsman of imagery and visionary in book editing. 

Donald Weber's Interrogations illustrates Weber's love for his temporary home of the ex-Soviet Union and the bureaucracies and inequalities that still exist and often impede "progress." It is presented in three chapters: Prologue, which shows some images of daily life; Interrogations, portraits of confused, distressed and scared citizens being questioned by the authorities; and finishes with Epilogue by Larry Frolick and Weber, a text which further illustrates Frolick and Weber's love for the Russian citizens and their role in this project: "letting the denied tell their stories through you." The book is wrapped in a textured printed paper which mimics one of the wallpapers of the interrogation rooms and is stitched with one thread in the center. The uncut text block allows a play on design; the "creep" extends way beyond the cover. This element is clever design, but feels as though it may also be commentary on the character of those unseen in the second section. It is finished with a cardboard slipcase. It is so simple, but so intense. 

The conditions of the assassins and those living in Guatemala make up more of the story of Sicarios than just the killings. Many images are violent and disturbing because often the victims have committed a minor injustice, if any at all, and the assassins are often young men who see no future, men for whom killing becomes a job motivated by simply a need to make a living, often a meager one at that. This book Sicarios is a vehicle for Javier Arcenillas, with the help of his friends at El Periodico de Guatemala, to tell a very real story. Included is an introduction by the director of El Periodico, Juan Luis Font, and an interview with Arcenilla, and complete plate listing with detailed captions. This book was the first FotoEvidence book award winner. 
A Living Man Declared Dead & Other Chapters.

Another big book of 2011 showing Taryn Simon's obsessive need to catalogue, document and categorize. Unlike other books that are comparable in size—James Nactwey's Inferno which was reminiscent of an ancient Bible or John Gossage's Berlin in the Time of the Wall which felt much like a slab of the deconstructed Berlin Wall—Simon's monolithic tome is more of an attempt at a themed census of the human population. The design (size) is perfectly suited to the subject matter and Simon's strong images are a varied mix of portraits, environmental portraits sans humans, and related supporting materials. 
One to Nothing.

A friend of mine told me a story about traveling across Europe and running out of money in Spain. He was with another young man in his early 20s, and they decided that they would take up wrestling on the beach in their underwear to make money for the rest of the journey. The plan seemed to have worked as he told me this many years later in Santa Fe. So, One to Nothing had me at the cover. Upon opening the book, I found that the big square images laid side-by-side made for a wonderful journey through Israel using diptychs as my guide and many of the singular images are brilliantly conceived: I really love the "headless camel." 
The Half-Life of History.

Mark Klett's newest book, like his previous publication Saguaros, is designed and printed with the Santa Fe-base publisher Radius Books. It is housed in a wrap around hardcover binding and also tops my list as one of the best designed books of the year. It successfully incorporates historical pieces with Klett's color and black-and-white images to create a look back at some of the locations relating to the first atomic blast inflicted on a human population. It finishes with a personal story of how writer William L. Fox and Klett experienced and documented the current Wendover Air Force Base, which housed the bomber that carried "Little Boy," the bomb dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. 
Redheaded Peckerwood.

Redheaded Peckerwood is Christian Patterson's revisiting of the brief period of activity of an infamous criminal couple. Patterson looks back at many of the locations associated with the murders that caused 19-year-old Charles Starkweather and 14-year-old Caril Ann Fugate to go on the lam in the end of 1957 and shortly into 1958. The essays by Luc Sante and Karen Irvine included in this book are reproduced in a typewriter text pamphlet inserted in the back cover and contextualize the two teenagers in time. It is an understated book for such a sensational topic.