Thursday, December 26, 2013

Favorite Photobook Lists of 2013

These are the glory days of Photobook Lists. Just a decade ago there were very few to choose from. But the past decade has seen an explosion in such lists, transforming listmaking from a rather listless condition into veritable list lust. More importantly, listing has become democratized. While 10 Top Ten lists were once the exclusive province of large media conglomerates and perhaps Dave Letterman, the internet has allowed anyone to join the fray. 

And join they have. Every year hundreds of Photobook Lists are published. They now come in a wide variety of sizes, designs, and quality, offering something for all. A healthy Photo List collectible market has developed, and indie stores selling Photobook Lists are popping up all over. We're living during a true Photobook List renaissance. The unlisted number of Photobook Lists is not just astonishing. It's probably beyond listing. 

Although Photobook Lists are produced throughout the year, most are published in late November or December. It's in December that certain figures make their list, then check it twice. And this is also when critics and tastemakers edit their lists of the year's best Photobook Lists. A Photobook List published in December is more likely to be remembered, and so naturally the last few weeks have been a listmaking bonanza, as listers scramble to have their lists noticed. My list below is no exception, and I hope it will find a spot on your list of favorite lists.

Even though most lists are concentrated in one period, it's still tough to keep track of them all. Fortunately someone has booked a list of Photobook Lists. In the past, Eye Curious and PhotoEye have filled the role. This year, Photobook List collectors Photolia and QT Luong have compiled lists of 2013's book lists on their respective sites, with Luong's ranking listings by number of times listed.

I'll admit that I didn't see every list listed this year. Some were published and went quickly out of print before I could list them. Other lists were produced in small quantities or with limited distribution. I can only list the lists I've personally encountered. Please know that although I listened closely to what was out there before listing, this list is not meant to be any objective measure of merit. It's merely a subjective impression listing some of my favorite lists. Last but not least, lest my list seem laced with sarcasm, I assure you that possibility was not lost on me as I made my list. 

My Favorite Photobook Lists of 2013:

Tom Claxton: A Year in Ten Titles

Expectations were high from this long overdue publication and on release, it certainly didn’t disappoint. Startling light penetrated every voyeuristic detail while the list’s manic sequence/design further intensifies this energetic experience. Never fully aware of what is being observed, this is a chaotically charged document, blurring the real and dreamt. 

Microcord: Swell Books of 2013

The idea seems to have been that of a tolerably good package of decently sized titles, held down to a very palatable price. It’s a collection of “solitary moments of disconnection” (in the lister’s words), or perhaps of indecisive moments (not his words). We see individuals listing, individuals not listing, scenes likely to start one listing — yes, it’s free-ranging. There’s even the occasional crowd, though the individual seems in a pocket of space within it. And many pleasing plays of light and shadow. 

Eric Gundersen: Personal Favorites of 2013

"It's been an interesting year. SO many lists, and in the past I've relied on those lists to source out a lot of books in my collection. This year was different. This year I did a lot of my own research. I've gone hunting a lot more and I think I've ended up with a collection I really love and appreciate." I did not see a more heartfelt sentiment on any other list. 

ABC: Worst Photobooks of 2013

Comprised of mainly postcards, contracts, meeting minutes, advertising agency reports, newspaper clippings, scripts, scripting notes, and correspondences, it only contains a few titles and they are old. Nobody needs to see this stuff. Or do they? This list is a paradox that keeps on giving, even as it sucks you dry. That you can get it covered in your choice of four sickeningly garish colors makes this a no-brainer for my top ten list.

Roger May: My Favorite Photobook Buys of 2013

Roger has a heart bigger than the English Isles and it rings true in his list. We can all learn a lot from him. It’s the epitome of what I look for in a list: maps, smart layout, and a balance of titles by the observer and text/interviews with people in the list. I’ll never be able to reassemble this list the way it was put together (it’s not bound), but whatever. It’s just beautiful.

Joerg Colberg: My Favorite Photobooks in 2013

Colberg makes the political and the state of the country a large part of the list, mirroring what appears to be a growing feeling that things seem to have gone off the rails a bit. This is the kind of list that re-engages an audience with a photographer’s work smartly. It’s the kind of list where I thought I had it all figured out, and then I didn’t. I’m a bit surprised I didn’t see this list on more lists this year. 

Clement Paradis: top 5 Photobooks You Can Actually Afford

Don’t expect him to talk again about books like Broomberg and Chanarin’s Holy Bible. He already has a bible (that he paid 2 bucks for) and he doesn't open it often, so don't expect him to buy another, even for the sake of sarcasm. Yeah you got it, he's just in a bad mood cause he can’t afford those lists. And really who can? The blogger making a list of favorite Photobook Lists? They get them for free you know! A suitable list for those on a budget or people who already own a bible, and a jackpot for those with a foot in both camps.

Tim Clark: The Best Photo Books of 2013

Incorporating sculpture, performance and photography, this beautifully designed, tautly-edited list is at once a heady mix of the abstract and the figurative, reality and illusion, and a resonant testimony to the market’s organic and temporary nature. Through his intervention, Clark has not only rescued a corpus of vernacular photography from oblivion but produced a hugely significant, complex, and most crucially, unassuming list.

Matthew Carson: Ten Photobooks from 2013

Some people out there cast doubt on the whole idea of creating a list. Ten photobook lists. Why ten anyways? Carson has this ability to submerge you in nature. Who doesn’t like blurry nature? His list is filled hallucinatory titles from Tokyo, Paris, London and New York, a grainy and black and white list that screams off the page.

Alec Soth: My Top 10 Photobooks of 2013

“A photograph is a secret about a secret,” Diane Arbus said. “The more it tells you the less you know.”  Every book listed in this photographer’s depiction of photobooks is an item of unintelligible secrets. I really wanted to dislike this list, but I was completely won over by the pictures, design and even Soth’s essay. “I don’t want to be famous,” he writes, “but I hope this list is remembered for ever.” I have a feeling it will be.

John Sypal: Favorite Photobooks of 2013

The vertical format makes this list feel somehow more novel-like, the pictures within flow along as a possible tributary headed towards the Styx. Instead of a written response the list answers this question with what appears to be Sypal’s kindest or at least warmest titles yet- although this may be thanks to his stunning subject more than anything else. It’s excellently made and designed in a way that makes no apologies for being intensely personal. With a very particular sense of detachment Sypal's list is intriguing. The theme of reflection isn’t at all subtle but it is moving.


microcord said...

I know a life of blogging has led me to this sorry fate, and yet, I blame society.




Blake Andrews said...

Sergei, I'm glad you're back. It's been a while. How's life treating you? How's Mrs. Sergei?

Alan said...

Great article, photobooks are a great asset for anyone interested in photography, if they are unable to afford the original prints, photobooks are the best option to go.

Support photography and keep the practice alive!

Eron Rauch said...
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Eron Rauch said...
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Eron Rauch said...

Not to be too negative, since I love these lists, but I'm not totally sure that even if these books are often cheaper than the prints that they are necessarily more accessible. Or even if they are, it's only a matter of a degree. I was just thinking about how different most of these lists of photo books are from, say the Pitchfork Top 100 Albums or the NY Times best novels lists in that so often these books are snapped up and out of print very quickly or on the secondary market at many times their initial asking price (as was the case with Afronauts last year going for a couple thousand dollars within six months of it's release). If you want to see some of the numbers, I broke down PhotoEye's list on my blog: Just some random thoughts as a photographer. Thanks for the great list of lists![Edit because I can't type today. Clearly need more coffee.]