The Best of “The Best Photobooks of 2011”

It is the time of year when my email inbox and Facebook wall fills with links to blog posts entitled “The Best Photobooks of 2011.” As a confirmed photobook addict with a serious and incurable case of what I fondly refer to as “the photobook affliction,” I find these lists an interesting reflection on the varied perspectives and distinct interests within the photobook community.  What follows is a small selection of the current “Best of Lists” that have hit my email box within the past few weeks. Each has a distinctive focus with a bit of overlap between them. I have to preface my observations with the acknowledgement that I have a bias towards post-war Japanese photobooks, but I have been known to stray from that territory — so these lists help provide some insight into ways we might all stray during the holiday season.

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The Photographer’s List:

Little Brown Mushroom Blog
Top 20 Photobooks of 2011 by Alec Soth

Playfully categorizing photobooks by literary and cinematic genres such as crime, comedy, romance and horror, photographer Alec Soth’s year-end list presents a well-conceived selection with a fine art focus. Highlights include: Watabe Yukichi’s A Criminal Investigation (Xavier Barral-Le Bal), a completely under the radar Japanese photobook of a Tokyo murder investigation, for the crime genre; Rinko Kawauchi’s Illuminance (Aperture/Foil), a nuanced and poetic examination of the everyday, for the female artist monograph genre; and Anouk Kruithof’s indie zine/book Lang Zal Ze Levan (Happy Birthday To You), a quirky collection of portraits and birthday wishes from patients at a Dutch psychiatric institution, for the independent/self-published genre.

The Magazine’s List:

American Photo Magazine
The Best Photo Books of 2011

An expansive and inclusive “Best of List” with 50 selections classified by standard photobook groupings: fine art, documentary/photojournalism, culture, environment/nature, and retrospectives. Standouts on this list include: Memory Remains: 9/11 Artifacts at Hangar 17 by Francesc Torres (National Geographic) for documentary/ photojournalism – the book associated with Torres’ powerful images currently on view at ICP; Mapplethorpe X7 (teNeues) for fine art – curatorial selections of Robert Mapplethorpe’s work by 7 prominent contemporary artists; Photographers A-Z, by Hans-Michael Koetzle (Taschen) for retrospectives – with a layout similar to Badger/Parr’s The Photobook: A History (Vols. 1 & 2), this entry does double duty by capturing the interest of both the generalist and the photobook addict.

The View from Across the Pond List:
The Guardian (Britain)
Photography Books of the Year 2011: A Snapshot of Christmas Gift Ideas by Sean O’Hagan

One of the more concise “Best of Lists” with only 12 entries, British journalist Sean O’Hagan completely sidesteps classifications. He simply presents what he likes. With my predisposition to the blurry quality of the Japanese Provoke era, I am drawn to Vu Agency member Michael Ackerman’s Half-Life (Dewi Lewis), which presents hauntingly beautiful images of a world at the brink of its own demise. Also of interest on O’Hagan’s list is ICP Associate Curator Kristen Lubben’s Magnum Contact Sheets (Thames & Hudson), a wonderful behind the scenes view of the working process and role of the contact sheet in many of the 20th century’s iconic photographs.

The Self-Published Photobooks List:
Blurb / Photography Books Now
Photography Book Now Winners 2011

From digital photobook printing service Blurb, this “Best of List” from their Photography Book Now competition presents self-published photobook winners from 5 categories: grand prize ($25,000), fine art, documentary, travel and student. Selected by a renowned panel of judges, the grand prize was awarded to Valerio Spada’s Gomorrah Girl, an investigation of the accidental murder of a teenage girl caught in the mafia gunfire on a Naples street. As a book within a book, the innovative design of Gommorah includes images of the handwritten police investigation notes interwoven with photographs of young Naples women from the victim’s community.

The Academy Awards Style List:

Eyecurious Blog
Another Best Books of 2011 List..

As another variation on the ubiquitous year-end “Best of List”, photography blogger and independent curator Marc Feustel presents his selections using hilarious Academy Award inspired categories. As the “Best Really Good Book of the Year” he picks Enrique Metinides’ Series (Kominek), which recontexualizes this Mexican photographer’s work within a cinematic structure to create an interesting discourse between fact and fiction. The award forBest Book of Pictures Made Using an Archaic Photographic Process” goes to Christian Marclay’s Cyanotypes (JRP Ringier), a beautiful collection of contemporary cyanotypes by this multi-talented visual artist, composer, and performer.

The Photo Business List:

PDN: Photo District News
Notable Books 2011: Part 2–4094.shtml

With a nod to the working photographer and the business of photography, the comprehensive PDN 2-part Notable Books 2011 list covers a variety of categories. Unfortunately, their Part 1 list is limited to subscribers, so I will focus on their surprisingly fine art focused Part 2 list, which is accessible to all.  Standouts on this 29-entry list include optician / photographer Ralph Eugene Meatyard’s Dolls and Masks (Radius), which presents the theatrically staged masked images of his family members posing with dolls. Also of interest is Penelope Umbrico’s (photographs), a conceptually oriented body of work created from the aggregation and repurposing of other peoples images from Flickr and Craig’s List.

Books mentioned available in the ICP Library:

Anouk Kruithof. Lang Zal Ze Leven / Happy Birthday to You
TR179.5.K781 .L36 2011

Kristen Lubben. Magnum Contact Sheets
TR820.M34 2011

Robert Mapplethorpe. Mapplethorpe X 7
TR140 .M361 2011

Valerio Spada. Gomorrah Girl
(new acquisition – call number not yet available)

Francesc Torres. Memory Remains: 9/11 Artifacts at Hangar 17
TR820.5.U6 .T691 2011

4 thoughts on “The Best of “The Best Photobooks of 2011””

  1. More “Best Photobooks of 2011” lists have hit my email inbox since I wrote the above post. Here are a few of the more noteworthy:

    The New York TImes: Our Top Ten Photo Books of 2011

    Time Magazine: TIME’s Best of 2011: The Photobooks We Loved

    PhotoEye Magazine: THE BEST BOOKS OF 2011

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