Dienacht’s Calin Kruse is a unique voice in photobook publishing. The rigorous process he goes through with each of his books is evident in the range and originality of the objects he produces, each one somehow pitched perfectly to the subject matter that it contains. This project, documenting the Female Fight Club in Berlin, is no exception. The Female Fight Club is a private and unique club, set up by two fighters, Anna Konda and Red Devil, seeking to revive the female wrestling tradition that dates back to the Berlin of the Golden Twenties. Mazur’s images and Kruse’s treatment of them is pared back, visceral, and physical, enhanced by the flesh-colored paper that the black and white images are printed on. Mazur’s images have an erotic flavor that fetishize the blood, sweat and scratches on the wrestler’s bodies, and at times the skin of the subjects somehow fuse with the surface of the paper, making for a unique experience with the book in your hands. The construction and space of the book allows the images to breathe and gives the action in the photographs the room to play out before you. As with most of the books in my list, the simplicity of the work and the restraint of the book production all combine to generate an original experience.
Since her first book Checked Baggage in 2004, I’ve been amazed by the sheer ingenuity and intelligence of the methodologies that Christien Meinderstma utilizes in her practice. She has maintained an original and intriguing set of processes and approaches for the past decade, dealing specifically with globalization, consumerism and the way we engage with traditional materials. Her newest publication Bottom Ash Observatory: An Incinerated Municipal Solid Waste Expedition, is no exception, repeating the encyclopedic approach taken in the brilliant PIG 05049, Meinderstma dissects and records 25 kilos of bottom ash and constructs a photographic analysis of how we can think differently about waste. The feel of the images borrows from a 19th Century aesthetic, whilst the scientific narrative is incredibly contemporary and engaging. The book is beautifully produced and includes images by collaborator Mathijs Ladabie.
Chris Killip’s great adage at the start of his book In Flagrante— “these images tell you more about me than about what they describe” — is the perfect introduction to Kimura’s Scrap Book. This book combines sketches, landscapes, portraits and everything in-between charting the photographer’s inculcation into a rural community in far northern Japan, far away from Kimura’s Tokyo home. The village sits on the border of the Nigata and Yamagata prefectures and is home to the Matagi tribe; a tribe with their traditions threatened by the impact of modernization and technology. Kimura blends a unique and intelligent approach with a willingness to expose himself, along with his subjects. Scrap Book is an autobiographical work that firmly establishes Kimura’s credentials as one of the most exciting new generation of Japanese photographic voices. This book’s design (based on his own notebook) with sketches interwoven throughout, feels triumphantly delicate and honest, whilst also reminding me that nothing is ever finished or complete, that our stories are merely patchworks stitched together for us to try to make sense of.
Like many archival-based projects before him, Thomas Sauvin’s Until Death Do Us Part combines kitsch with melancholy, and humor with sadness. The collection of images is proffered from Sauvin’s archive of negatives salvaged from recycling plants around Beijing that he has been collecting for more than five years. This publication strikes the right chord in that Sauvin has created an object to savor; the form and the content fuse and this ongoing intelligent playfulness with the book form itself is what has kept each one of Sauvin’s publications fresh and engaging. This book, featuring images taken at weddings all depicting the ceremonial smoking of cigarettes, is presented in a real packet of ‘Double Happiness’ branded cigarettes (the brand frequently used at said weddings); the book slips inside the packet and therefore then becomes imbued with the smell of cigarettes. The images portray a set of disappearing traditions within the context of an archive that visualizes a specific time in Chinese cultural and social history. Importantly this is an archive captured not by the powers that be, but by everyday people, in all their bizarre glory.
In reality I could have filled my list with ten books from Amsterdam-based FW: Books. The level of experimentation and uniqueness of each book produced is remarkable, and Hamada’s book is no exception. This book is as tactile as it is visual, and it’s one of those joyful books that asks you question after question without respite. The audacious use of color twinned with a pared back design and construction mean that this book never becomes overpowering or over the top. Hamada collaborated with Hans Gremmen for this project, and the pulling apart of images of landscapes followed by the reconstruction of the same images gives us an insight into the minds and working processes of the artists. The strength of CMY is that it’s as simple as a children’s book while at the same time as complex as a Proust novel.
Mizutani’s rich and luscious work has been consistently surprising me for the past couple of years, and this new publication by Amana is no different. Yusurika shows us the strengths and singular vision of this young and talented photographer. This book is simply printed and produced, with glossy, vibrant images from the first page to the last, and collectively they depict what seems to be a search. The images lead us through urban and natural spaces, constantly tracked by bugs that fill the frame in abstract swarms and beautiful patterns, and by birds that swoop by menacingly between branches, captured with a bare and stark flash. Mizutani represents landscapes in a similar way — there is no in-between with this photographer’s vision — it’s all or nothing. The most intriguing aspect of the work is the suggestion of a dark side to Mizutani. There is something menacing about an array of these images, and it’s a refreshing direction for him to take; there is the suggestion something powerful is at work here, and I for one can’t wait to see where he takes us next.
Photography’s paradoxical strength is that it allows us to pick at wounds repeatedly, never letting them heal whilst also, through the process of looking and contemplating, providing some sense of closure. Dragana Jurisic’s sublime Yu: The Lost Country attempts both of these beautifully in this poetic and complex book that allowed the photographer to revisit the Yugoslavia of her childhood — a non-place, a place that is no more. Jurisic’s project circles around Rebecca West’s complex and vast book Black Lamb and Grey Falcon— to the uninitiated, a sort of pseudo travel guide to Yugoslavia written just before WWII. West’s book is one of my personal favorites due to its wavering and digressive form of writing; it has the feeling that anything could happen next, and Jurisic’s photographs have this sense, too. West’s book is also hard to categorize; it is neither novel, nor travel book, nor diary. The images in Yu: The Lost Country capture this too, ranging from the descriptive to the strange, and they are accompanied by West’s prose and Jurisic’s vivid stories of her encounters with places and strangers. What draws me in is not only Jurisic’s search for a place that no longer exists, but a sense of frustration and anger that what she is looking for can’t be found — that the past has gobbled it up. This is a complex, intelligent and accomplished book.
Warwick Baker’s Belanglo is a long-term project brought together in its entirety for the first time by Melbourne’s Perimeter Editions in this hardback book featuring over 72 images. As the site of the infamous ‘backpacker murders,’ the Belanglo State Forest is a site of notoriety in recent times in the state of Victoria in Australia’s southeast. The approach Baker takes to picturing trauma is intriguing. The book is simply designed and laid out, and the images are a mash-up of landscapes, aerial photographs, forensic renderings of objects, and then more detailed shots of specific places and locations within the forest, sometimes captured with a flash that give them the appearance of crime scene photographs. As a result there is a disconcerting sense of claustrophobia in this work in that its hard to settle, and leaves you with a feeling that you want to turn the next page with your other hand clasped firmly over your eyes. Other photographers would have approached this subject with a strict systematic and scientific eye, adopting a neutral position, or overloaded the images with tons of gruesome textual information. Baker has shown impeccable restraint and has done neither of these; he has been systematic to an extent, the work is thoroughly researched and referenced but the feeling that the book leaves you with is that Baker has just lead you by the hand through the heart of darkness. This is a significant body of work, by one of Australia’s most exciting young documentary photographers.
Any book with a section titled 'Dunny Roof' is going to be in my best books list every day of the week. Designer Dominic Forde has brought together the work of a range of photographers from the archive of Noel Forsyth. These photographers recorded the first generation of skateboarders in Australia, from the 70s through to the early 80s. These pioneers made the best of the dearth of facilities available, before the increased commercialization of skateboarding led to the construction of skate parks etc. The book uses some well known spots around Melbourne as section titles to organize the images — 'Blood Bath,' 'Burwood Velodrome,' 'Tulamarine Drains & Dunny Roof' (amongst others). As yours truly was a failed skater in the Australian suburbs in that period, this book reminds me of what all the cool kids were doing while I was home watching M.A.S.H.. The book is wonderfully nostalgic, painfully simple, spiral-bound, and risograph printed, with a great use of dynamic layouts and selections of images to capture the raw passion that pervaded that time.
Mariela Sancari’s Moises published by La Fabrica is brilliantly, obscurely, original. Photographing men who would be the same age as her deceased father, she uses a simple visual language to situate these men in her father’s place to somehow pacify the grief she has yet to fully process. The story goes that upon his death she was not allowed to see his body (perhaps due the nature of his death by suicide, or due to her family’s religious beliefs), and resulting from this was a sense of a lack of closure; she had not seen his lifeless body, and therefore deep down couldn’t fully accept that he was gone. Asking the subjects to dress in her father’s clothes, and even engaging with one of them in front of the camera, creates an eerie sense both of obsession and naïve confusion. In Sancari’s work there is a sense of looking for solace, in the belief that photography can provide a way of working through pain and grief. “Moises,” translates merely as “Moses,” the biblical figure (a father-figure par excellence) and a common Spanish name. And Sancari’s search has an undercurrent of creepiness about it, like she’s raised a corpse from the ground, dressed it up, did its hair, and smudged on some rouge to give it life. There is a sad desperation to the way these men are photographed, almost forensically; others have said that they see Sancari trying to find peace through this book — I don’t agree that that is even possible here. The structure of the book, where three connected parts intertwine and overlap and pages fold out to the left and to the right, talk directly to me about someone still in the midst of desperation, of denial, and of anger. The experience of the book is akin to that of endlessly running through a large, tight crowd as a child trying to find your father, and seeing someone who looks like him only to find, as you embrace him, that it’s a stranger. This book is a most fantastic insight into the feelings of loss and utter despair we have in moments in our lives when the eternal hits us smack in the face. We, like Sancari has, look around for something to hold on to, to give the event some meaning. Perhaps we find it, perhaps we don’t. Perhaps Sancari has found it through the production of her book.
Daniel Boetker-Smith is a writer, curator, educator and artist based in Melbourne, Australia. He is the Director of the Asia-Pacific Photobook Archive, a not-for-profit organization established in 2013 to promote and share the books of photographers from the Asia-Pacific region at festivals, galleries, and institutions all over the world. He regularly writes on photography for a number of online and print publications. He is also co-ordinator of the Asia-Pacific Photobook Prize and a Founder of Photobook Melbourne, the only international photobook festival in the Asia-Pacific region. Daniel is the Course Director at the Photography Studies College, Melbourne.