Social Media

Best Books: A Closer Look Part 2

To get started with our exploration of this year's Best Books, we've pulled out the 39 books that we've already featured on the blog with reviews, write-ups, interviews and videos, and we will collect them all here over the next few days. See Part 1.

American Portraits by Leo Borensztein
American Portraits.
Photographs by Leo Borensztein.
Nazraeli Press, Portland.

Selected by:
Alec Soth
Melanie McWhorter

Despite their simplicity, the portraits are shocking in their emotional complexity and rich sociological detail. Like the photographs of August Sanders, one of the most obvious influences, along with photographers such as Mike Disfarmer, the work's complexity derives in part from the way in which history, class and identity are inscribed and revealed in the work. From the swastika-tattooed man coldly staring into the lens to the proudly defiant African-American man in a three-piece suit, Borensztein's subjects reveal the diverse racial and social landscape of his new American home. Pulled back, the portraits offer us glimpses of the subject's homes (and the occasional small child), but also highlight the artifice of the makeshift studio set-up, the subjects' theatrical poses, and the portrait process itself. -- From the review by Adam Bell

View the BookTease -- Purchase American Portraits

Mrs. Merryman's Collection by Anne Sophie Merryman
Mrs. Merryman's Collection.
Photographs from the collection of Anne Sophie Merryman.

Selected by:
Martin Parr
Melanie McWhorter

The pictures themselves are incredibly strange and don't resemble any postcards you're likely to encounter in even the most well-hidden or remote flea market or antique shop. After all, who makes a postcard of someone delicately laying out a piece of paper, a stuffed monkey head, a hand gently touching a mirror, or a ventriloquist dummy? Small, precious and unnerving, they more often resemble the poetic work of Masao Yamamoto than the kinds of vernacular postcards that shuttled back and forth across the globe in the mid-20th century. Unlike postcards you might find, the images and their subject in the book are rarely identified. Rather than offering exotic or prosaic views of distant lands, the images are a series of surreal puzzles and non-sequiturs. -- From the review by Adam Bell

View the BookTease -- Purchase Mrs. Merryman's Collection

Billy Monk by Billy Monk
Billy Monk.
Night Club Photographs.
Photographs by Billy Monk.
Dewi Lewis.

Selected by:
Colin Pantall
Martin Parr

Billy Monk worked in the Catacombs club in Cape Town, South Africa. It was a dive, a loose-living place where the strict racial and sexual divisions of the world above ground no longer held sway. He took pictures to make money, to sell to the people he photographed.

And what people. Billy Monk's photographic years were the 1960s. Miniskirts, boots, ski-pants and beehives are the fashions, the Apartheid era Immorality Act the canvas. Gangsters, pimps and prostitutes mix with society girls, lesbians and sailors and the drink of choice is brandy and coke.
 -- From the review by Colin Pantall

View the BookTease -- Purchase Billy Monk

A Natural Order by Lucas Foglia
A Natural Order.
Photographs by Lucas Foglia.
Nazraeli Press, Portland.

Selected by:
Erin Azouz
Melanie McWhorter

Gorgeously printed as expected from Nazraeli Press, some unexpected elements in this oversized book include a comprehensive reading list (want to hone up on your primitive and homesteading skills, or learn who is publishing some good field guides these days?) solicited from Foglia’s subjects. Also included is a traditional “zine” from a resident of the Wildroots Homestead in North Carolina, illustrated with drawings of bird species and edible plants. Titled wildlifoodin, it serves both as a memoir and a manual (how to build a debris shelter, how to correctly gut a deer). Readers are encouraged to make copies of the “zine” and give them away.

Why do I think this book is important? Because it seems that right now, as a nation, we are at a critical crossroads economically, politically, socially, and environmentally. Who doesn’t feel sometimes like they want to throw their hands up and try to create their own system of self-sufficiency?
 -- From Laura Moya's review and interview with Lucas Foglia

Left Behind by Jonathan Hollingsworth
Left Behind.
Life and Death Along the US Border.
Photographs by Jonathan Hollingsworth.
Dewi Lewis.

Selected by:
Jonathan Blaustein
Melanie McWhorter

Left Behind was featured by Melanie McWhorter in our In-Print Photobook video series. Watch the video here.

View the BookTease -- Purchase Left Behind

Uncle Charlie by Marc Asnin
Photographs by Marc Asnin.

Selected by:
Svetlana Bachevanova
Anne Wilkes Tucker

And on it goes. It's a monumental work where nothing is quite certain, where the text and the pictures and the life are not clear cut and don't always tally in the linear way in which we're accustomed. Charlie's words provide a parallel narrative to Asnin's pictures and take his life out of the usual documentary discourse of disability and death. They are a eulogy to neighbourhoods that have transformed; to a way of life that once was but is no more. -- From Colin Pantall's review

View the BookTease -- Purchase Uncle Charlie

The History of Photography in Pen and Ink
by Charles Woodard
The History of Photography in Pen and Ink. (Second Edition)
Photographs by Charles Woodard.
A-Jump Books.

Selected by:
Marco Delogu
Erin Azouz

The History of Photography in Pen and Ink was featured by Melanie McWhorter in our In-Print Photobook video series. Watch the video here.

View the BookTease -- Purchase The History of Photography in Pen and Ink

Photographs Not Taken by Will Steacy
Photographs Not Taken.
Edited by Will Steacy. Introduction by Lyle Rexer.

Selected by:
Rebecca Senf
Anne Wilkes Tucker

Edited by the photographer Will Steacy, the collection began as a blog, which seemed to stop abruptly several years ago. It is nice to see what might have been an ephemeral and idiosyncratic web project formally presented and preserved as a book. From Elinor Carucci to the tragically departed Tim Hetherington, Steacy has assembled an impressive collection of sixty-two contemporary photographers whose work and concerns vary a great deal. The essays all describe what Steacy calls the “mental negatives,” or images that only exist in photographer’s memory or mind – the ones that got away. Reading through the essays, one is immediately struck by the reoccurrence of various themes – the camera is out of reach or out of film; the dilemma of capturing or experiencing a moment; the ethical decisions of helping, bearing witness or simply refusing to raise the camera in difficult moments; and pictures that simply escaped because the photographer was caught in the moment. -- From the review by Adam Bell

Larry Sultan & Mike Mandel
by Larry Sultan & Mike Mandel
Larry Sultan & Mike Mandel.
Photographs by Larry Sultan & Mike Mandel.
Distributed Art Publishers.

Selected by:
Shane Lavalette
Markus Schaden

On the strength of the research and interpretation accomplished here, not only does Evidence emerge as perhaps the formative stylebook for understanding the shape of photographic art in the late 20th and early 21st centuries (I mean it. I defy anyone to look at that collection of anonymous images and not see templates, or at least discernible precedents, for work by known contemporary image-makers.), but Sultan and Mandel prove themselves to be pioneers of public art, having recognized that meaning and context engage in a subtle, nuanced dance played out by images in front of barely aware eyes. Looking twice, or thrice, is an advisable strategy in considering the wide range of projects opened up for examination in this book. -- From the review by George Slade

View the BookTease -- Purchase Larry Sultan & Mike Mandel

The Quest for the Man on the White Donkey
by Yaakov Israel
The Quest for the Man on the White Donkey.
Photographs by Yaakov Israel.
Schilt Publishing.

Selected by:
Markus Schaden
Sputnik Photos

Using the land as touchstone, Israel weaves in numerous portraits, adding to the poetic and meditative depth of this project. The portraits are technically quite different from his images of land. Compositionally, the majority of the images place the subject directly in the center of the frame, and using shallow depth of field, Israel abstracts them from their context. Mostly the subjects are directly engaging the camera, calmly and seriously. The neutral expressions and detachment from any immediate activity render the subjects as somehow out of step or disjointed; they seem to be waiting with some question in mind. The majority of Israel's portraits are of young people (I would venture between 25-40), and the juxtaposition between the land, weighed down by detail and focus, and the somewhat free-floating portraits of the current and future generation, suggests looking forward. The subjects stare expectantly at the lens, partially drawn out of their context by the photographer's technique, drawn out of the historical weight of the land. Their posture and expressions touch on the question of what is to come, the possibilities and responsibilities of an unknowable future. -- From the review by Winston Riley

View the BookTease -- Purchase The Quest for the Man on the White Donkey

The Dutch Photobook by Fritz Gierstberg, Rik Suermondt
The Dutch Photobook.
A Thematic Selection from 1945 Onwards.
Edited by Frits Gierstberg, Rik Suermondt.

Selected by:
Pierre Bessard

For such a small country, the Netherlands punch above their weight when it comes to the photobook. Perhaps the compact size of their country is connected to Dutch skills in the book arts. Design inundates every inch of Dutch life; inventive architecture, utilitarian town planning and a landscape that is designed to maximise its potential whatever the use. The Netherlands lives and breathes design.

Book design is central to The Dutch Photobook, an Aperture survey of 124 of the greatest Dutch photobooks published since 1945. It’s apparent in every section of the book, starting with the Dutch landscape and moving through to photobooks on youth culture, travel and urban adventure.
 -- From the review by Colin Pantall

View the BookTease -- Purchase The Dutch Photobook

A Retrospective by Rineke Dijkstra
A Retrospective.
Photographs by Rineke Dijkstra.
Guggenheim Museum.

Selected by:
PDN Editors

Dijkstra's portraiture employs a vigorous formality in pursuit of the candid. Her working method and style refute the spontaneous sense of this word – there are no casual takes or quick shots here. She instead goes after those moments and miens that are unguarded, straightforward and unselfconsciously revealed. In order to avoid the practiced smiles and social masks her subjects are apt to bring to the fore, Dijkstra photographs them when they are tired or distracted. She arranges encounters just after some significant exertion or momentous occasion – with brand new mothers and brand new soldiers less in control of the pose. Dijkstra wins their consent and then makes them wait; suspending her subjects in a sometimes uneasy state of anticipation, unsure of what to do or when to do it, as she sets up her equipment and decides when to act. There is no certainty of a decisive moment for them, no camera to her face and one, two, three – smile! Each subject is caught in something of a pregnant pause, as is the viewer. -- From the review by Karen Jenkins

View the BookTease -- Purchase A Retrospective

Lovesody by Motoyuki Daifu
Photographs and text by Motoyuki Daifu.
Little Big Man Books.

Selected by:
Tony Cederteg

The book itself opens with this statement from Daifu, "I met [Asami] when she was only twenty years old. She already had a two-year-old boy and she was already pregnant again. I fell in love with her at first sight. A girl and a mother. She had two characters in herself… This is our six month lovesody." From this point an interesting thing happens; we see Asami the mother, Asami the woman but, no Asami the lover. In that sense the book seems to fail at its promised delivery. Erotic is not an applicable term with these photographs; the sexuality present here always stands side by side with the motherly and becomes subsumed by it. The mature womanly form is always present with the form of the infant. -- From the review by Christopher Johnson

View the BookTease -- Purchase Lovesody

Check back tomorrow for the next installment. View the complete list of 2012 Best Books.