My favourite photo books of 2014
2014 was a great year for fine photo books. Here are just a few of my faves.
Mother and Father by Paddy Summerfield - £30
I have to thank a sentimental Sean O’Hagan for introducing me to Paddy Summerfield’s moving series, Mother and Father. It is a tender documentation of the last ten years of his parent’s marriage as Alzheimer’s came to claim them. The touching photographs, shot in black and white, allow us to see their love and tenderness in huge measure. They are deeply personal photographs but we can all identify with the emotional content.
Summerfield’s poetic description “I recorded my mother’s loss of the world, my father’s loss of his wife and, eventually, my loss of them both" describes his melancholy and moving journey.
Photographed in the neatly kept garden at their home in the Welsh countryside, Summerfield’s moving, gentle narrative captures subtle gestures of love revealing the bond formed during their 60-year marriage. The couple, their bodies gently bent in unison, tenderly hold hands, or link arms behind their backs, and stroll though the place they love. Eventually nature reclaims the garden, and the garden chairs become a poignant memorial to happier times.
Particulars by David Goldblatt
External imagePHOTO: David Goldblatt
I love this series shot by Goldblatt in 1975. First published in book form in 2003, the black and white studies of Goldblatt’s contemporaries are all about subtle detail. He describes the nuances of body language and sartorial details as “as affirmations or embodiments of their selves.”
Goldblatt tells of working in his father’s men’s outfitters shop in the 1950s as integral in developing awareness of the
human form, clothing and ornament. Closely framed, the parallel lines of laddered tights and geometric print of a skirt’s surface disappear beneath crossed hands holding cheap handbag. A sprinkle of chest hair mingled with chains and framed by a check shirt, or bare feet with toes bearing corns and sweat seeping though a sleeping man’s jacket - all are deliciously observed.
Piedmanson by Vasantha Yogananthan - €80
External imagePHOTO: Vasantha Yogananthan
Yogananthan’s photographs of Piemanson beach in the heart of Carmargue Nature Reserve are dreamy representations of lost summers. The sense of freedom, which runs though this self-published book, is palpable. Children live a “Swallows and Amazons” existence, exploring nature with their fishing nets in sand-covered, tanned skin whilst their parents enjoy the freedom from their lives back home. This is Yogananthan’s first book, and it has been sensitively edited.
Silent Histories by Kazuma Obara - POA
External imagePHOTO: Kazuma Obara
I cannot easily put into words how much I love this book. It’s made as a testament to the suffering of 430,000 civilians who were injured during the American bombing of Japan during the Second World War. The books tell the deeply personal stories of survival and mistreatment by the Japanese government to compensate its victims, which has been hidden for the past 69 years.
Bound in a rich blood-red tweed, the book is as tactile as it is visual. The complex layout has inserts of propaganda magazines, personal pictures, school photographs and identity cards which seem to get below the skin of the case histories. ‘Silent Histories’ is both seductive and horrific in turn.
Printed in an edition of 45 signed copies.
Evidence by Diana Matar - £38
External imagePHOTO: Diana Matar
This small, intimate book packs a powerful punch. In March 1990, the Libyan political activist, Jaballa Matar was kidnapped at gunpoint from his home in Cairo by the Egyptian secret police and handed over to the Gadaffi regime. His family has never seen him since. American photographer Matar has spent six years documenting her father in law’s disappearance. The book is a carefully considered mix of her evocative photographs, personal writings, and found images. During 2012 she spent a month visiting Libya, her husband’s homeland, documenting the buildings where people had been captured or disappeared, imprisoned and tortured.
The images, often shot at night, are both powerful, poetic and at the same time unnerving when seen against the political implications of Jaballa’s actions on her own family. This is a moving tribute to a much-loved family man.
Crossing Over by John Stezaker - £24.95
External imagePHOTO: John Stezaker
The images in this small turquoise book span the history of postcard production from Victorian times to the post-war period. The fragments of images are printed actual size, and explore time and memory. They focus on the incidental figure and continue Stezaker’s ongoing manipulation of found images. The delicate, sometimes distorted images appear fragile on the page, their small size demanding careful consideration of the everyday minor events portrayed in the images. A gem of a book.
Ponte City by Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse - €85
External imagePHOTO: Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse
Already held in high regard by the photo community, Ponte City has recently been announced as one of the four projects shortlisted for next year’s Deutsche Borse photography award.
Back in pre-apartheid Johannesburg, 1975, a massive 54-storey apartment block was built as testament to the white supremacy of the time, to house the white “sophisticates” in a kind of utopian dreamland. In the 1990s Ponte City, as it was called, became a sanctuary for immigrants from all over Africa, gradually falling into decay and becoming a centre for drug dealing and prostitution. At one point it was known as “suicide central”. In 2007 Subotzky and Waterhouse began documenting the building, which had suffered in the economic downturn. Subotzky and Waterhouse focused on Ponte City’s residents. Over the past seven years they have built an intimacy with the now middle class families, students and, for the first time, even a handful of white residents. Their mammoth project sees them photographing every door and every view from every single window in the building.
The images capture intimate stories of everyday life and also include notes, letters and include 17 books of essays and personal stories.
The Epilogue by Laia Abril - £35
External imagePHOTO: Laia Abril
At this year’s Rencontres d'Arles I joined the queue to buy a copy of Laia Abril’s The Epilogue. It’s an extremely moving story of the Robinson family coming to terms with their daughter Cammy’s struggle and eventual death though Bulimia. This is a tough book, filled with family photographs of daughter Mary Cameron who died aged 26. Abril adds her own images and narratives to create a complex, seductively designed album, which includes Cammy’s birth and death certificates, personal testimonies and memories, all of which drag you head first into Cammy’s life. This important book by a young artist confronts the struggle faced by the families living with eating disorders, as well as the pain and guilt of loss
Amelia and the Animals by Robin Schwartz - £39.95
External imagePHOTO:Robin Schwartz
On a lighter note, Amelia and the Animals is a delightful collection of photographs by American photographer Robin Schwartz. It depicts her daughter Amelia communing with a variety of species ranging from bald sphinx like cats to the more exotic tiger cub. There seems nothing unusual in seeing Amelia perched in an elephant’s trunk or seemingly in conversation with a group of kangaroos. She is nature’s child and seems relaxed with her animal companions. Schwartz photographs are otherworldly, artfully composed and Amelia’s quiet, wistful expression and abundance of hair feel almost PreRaphaelite.