The most compelling sign that fine printing is alive and well today is the prolific output of photographers, writers and designers creating photobooks — from small, self-published editions, to mainstream trade books. As we begin a new year celebrating the beautiful work of print designers across the U.S. and abroad, we have compiled a list of significant books published in 2015. After reviewing selections by writers, book collectors, publications and award competitions, we’ve identified nine of our favorites based on their imagery, editorial content and beautiful design and production value.
Compilation and commentary by Dave Van de Water
IN THE SHADOW OF THE PYRAMIDS
Artist/Photographer: Laura El-Tantawy
Format: Hardcover with Japanese folds / 7 x 9 in. / 440 pages
In the Shadow of the Pyramids is a dramatic personal account of the changes in the Egypt leading up to and following the uprisings in Tahrir Square during the Arab Spring of 2011. Combined with El-Tantawy’s website, the book takes the reader on a journey through the lens of an Egyptian photographer watching her country experience a cathartic revolution.
The point of view is dramatically first person, as El-Tantawy places herself in the center of the events and shoots with an eye that captures the drama and emotion of the moment. The work spans a period from 2005 through 2014, but the core of the book is edited to give the reader a visceral sense of the chaotic events unfolding in the center of Tabir Square. El-Tantawy also includes a powerful montage of the faces of individuals whose lives were forever altered. The website includes a moving tribute to those who lost their lives, juxtaposed against the faces and words of family members. The sense of drama is accentuated by the deep, saturated colors of her images, full bleed and amplified by the 80 lb. uncoated paper, French folds and short sheets separating the book into sections. The entire project is a powerful example of the way print, design and the web can produce a dramatic emotional experience.
Comments by others about In the Shadow of the Pyramids:
“Published on the anniversary of the Revolution, her diary is that of all who fought it – those who, lost in the middle of the book as they were in the middle of the agitated crowd, El-Tantawy captures, from close-up, their fists against their lips, their round tears, their dark eyes and trembling hopes.”
— Laurence Cornet
“With her knowledge of, and attachment to, Egypt and its history, combined with the distance that must have developed while living abroad for so many years, El-Tantawy is able to provide us with precious insight into what happened in Tahrir Square, and why it mattered. The personal story becomes the carrier of an experience, which allows us—those who were not part of the Arab Spring—to better understand what it was like to be there.” — Marc Prust
Artist/Photographer: Mariela Sancari
Publisher: La Fabrica
Format: Hardcover / Interleaved signatures / 6.875 x 10.25 inches / 64 pages
Also published as a limited edition
This small, intimate volume is notable as much for the design as for the images within. In the work, Argentine photographer Mariela Sancari takes the reader on a journey of mystery and discovery. Left with an empty need for closure when denied the chance to see her father’s dead body, she reconstructed the experience through a project resulting in this photobook that unfolds in a compelling progression of image and symbolism.
Incorporating a social experience with photography and design, Sancari placed a classified ad with a photo of her father, seeking men of his age who resembled him. She then made portrait studies of them, placing the men in a context where she could explore her response. The design of the book itself is a principal character in the narrative that ensues. Side-by-side signatures, gated sheets and blank spreads unfold and intermingle in a manner that changes at each turn. Faces are uncovered, then disappear, echoing the sense of incompleteness Sancari felt at the loss of her father. Exploring the book is a uniquely personal experience. Knowing the story behind the mysteries makes it even more poignant.
While the structure of the book is peripatetic, the treatment of the portraits – sharp, clear and uniformly lit against a studio background – holds the design together. Printed by offset on uncoated stock and bound into a case-bound folder, there is an added tactility to the experience. A signed and numbered edition of 25 copies was also produced by inkjet on archival cotton paper.
Comments by others about Moises:
“…delightfully challenging in its exactly right choice of design applied to present the work.” — Anne Wilkes Tucker, Curator Emeritus, MFAH
“This is a moving project visualizing the journey of a young woman trying to find peace. Furthermore, it’s a demonstration of how the addition of the personal can give photography incredible power.” — Erik Kessels
“There is an elegance and brightness that emanates from this ‘object’—rather than ‘just’ a book. Through it, a deeply personal experience becomes a universal emotion: a little great jewel.” — María García Yelo, PhotoEspana
Southern Rites is much more than a photobook. Beginning as a controversial photo-essay of a Georgia high school’s homecoming prom rituals in the New York Times Magazine, Gillian Laub’s work has expanded to an HBO movie, a social-media community and this beautifully produced volume published by Damiani.
Twelve years in the making, Laub’s work documents the process of reconciling the lingering vestiges of the anti-bellum south with a modern view of diversity and opportunity. Shot as a portrait of students at a small rural high school, it is a behind-closed-doors look at a racially-segregated social structure, illustrated through intimate portraits of teens experiencing the adolescent ritual of the Homecoming Prom. The original essay generated national attention, creating a firestorm of resentment and rancor, but it also led to greater engagement and understanding within the community. Several times since, Laub returned to capture the process of change, often a lightning rod herself in the center of the drama. The book and film are witnesses to a continuing dialogue unfolding in communities large and small across America. It is a riveting display.
Comments by others about Southern Rites:
“In Southern Rites, Laub has perceptively and empathetically portrayed the individuals behind the events in Mount Vernon. In turn, our understanding of these events becomes nuanced in a way that may be useful when considering the larger, enduring problem of racism in the U.S. Southern Rites is an important and timely documentary, demanding the viewer to look and listen in a way that lingers long after the gowns, tuxes, and corsages have been put away.” — Hilary Reid, Brooklyn Rail
“Laub’s work also proffers a tantalizing hope: that through such American high schoolers, bedazzled in sequins and satin and dancing at their only recently integrated prom, true societal transformation and justice may come.” — Laura Mallonee, Hyperallergic
Artist/Photographer: Andrew L. Moore
Text by Toby Jurovics, Inara Verzemnieks
Format: Hardcover / 13.5 x 11 in. / 140 pages
John Wesley Powell, the great American explorer and architect of the U.S. Geographical Survey referenced the 100th meridian as the dividing line between the fertile lands of the east and the deserts of the West. Settled during the great pioneer migration, it was a land of feast and famine, occupied by hardworking, hardscrabble men and women living with one eye constantly on the weather. Along with their families and friends, schools, granges and churches, they created ongoing histories spread across miles and miles of open sky, rangeland and farmland.
Dirt Meridian portrays the legacy of these settlers, their successes and failures and the landscape they occupy. Most images are shot at low altitude above the land, intermingled with intimate scenes of prairie culture. The pacing of the book moves back and forth from views of immense vistas to intimate interior studies and portraits of the citizens who occupy the environs. It is a beautiful tapestry of heartland America, marked by a sense of time, space, history and fortunes won and lost.
Comments by others about Dirt Meridian:
“Moore’s signature attention to dereliction is used in great effect in this book to underline the precarious livelihoods of those who have eked out a life in the hardscrabble expanse along the 100th meridian.” — Adam Ryder, American Photo
“I can hardly say how much these photographs of the country along the 100th parallel mean to me…the way country should look: this stark clear flat land, so open and wide, with its sandhills, and overhead the tremendous clouds, and the wind blowing, and nothing to stop it from Canada to Texas except barbed wire fence.” — Kent Haruf, author of Plainsong
When Shōji Ueda passed away in 2000, he left behind an enormous archive of unpublished work, which publisher Chose Commune has incorporated into a new retrospective of the the venerable Japanese photographer’s work. One of Japanese photography’s most remarkable figures, Ueda lived and worked in the seacoast region of Tottori, on the Sea of Japan, which became the backdrop for the vast majority of his work.
Ueda was an explorer of the world around him, capturing patterns, objects and the human form set in austere landscapes, often sharply silhouetted or shrouded in atmosphere. He shot in both black and white and color, and the book weaves the two together in unexpected ways.
The book is beautifully printed, with design by Atelier Pentagon and a lyrical text by writer Toshiyuki Horie. It is an intimate and lovely portrait of a great artist and the world he saw around him.
Comments by others about Shoji Ueda:
“one of the more unexpected books of 2015, since Ueda never published any memorable books during his lifetime.” This publication is the first tri-lingual monograph devoted to his work, and brings together a great many previously unpublished photographs, in both black and white and colour.” — Marc Fuestel
“Not mere posturing but a pertinent editorial take, allowing us to appreciate his lesser-known work—work that is unique and defies all labels, marked by a permanent state of research.” Françoise Callier, Angkor Photo Festival
THE EVOLUTION OF IVANPAH SOLAR
Artist/Photographer: Jamey Stillings
Text: Anne Wilkes Tucker, Bruce Barcott and Robert Redford
Designer: David Chickey
Format: Hardcover / 9.125 x 13.375 / 148 pages
The Evolution of Ivanpah Solar is enigmatic, being both a feast for the senses and a challenge to our sense of place on this planet. It is a thing of beauty, gorgeously printed and filled to the margins with Jamey Stillings spectacular images of a 400 megawatt solar project in the Mojave Desert.
The book’s design and imagery is in keeping with the nature of the project — very high-tech and precisely engineered. From the gleaming black and white images, technical notations on the captions to the metallic sheen of the binding, Ivanpah Solar is sleek, polished and modern. Stilling’s images are truly breathtaking, all of them aerial perspectives building on the pristine beauty of the Mojave. They are black and white to contrast the objects of stone, steel and crystalline silicon placed by the hand of man against the natural formations of the desert. The result is a gallery of abstract patterns and textures that fascinate while creating emotional tension.
The project is a clear demonstration of man’s ability to create technologies that show promise in a world of dwindling resources. Yet, the insertion of such a large scale installation in a fragile landscape triggers questions in our minds. As Alexander Stecker says in his review on LensCulture, “Is this an abomination, man’s latest act of hubris and destruction of the environment? Or is this a way forward, the sign of a more harmonious pact between humanity and its home?”
The answer will likely lie in the eye of the reader. The book provides a view of the transformation of pristine desert into a massive energy source capable of powering 140,000 homes. It is a view well worth the trip.
Comments by others about Ivanpah Solar:
“Ivanpah Solar has become a place where the “green is good” abstraction has been brought forcefully back down to Earth. Though it’s provided hundreds of green jobs and is working toward supplying some 140,000 homes with sustainable energy, the plant has come under fire from environmentalists for disrupting a threatened desert tortoise habitat.The conflict forces us to consider not just how we can produce sustainable energy in the future, but where we can produce it, too..” — Kyle Vanhemert, Fast Company
“The book—silvery and metallic, meticulously designed by David Chickey—is in itself a testament to the marriage of science and art. Lovingly printed by Steidl, each perfectly pitched and toned page shows us that technical expertise and artistic creation go hand in hand.. — Alexander Stecker, LensCulture
IMPERIAL COURTS 1993-2015
Imperial Courts is a public housing project in the Watts neighborhood of South Los Angeles. In 1992, Dutch photographer Dana Lixenberg traveled there on assignment for the magazine Vrij Nederland following the Rodney King verdict. She became deeply interested in the predominately African American community that lived within the project, returning several times to capture compelling portraits with a 4×5 view camera. The project, compiled over a 22 year span, is an compelling portrait of a living community. Through the pages, its members come and go, succeed and fail, grow older, raise children and pass on.
The images are beautifully crafted in the tradition of Walker Evans and other American realists. Published by Roma and designed by Roger Willems, it was on the shortlist for the 2015 Paris Photo – Aperture Foundation Awards.
Comments by others about Imperial Courts:
“I feel this book is particularly prescient as it comes at a time in America when we are faced with growing inequalities and the ongoing plight of African-American communities. I admire everything about the book: the paper and format, the exquisite design, but most of all, I admire the phenomenal portraits, which convey the sitters in all their pride and dignity without resorting to theatricality.” — Monika Condrea, Steidl
“The staying power of Dana Lixenberg is admirable. The result of this multi-decade involvement might turn out to be her Magnum Opus.” — Kim Knoppers, Foam
EDGES OF THE EXPERIMENT
Artist/Photographer: Marie-José Jongerius
Text: Raymond Franken, William L. Fox and others
Designer: Hans Gremmen
Format: Softcover, Two-volume slipcase / 17 x 24 cm / 340 pages (2 volumes)
‘Edges of the Experiment – The Making of the American Landscape’ explores the mythology and our collective ideal of the American landscape. Through words and pictures, the two-volume set illustrates the many elements that contribute to that iconic landscape, and asks what is the cost to maintain it. It describes the thin line between nature and civilization: its evolution, and the interface between the organic and the man-made world.
Broken into two distinct volumes, Edges of the Experiment is an atypical example of the photobook. The images in Volume 1 are the heroes of course, but they are amplified by the inclusion of fascinating data and essays intelligently separated into Volume 2 by designer and publisher Hans Gremmen. Including both sides of the narrative presents an encyclopedic view of the American West — dynamic, often misunderstood and certainly exploited.
Comments by others about Edges of the Experiment:
“The publication consists of two volumes held together in a box that, as is often the case with Dutch publications, distinguishes itself through its graphic elegance and experimentation with different papers that underline the various elements of the project.” — Fabrizio Gallanti, Abitare
“Books like this are food for the eyes and the mind. Another fantastic, hybrid photobook that sits neatly between catalogue and artist book,” — Markus Schaden, The Photobook Museum
Few landscapes convey Nature in all of its untamed splendor like the Arctic. Fewer still conjure respect like the seldom traveled and ethereal North Pole. Yet, sadly, this largely pristine and mostly misconceived treasure is now in jeopardy. Sebastian Copeland’s noble goal in these pages is to pay homage to this wonderland, and, in turn, draw awareness to its perilous plight. Copeland’s multi-faceted background—not only as polar explorer and award-winning photographer, established author and journalist, but also as a dedicated environmental activist—offers us a unique vantage point from which to appreciate this lonely spot. Surely, this is the last true wilderness on the planet—and its demise should ring the alarm for the lower latitudes. Copeland’s authority on the subject is unparalleled and, in this book, his passion for this place truly shines. Although the vision presented in these pages may be poetic, the book’s aims are pragmatic—to seduce and inspire the world in order to help foster a market transformation towards a sustainable future.
Comments by others about Arctica:
“…image probably best captures the mood of Arctica; stunning, dark, fragile, and cold. In fact, the density and mass of cold salt water is what creates mirror-like reflections that Copeland so expertly captures throughout the book.” — Tyghe Trimble, Men’s Journal
“a beautiful tribute to one of the most stunning and remote places on earth. Hi goal was to pay homage to the beautiful Arctic landscape, and in doing so draw awareness to its perilous plight. He certainly achieves his aims. — Richard Branson