Saturday, December 8, 2012

Best Photobooks of 2012: Niche Awards

Award for the Best PhotoBook Overlooked by the Photo-Eye Lists

Photoeye has 29 lists, listing 160+ photobooks and nobody noticed this stunning book! Paula McCartney, As If Everything You Imagined Were True. Arguably the best book I saw all year. Full review here.  I only came across it because I visited Paula's website for another reason. A true testament to both the depth of the 2012 photobooks and how easy it is for works of the highest quality to get overlook in the flood of quality product.

Biggest Buzz Award

The conventional selection would be Cristina De Middel. The Afronauts topped more year end lists than any other photobook and it was already out of print by the time most people discovered it.  Praise + scarcity are the requisite nutrients for growing buzz.

However, it is hard to ignore Rafal Milach and the sheer volume of high quality work he has produced in little more than a year: 7 Rooms, In the Car with R, and the forthcoming Black Sea of Concrete.

Favorite Emerging Publishers

As the photobook ecosystem proliferates, we need to recognize publishers that put out innovative, high quality products at a reasonable price. Cudos to two publishers who have found my sweet spot -- high production values, innovative design, and fascinating content published at a price that doesn't break the bank.
  • Burn Magazine / Books
  • Editions Bessard -- ok, I admit the 3000 Euro version of History of Monuments with its bronze cover doesn't really meet my affordability criteria, but the regular edition is reasonably priced and still stunning  :+)

 Best Special Edition Award

Will Steacy,  Down these Mean Streets: The Election Edition (Special edition photos and information here, edition itself no longer available)

Most limited edition / special edition photobooks consist of some mix of the following: a) the book (sometimes in a different cover), b) the photographer's signature, c) an edition number, d) a slipcover, box or other container and/or e) an original photograph. All these extras come at a substantially higher price.

My problem isn't with the higher price itself, but with the formulaic application of a marketing orientation designed to turn the book into a sacred, status object that makes it's owner feel special. Why not do something unique and distinctive that builds on the project itself and provides the consumer with a more fulsome experience of the work?

That's what Will Steacy did. Down These Mean Streets, for those unfamiliar with the book, is a series of photographs, newspaper and magazine clippings and notes that combine to represent a collage-like journal depicting the current political state in America. Approaching themes of a changing political landscape, Steacy questions the current political system and idea of the American Dream. Down These Mean Streets presents a stark reality of a country deeply divided in cultural ideologies.

The Election Financing Edition was available for the symbolic price of $99.01 up until the 270th electoral vote was counted. So, the structure of the edition itself had an aspect of performance art about it. Content-wise, the edition put the book inside a Vintage Bank Deposit Bag tied shut with a Noose (how symbolic is that!). Inside the bag were a variety of objects symbolically tied to the current US economy: an antique Wrench, an Application For Unemployment Benefits, a Scratch-Off Lotto Ticket, an Original Buffalo Nickel & an American Flag. Moreover, each version was unique— the size of wrench, date of Buffalo nickel, winning or loosing lotto ticket, size and name of bank printed on deposit bag varied. The bag I got -- from the US Mint and designed to hold a $1000 worth of quarters -- also included a quarter (sadly only one, and not $1000 worth!). That little fact gives a sense of the individualized and personal attention that went into each one. Cudos to Will!

Best Reprint

A strong category with lots of worthy contenders. I'm flipping the coin, but no matter what happens the winner is Steidl.  Heads is their facsimile reprint of Jakob Tuggener's Fabrik, A Photo Epos of Technology, tails is their facsimile of Keizo Kitajima's Photo Express: Tokyo.

In the category of reprints that aren't really reprints, the Books on Books series just keeps getting better. The selected books are more adventurous, the supplementary material is getting better, and the books are more closely approximating the number of pages in the original, meaning there are fewer pages with multiple page spreads reproduced on a single page.

Best Edit / Sequencing

Melissa Catanese, Dive Dark, Dream Slow

Sequenced in a manner reminiscent of Robert Frank's seminal The Americans -- with a recurring, non-linear set of themes and counter-themes embedded in an overarching linear progression -- Dive Dark, Dream Slow brings the narrative techniques of modern photobook design to vernacular photography.

Best Cover Photograph

Marc Asnin, Uncle Charlie

As the lawyers say, "res ipsa loquitur" -- the thing speaks for itself. Nuf said.

The Considerate Publisher Award for Book Design that accomodates photobook collectors and their peculiar needs and desires

Sebastian Girard

Beginning with 2009's Nothing but Home and every year since, Sebastian Girard has produced a self-published book. The thing I like about these books? 1) They are all the same size. 2) The 'trilogy' have similar but different covers. 3) This year's book, Strip-o-Gram, which goes off in an entirely different direction, has a cover that distinguishes the project from the earlier trilogy of books, but still looks integrated when placed next to them on the shelf.

Yes, I appreciate the artistic desire to treat each project as unique and select the size, cover and design appropriate to the particular work. I also realize the ironic inconsistency between my praise for the unique in the Special Edition award and the embrace of standardization I'm recognizing here. But, as someone with lots of books and limited shelf space, I organize them by size rather than by photographer. So, it's nice when they naturally all end up together. One thing you'll never hear me say: "Where the fuck is that book by Sebastian Girard!?" because they are all together in one nice little unit.

Monday, December 3, 2012

A Show of Hands

A Show of Hands: Photographs from the Collection of Henry Buhl

Rarely does an auction catalog have anything near the thematic coherence of photobook. This one, based on Buhl's legendary collection of images of the human hand, does.