David Campany, managing director of programs, and Vince Aletti, the renowned writer and bibliophile, each compiled a list of top ten books to celebrate some of the many highlights from the last twelve months of photobook publishing. Who are the new voices? What kinds of books have been made during this unprecedented time? And is this a new golden age of the photobook?
Oct 22, 2021



Amani WillettA Parallel Road, Overlapse, November 2020

Small enough to slip in your pocket as you get into your car, Amani Willett’s A Parallel Road mixes new and archival images to tell the story of Black experience and the supposed freedoms of the American road trip. 

Teju Cole, Golden Apple of the Sun, Mack Books, 2021   

Teju Cole is master of image/text relations. His ‘sheltering in place’ during the recent pandemic led to this quietly powerful book. A profound contemplation of food, cooking, and fraught history, filtered through Cole’s deep affection for everyday things.


Diana Markosian, Santa Barbara, Aperture, 2020 

Part fact, part fiction, part film, part photography, Santa Barbara tells the strange tale of Markosian and her childhood family’s coming to America from Russia. What gets us closer to the truth: her reconstructions or her documentary photographs?


Moyra Davey & Peter Hujar, Mack Books, 2021

Roland Barthes loved the idea of ‘avec’, French for ‘with’. Moyra Davey’s photographs with the late Peter Hujar’s photographs is a perfectly Barthesian confection.


Daniel Palmer and Marty Jolly, Installation View: Photography Exhibitions in Australia (1848-2020), Perimeter Editions, 2021

Exhibition history is a fast-growing area of photographic research. This is an eye-opening, informative and beautifully designed contribution to the field.  


Ming Smith: An Aperture, Monograph, Aperture, 2020 

For a long time, many of us have wanted the definitive book of Ming Smith’s long artistic career in photography. Thank you, Aperture! Thank you, Ming Smith!


Efrem Zelony-Mindell, ed., Primal Sight, Gnomic Books, 2021

Black and white photographs by 146 artists, no less, selected and sequenced with intelligence and fun by editor Efrem Zelony Mindell. Printed in silvery ink on black paper, it’s a seductive thing to behold.


Jo Spence, Fairy Tales and Photography, or, another look at Cinderella, RRB Books, December 2020 

Photography, writer and pioneering photo-therapist, Jo Spence was ahead of her time. Today her ideas and influence are everywhere. This book is a facsimile of the remarkable undergraduate dissertation she wrote in 1982.  


Pacifico Silano, I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine, Loose Joints, 2021

Is it a book? A sculpture? An installation? Pacifico Silano sifts melancholically through the old printed matter of gay culture, looking for his own resonances and epiphanies. With a lovely design by publisher Loose Joints, the fold-out accordion format makes for a very satisfying object.


Shumon Basar, Douglas Coupland, Hans Ulrich Obrist, The Extreme Self, WALTHER KÖNIG, 2021

Part manifesto and part diagnosis of the strange world outside and inside our contemporary heads. I think I agree with about ten percent of the content of this provocative little book. But the ninety per cent did make me think. Recommended. If you like that sort of thing!  



Donkey Man and Other Stories, Editorial Works Volume, Juergen Teller, Rizzoli, 2021

More than 600 pages of Teller’s editorial work is way too much, but that seems to be the point. Teller is a master of excess–a vulgarian and a jester, mocking high fashion, tweaking celebrity (from Patti Smith to Kim Kardashian), taking his clothes off and getting into bed with Charlotte Rampling. The good, the bad, and the outrageous: no one does it better. 


Encampment Wyoming: Selections from the Lora Webb Nichols Archive, 1899-1948, Fw:Books, 2021

This archive’s rediscovery is bound to be compared with Disfarmer’s and Vivian Maier’s, but Nichols’s view of American frontier life is at once more intimate and more charming than either of those bodies of work. Brilliantly edited, handsomely designed, the book is already a cult favorite among photo afficionados.


The British Isles, Jaime Hawkesworth, Mack, 2021

The British fashion and editorial photographer take a clear-eyed, wide-ranging look around at his follow citizens and their environment, from the moors to the corner newsagent. No text, no captions, no dates–just a total immersion in Hawksworth’s vision of the people he lives among–as affectionate as it is restrained.


Fever, Allen Frame, Matte Editions, 2021

Frame’s color photographs of friends hanging out in New York and Brooklyn in 1981 inevitably recall Nan Goldin’s, but his perspective is brighter, less fraught, with darkness all but banished from these naturally lit scenes. Goldin makes a cameo appearance here, but she’s just one of a cast of artists, performers, and writers whose interactions evoke the spirit of this fragile, charged moment: a fever that broke long before the decade was done.


Ming Smith: An Aperture, Monograph, Aperture, 2020 

The only woman in the historic, and regularly rediscovered, Kamoinge Workshop (the Whitney show of their collective work was a knockout), Smith was also the most visionary and experimental. Her work conveys not just the look but the experience of Blackness, from the front stoop to the bedroom to the nightclub (her pictures of Sun Ra in performance are as abstract as his music).


Fingerprint, Jim Goldberg, Stanley/Barker, 2021

The great West Coast photographer is one of the few genuinely counterculture artists left–feisty, committed, not willing to look away from the outcast and abandoned. He’s never made a conventional photo book, and this is one of his most unusual: a stack of Polaroids published as a boxed deck of cards. His subjects are street kids, many of whom have signed and annotated their images. “I look like shit,” one writes. This is not the Brady Bunch. 


Polaroids 1994-1997, Davide Sorrenti, IDEA, 2021

More Polaroids, more street kids, but the connection here is more intimate and familial, in a style that can’t help but recall Larry Clark’s Kids. Sorrenti, younger brother of fashion photographer Mario, died the last year these shots were taken. Until then New York was his playground, his medium, and he knew just how to take it all in. 


Marvel, Marvel Harris, Mack, 2021

If the self-portraits Harris made of his transition from a girl to a boy were merely documentary, this would still be a remarkable book. But Marvel–there could not be a more fitting title–is a frank, painful, and intensely personal work, more honest and artful than anything I’ve seen on the subject. As Marvel changes, recording both gradual and surgical alterations to what is increasingly, obviously his (their?) body, it’s clear that the transition is difficult but the work remains confident and strong, especially astonishing for someone so young. Harris sums things up: “I am where I need to be.”


Time of Youth: San Francisco 1966-1967, William Gedney, 2021

William Gedney was a terrific photographer whose documentary work always felt personal–more revelation than reportage. This body of work, made early in his career is, typically, the product of empathy and longing. Anticipating the Summer of Love, it’s not exactly celebratory; more often than not, Gedney’s subjects appear aimless, alone in a crowd. But his queer eye never misses the shaggy-haired beauties and the tender, erotic undercurrent here is Gedney’s signature. 


Street Portraits, Dawoud Bey, Mack, 2021

Made mostly in Harlem and Brooklyn in 1988 and ‘89, these black-and-white Polaroid images are among Bey’s earliest photographs. But there’s nothing tentative or immature here; if Bey was testing himself with this work, he passed with honors. He learned to look closely, deeply, and with real concern–not just for his results but for the person in the frame.


Join Vince and David online for a lively and illuminating discussion dedicated to all things photo books on November 16 at 6–7 PM.