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Best Books 2015: John Phelan

Best Books 2015 Best Books 2015 John Phelan 2015 Best Books picks from John Phelan.

By Lotte Riemann
Art Paper Editions

Jaunt is a joyride. Lotte Riemann has created a fun, slightly sinister, super slick journey; the itinerary brilliantly mapped by Jurgen Maelfeyt, who designed and edited it. Rephotographing found internet photos of a swinging couple and highway imagery on her monitor, Reimann has beautifully re-purposed them to tell a new story reflecting her own gaze. It’s a gas.
By Thomas Sauvin
Jiazazhi Press

Until Death Do Us Part by Thomas Sauvin is the ideal example of the photobook as art object. This little bijou packs a powerful punch. The hook may be its appearance as a packet of Chinese cigarettes, but the bizarre imagery of wedding smoking rituals from Sauvin’s archive delivers a deft series of jabs. This combo of the two, anchored with an unsettling uppercut of carefully edited dark humorous tone, leads to a knockout. This book is so good it makes me want to take up smoking.
By Charles Johnstone & Aaron McElroy
SUN Editions

Briney Breezes by Charles Johnstone and Aaron McElroy is a suburban noir that makes your eyes adjust, like entering a dark bar from a glaringly sunny day. Johnstone’s vernacular American architectural exteriors of hard vertical lines in white and sharp edges in aluminum contrast strongly with McElroy’s soft interiors of wilted flowers and diagonal limbs of pale or rosy nude flesh. An anxiety of image making that redefines provocative.
By Martin Gusinde
Thames & Hudson

The Lost Tribes of Tierra del Fuego is an unintentional artistic masterpiece on the part of its creator, the missionary turned ethnographer Martin Gusinde who sought to carefully document ephemeral ritual and quickly disappearing custom through his remarkably accomplished field photography. Fortunately the treatment here is worthy of his endeavors. Beautiful, lushly reproduced plates, clean design, fine binding and a wealth of interesting essays are a fitting tribute to an unsung photographer.
By Dragana Jruisic
Oonagh Young Gallery

YU: The Lost Country, Dragana Jurisic’s stunning, subtle photographic narrative of her former homeland of Yugoslavia, is a rich, layered artwork, equal parts personal, historical and magical. The uncommon diaristic tone, though informed by history, is never overshadowed by sentimentality but basks in the celebration of the oft overlooked special moments of everyday Balkan life. And it is there that she finds the leitmotif of her book: the blood cycle of dissolution, memory and renewal. The well is deep and the fountain overflows.
By Christian Patterson
Koenig Books

Flipping through Bottom of the Lake by Christian Patterson provides a similar experience to looking up a word in the dictionary. On your way there, other words catch the eye and one takes delightful pause. This embellished but accurate re-creation of the artist’s humble childhood phone book provides us not only with words but images and sound, too. (A phone number on the back provides one with auditory access.) A manipulation and genuine celebration of authentic American material culture like no other, this book succeeds in turning the commonplace into an original.
By June Yong Lee
The Arts at California Institute of Integral Studies

Skin by June Yong Lee presents the nude in a startlingly new format. Male and female torsos are presented flat, their skins stretched out like strange maps, a bizarre Mercator projection. Without contours they are de-sexualized, more as taxidermy, semi-grotesque flesh trophies like animal hides. But there is a pure beauty here too and familiar landmarks: nipples, belly buttons, tattoos, scars and hair. This dialectic of the gloriously mundane and the macabre tricks and tantalizes the eye. A photographic cartography of the human landscape, Lee’s survey gives us direction to explore.
By Daisuke Yokota
Session Press

Tarantine by Daisuke Yokota takes its title from an ancient tree in Japan fabled to be a 1,000 years old and possessing powers to bestow fertility. This is appropriate because this book concerns itself with the female image in an ode to Yokota’s girlfriend and mother, while taking its roots from a tradition of earlier Japanese confessional and road trip inspired photobooks. Branching out, the physical book itself is a brilliant treatment of Yokota’s work, with pages that progressively become thicker, more textured, tactile and a fecund smelling ink deeply enhancing the overall sensual nature of the photographs.
By Mariken Wessels
Art Paper Editions

Taking off. Henry My Neighbor by Mariken Wessels is a wonderful enigma. It poses more questions than it answers by reconstructing a wild tale of lust and obsession. Drawing from an archive of thousands of meticulously catalogued nude cheesecake photos and some remarkably sophisticated Bellmer-like collages and sculptures, Wessels gives a dark glimpse of the fantastic, unraveling story of Henry, amateur photographer and artist, and Martha, his wife and sole subject.
By Peter Mitchell
RRB Publishing

Some Thing Means Everything for Somebody by Peter Mitchell speaks not only to the fetishization of the personal object but to the anima contained within those objects; an idea foreign to most but familiar to true collectors. Interspersing images of banal, but charged personal effects such as letters or clothing with beautiful, powerful photos of scarecrows in rural Yorkshire, England, Mitchell breathes life into the idea that vitality can be endowed through intention. The birds of fallow are fooled, the fields of our imagination are cultivated under the watchful eye of hay-men of our own design.

John Phelan is a collector and the co-creator of the Anamorphosis Prize. (Due to his status as a jury member, unfortunately none of the entries could be considered for this list.)

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