How could I possibly cast a wide with the net for this task of selecting great photobooks? The more I see, the less I think I know about what makes it to print each year. While I try to take a look at everything that comes into the library, there is a tremendous amount of it [I just counted over 3,100 ingested in the last fiscal year], and it is getting more and more difficult to see something that will knock my socks off.
I have decided to go very narrow, actually intimate, with this year’s list.
Like many of the photo book collectors with whom I am acquainted, I take a particular interest in books when I know the backstory, and especially ones I came to know during their gestation period.
I am delighted that there were a number of those this year that I would like to share with you. I am going to add a couple from last year, as well, as I was so busy taking care of the next generation of photobooks being gestated by library patrons that I never made a “best of” list last year, and I would hate for anything so near and dear to fall between the cracks.
They are listed in alphabetical order, because I love them all non-hierarchically.
+ Assembly by Andrea Stern [New York: Andrea Stern Studio and bookdummypress, 2013] TR681.C5 S7425 2013
Andrea Stern is a regular in the ICP library; one of the ICP scholarly alumni who come back home to encounter the amazing mix here. She also thoughtfully approaches the making of her books, studying unique approaches in form and style here and elsewhere. This book was co-published with her ICP classmate Victor Sira [and his wife, ICP alum Shiori Kawasaki] at bookdummypress.
I really love this book, from the opening quote by Auden about human beings not being able to become something until they have pretended to be it, to the closing captions, reminding us of the universality of those surreal competitions, pageants, and recitals we were shepherded through in our youths. She finds a particularly poetic way of expressing that state of grace between pretending and being.
+ Digit by Christian Erroi [New York: Self-Published, 2013] TR179.5 .C77 2013
This book was made by Christian while preparing his MFA Thesis show at ICP/Bard, and was subsequently selected by Matthew Carson and Joanna Lehan for the artist book installation in ICP’s 2013 Triennial “A Different Kind of Order.” Taking the shape of an i-Pad, it plays with the notion of the screen gestures that have become so much a part of our reading and viewing experience.
The resulting monochromatic images are somehow part Howard Hodgkin and part fingerpaint, but the idea, a thread in all of Erroi’s MFA work, is about temporality, lexicality, mind and motion.
+ Fan Zine Shiori Kawasaki [New York: bookdummypress, 2013] TR179.5.K393 F36 2013
Shiori Kawasaki is half of the great independent bookstore and publisher called bookdummypress, and I am so glad she is an alum of ICP, and impressed by what she does. When I saw this book at the New York Art Book Fair, I thought I was seeing re-photographed fan zine pages with their Benday dots, and that seemed really McLuhan-esque and thoughtful. AFTER I purchased a copy, I learnt that these are images made by Shiori, and, all the more astonishing for that, because these head-banging punks seem as far from her mien as possible.
This takes the word “zine” back to its origins, and, in the re-visiting of it, refreshes the visual language because of an upgrade in both printing technology [this is NOT printed on a photocopier, as zines have tended to be] and philosophical perspective [ce ci n’est pas un zine].
+ This Folder May Contain Clippings and Other Ephemeral Material Liz Sales [New York: Conveyor Arts, 2012] TR179.5 S351 .F65 2012
Even if I was not already a fan and colleague of Liz Sales, I would have found this irresistible. An imaginary file in a brown paper bag, all printed and cut, lovingly, by the great local artist book concern called Conveyor Arts. Liz exhibited this work on a bulletin board in the Picture Collection of the New York Public Library recently, as one part of a three part exhibition there curated by Arezoo Moseni. It was very satisfying to see this work of art, based upon the folders of the Picture Collection back “home” again, as it were.
+ The Garden by Birgitta Lund [Copenhagen: Space, Poetry, 2013] TR680 .L862 2013
Birgitta Lund, a Copenhagen-based artist, studied at ICP and always pops into the library when she is town. She is a studious and deliberate book-maker, and started research for this book a couple of years ago, so I really was excited when she came and presented a finished copy here. It is a thoughtful meditation on globalism, Orientalism and Europes through the lens of the Tivoli Garden.
I cannot tell you how lovely this book is, and how thought-provoking. Everyone who experiences it in our library has their curiosity rewarded.
+ From the Island by Jiri Makovec [St. Gallen, Switzerland: Self-Published, 2013] TR659.8.N48 .M354 2013
Jirka, a Czech-born photographer, is really library family, having worked here in exchange for darkroom time for many years. The prints that became From the Island were all made at ICP. This book is the final iteration of a project of many years scanning, editing, designing and sequencing the images made during his years in New York, although he now lives and works in Switzerland. No one sees the world the way Jirka does. We have shelves and shelves of books by photographers from throughout the world taken on the streets in New York – even whole Library of Congress classification numbers dedicated to it [try TR659.8 and TR820.5 .U6] – but no other book like this.
+ Libreria Anticuaria Poema 20: A Selcection of unusual Latin American Photobooks
Leandro Villaro is one of the people who have had a meaningful impact on both our library’s programming and its collection development. He has been a scout for us of South American books for many years, and has done more favors for this library than anyone related to A/V, key introductions, and lots of moral support. He loves books of books [as do I], made one with his lauded window exhibition here a couple of years ago, and here is one that has just made the rounds at 2013 Paris Photo.
+ Offrenda Sebastian Szyd and Nandita Raman [New York: AC Photo, 2013] TR655 S993 2013
My colleague Matthew already selected this, but it a perfect example for this list, as well, as Leandro Villaro [who organized this publication] and Nandita Raman [essayist] have both been beloved “artists in residence” at ICP Library over the years [check old blog posts about Leandro’s Argentinian book exhibition and Nandita’s winning “intervention” for her MFA thesis called “An Artist’s Atheneum.” Nandita, a native of Varanasi, is writer here, and her thoughtful thesis for ICP [also available in the library] was a tremendous read, so I was not astonished that this book has everything going for it.
The extraordinary printing and paper of this book fill me with confidence that the future of the physical photobook [will we be using qualifiers like that?] is in good hands. I know that Leandro is now learning photogravure! Looking forward to seeing what he produces next!
+ Refugee Motel Gabriele Stabile [San Francisco CA: McSweeney’s, 2012] TR140 .S727 2012
Gabriele is always in ICP’s alumni notes online, as he is one hard-working photographer. I am proud to have seen him studying to make this book, and he even had meetings about its publication in the ICP Library, so that there would be books to consult in the discussions. The result is impressive and has gained a lot of notice. It was a favorite book of mine last year, and I am only getting that into the blog now.
The number of news outlets that covered this work in the past year testify to its timeliness. This Motel is by the airport, and is a place of global transit, a hot spot for exploring the faces of emigration from crisis, and thinking about it in a more humane and nuanced way.
+ 795: Whitman, Marilyn and the Police Dogs Victor Sira [New York: bookdummypress, 2012] TR179.5 .S571 .S49 2012
Victor is both alum and faculty. He is also one of the library’s greatest champions and inspirations. Victor was one of the first artists to embrace the library as a laboratory for test-driving ideas, and I have never had a moment’s hesitation assenting when he proposes an idea. He has had a prodigious output as an artist/publisher, so I had missed this until recently. The title is the number of the edition size of the original printing of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, which was a self-published artist book. This book enigmatically melds Whitman portraits with Marilyn portraits and fleeting images of the Civil Rights era. Librarians love Walt Whitman, who was once a Brooklyn librarian.
+ Tall Poppy Syndrome Stacy Arezou Mehrfar and Amy Stein [Decode Books, 2012] TR820.5.A8 .S843 2012
Stacy was a student at ICP the year I started being librarian here, so seems like family, although she now lives on the other side of the globe. Like all of the ICP alumni diaspora, when she comes to New York, she visits the library, takes a serious look at what other artists are doing and her first book is a testament to that rigor.
Tall poppies are heads that stick out above the garden…an Australian expression. Stacy and Amy “un-pack” the concept in this breezy and affectionate book.
+ 10X10 American Photobooks edited by Russet Lederman, Olga Yaskevitch and Matthew Carson [New York: bookdummypress, 2013] TR145 . A44 2013
Russet, Olga and Matthew are all ICP Library family too, each with a terrible itch to know everything they can about photobooks and an evangelical zeal about sharing what they learn. Last autumn, the trio created a sensation with a pop-up of 100 Japanese photobooks in the ICP/Bard MFA studios in Long Island City during the New York Art Book Fair at PS1 a block away, and it sparked interest in Japan, so they put together a mirror of it, and got Victor and Shiori of bookdummypress to design and publish the catalog, which is really an ambitious undertaking, with thousands of moving parts and participants. Like Jiri’s book, it required some crowd-funding to be realized, and I am deeply in favor of that, as my contributing record of the last years would attest.
Looking forward to seeing what the community of ICP Library cooks up in 2014!
Best Non-Book of 2013: “There’s No Money in Books” tote bag made by Deadbeat Club for the New York Art Book Fair
“There’s No Money in Books:” I hope I do not have to explain why I had to buy more than one of these tote bags. Suffice it to say, with all the effects of global capital on artists and art, the silkscreen printed words on these bags struck me as a jovial talisman against the New York Art Book Fair ever becoming like a big box department stores or the museums that are built to look like them.