The 2016 List of Lists

By Peggy Roalf   Wednesday December 14, 2016

Best Photobooks of 2016, that is. But not every list is a “top ten.” Time magazine had photography editors, curators, and writers from here and abroad take a stab; their list runs to more than 30 titles. And American Photo, with three separate llsts, has even more. This year, The Guardian, The Washington Post, and The Independent eschewed this category, opening the field to Photograph magazine and 1000 Words.

But it’s entirely up to you, dear reader, to decide on the Best Photobooks of 2016, whether you're choosing a great gift for a friend or adding to your own shelves. Here goes, in no particular order. Your holiday shopping just got exponentially easier—so have fun with it! 

Time magazine leads the list in terms of sheer numbers of editors, guest photo experts and photographers from around the world who took the task. My personal choice is Little North Road by Daniel Traub, selected for Time by Martin Parr, who wrote, “On a bridge in Guangzhou, Daniel Traub encountered a Chinese photographer who specialized in taking portraits of Africans living in the icty. Intrigued by this surreal combination, he photographed the surrounding streets and activity In the book, he added folios of theportraits taken by Wu Yong Fu and Zeng Xian Fang, his collaborator. This…contributes to one of the most surprising and engaging books of the year.” [more]


© Barbara Bosworth, from The Meadow [more]

From the Aperture Foundation/Paris Photo PhotoBook Awards 2016 Shortlist, selected by by Christoph Wiesner (Artistic Director, Paris Photo), Lesley A. Martin (Creative Director of the Aperture Foundation book program and The PhotoBook Review), David Campany, Ann-Christin Bertrand (Curator, C/O Berlin), and Dr. Rebecca Senf (Chief Curator and Norton Family Curator of Photography at the Center of Creative Photography, Tucson), from the 35 titles I chose The Meadow (Radius Books)by photographer Barbara Bosworth and writer Margot Anne Kelley. This is a 10-year study of  a place in Massachusetts that includes a study of the physical and natural history of the property, with contributions by scientists, historians and a former owner. [more] A presentation of shortlisted titles is currently on view at Aperture Gallery and Bookstore. Info

For each issue of Photograph magazine Vince Aletti chooses two or more books, so that makes roughly 16-20 titles to consider in 2016. Cheap Rents…and de Kooning (Steidl) by John Cohen (Sept/Oct) would be my choice for the year, selections from which are currently on view at L. Parker Stephenson Photographs [info]. Aletti writes that the book “is an insider’s view of that proto-Downtown scene and its denizens. [Cohen] takes us to gallery openings, artists’ studios, poetry readings, and some of Claes Oldenburg and Red Grooms’s first happenings. At the Cedar Tavern, he puts us in the same booths with Franz Kline, Grace Hartigan, and Philip Guston while Frank O’Hara chats nearby. Cohen quotes Robert Frank, who became a close friend, musing on his own early work: ‘The distance between me and these photos is the past multiplied by everything that has happened.’ But Cohen collapses that distance for his readers by keeping the book intimate and casual – a diary, not a memorial…. The 10th Street scene was short lived; by 1963, developers had moved in, and Cohen and the galleries were out. But if the art and performance that thrived there – work that John Elderfield, in his introduction, describes as ‘nonsectarian, hybrid, unpredictable in shape and form’ – was transitional, it inspired a counterculture that changed the landscape of the New York art world for decades to come.” [more]


© Anthony Hernandez, Automotive Landscapes #35, 1978; courtesy San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

In The New York Times, Luc Sante selected eight volumes for his 2016 list. His selections are nothing if not esoteric, and it was hard to choose just one book, so I went with Anthony Hernandez (SFMoM/D.A.P.), a Los Angeles photographer whose view is nothing if not esoteric. Sante writes, “He acknowledged Tinseltown and its money only once, in a strikingly nuanced series on Rodeo Drive from the ’80s. Soon, though, he was exploring marginal and transitional settings: the remains of homeless encampments, the sinister trash deposits in the Angeles National Forest, the stages of construction projects that sometimes feel as though they will never be completed. Along the way, he pared down the noise in his pictures. By the 21st century they had become lapidary — each a single usually unpopulated image, often symmetrical, in the lush colors of environmental pollution, as charged as tarot cards: drainage tunnels, unfinished corridors, walls of cardboard or safety-orange fabric, graffiti scratched on glass or carved on a tree, a box standing in bright-green water, a drowned bird in purple. They convey impermanence from the inside, convert anxiety and despair into something nearly liturgical. Hernandez is a major artist who belatedly just had his first retrospective, and [this] its accompanying monograph, provides a gripping narrative.” [more]


Tim Clark, Editor in Chief of the online quarterly 1000 Words, issued a tribute to “the most exceptional photobook releases from the year that was.” Comprised of thought-provoking titles with a global slant cover the state of still photography today, Clark’s top ten included Intimate Distance (Aperture) “a lavish monograph befitting one of the most influential US photographers. Todd Hido’s unique brand of cinematic spectatorship is surveyed en masse…bringing together twenty-five years of photographs full of substance and thickness of atmosphere. The book tracks the development of a career via Hido’s overlapping motifs and preoccupations: disarming nudes, smudged landscapes and interiors or housing lit up as if glowing chambers, inviting us to consider his world-as-image and rethink his oeuvre from a fresh perspective. The need to know oneself and the fear of self-knowing find their beautiful expression here. His is an art of longing.”


Photo-Eye invited 25 photo experts to each choose three books that they “admired, deemed significant, or otherwise loved” in 2016. The uber-favorite was ZZYZX,Photographs by Gregory Halpern (Mack), selected by three on the panel. Photographer Antone Dolezal writes, “The desert east of Los Angeles is literally on the edge of civilization. This is a space both sacred and mundane, marked by a seemingly uninhabitable terrain, yet known as a safe haven for passing transients and new religious movements. It is within this backdrop that Gregory Halpern begins an epic story swaying between the margins of the real and the mystical. Caught between paradise and a psychedelic alarm meant to conjure allusions of humanity’s potential for redemption and its inevitable collapse. ZZYZX serves as a necessary allegory for our time.” [more]



© Christine Osinski, House with spiral bushes bordering the entrance to the garage

American Photo’s Best Photography Books of 2016 was issued in three sections: Spring, Summer, Fall, with 32 titles in all. From this something-for-everyone list I chose Summer Days Staten Island by Christine Osinski (Damiani). The editors wrote, “Christine Osinski’s 4x5 images evoke a place and time—Staten Island in summertime in the early ’80s—that feel like a different world yet leap out like a vivid memory. Whether kids casually sitting on a car trunk, lawn workers floutin’unshirted testosterone or barking pooches in midair, Osinski’s subjects radiate a nostalgic realism, a sense of unposed documentation. ‘I wanted to make pictures that were carefully observed but also felt,’ she says in the book’s Q&A section. ‘I wanted the work to have a certain authority yet seem casual.’ It does.” I had to agree—Staten Island is probably more like outlying parts of New Jersey than New York, a throwback and a disappearing suburb as the city further expands. [more]




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