Stacks of books lined the countertops of the photo department in precarious, even Seuss-ian formations. They made for a daunting task, possibly a workplace hazard. There were formidable publications from the likes of Philip Lorca DiCorcia, Gregory Crewdson and Joel Meyerowitz. Books by artists like Taryn Simon and Edward Burtynsky, whose works had appeared in the magazine. We even had entries with titles like “Quotations from Chairman Mao Tsetong” and “Holy Bible.” “There are too many good books this year,” lamented one exhausted photo editor when the judging was finished.
Eventually our jury (the magazine’s photo department) whittled it down. Here are our selections, in no particular order.
“New York Arbor” (Steidl), by Mitch Epstein
Epstein’s black-and-white photographs, taken with an 8-by-10 view camera, document New York’s great trees in their gnarled and twisted glory. (Disclosure: we loved these photographs so much that we published them in our 2012 Voyages Issue). The book’s elegant design showcases Epstein’s pictures, and his smart afterword relates them back to his definitive work on the energy industry in America. As he explains it, “I started to think about photographing something to honor, rather than mourn. . . .”
“Excerpts from Silver Meadows” (Nazraeli), by Todd Hido
In his latest book, Todd Hido juxtaposes the images that have become his signature — rain-blurred winter-gray landscapes, suburban homes bathed in light from a single window, vulnerable portraits of women in anonymous, seedy motels — with his earlier work, personal snapshots and archival newspaper clippings. The combinations accentuate the sense of memory and longing. The pictures are reproduced in large scale, with gatefold spreads you can get lost in.
“In and Out of Fashion” (Prestel), by Viviane Sassen
“In and Out of Fashion” brings together over a decade of daring pictures that use the conventions of fashion — its colors, shapes, textures and tropes — and sculpts them into dazzling compositions that are entirely Sassen’s own. As Charlotte Cotton puts it in her insightful essay accompanying the book, Sassen’s pictures are “timely and incendiary.”
“Cut Shaving” (Fw:Books), by Jaap Scheeren
Playful, witty and wholly original photographs by the Dutch artist Jaap Scheeren. Consider, for example, a portrait of a male figure, standing on a plain background, wrapped entirely in gold mylar except for the hair on top of his head. The picture’s title? “The day I almost killed Stuart — 2008.” Presumably by suffocation in the name of art.
“Dark Knees” (LE BAL), by Mark Cohen
The whole picture is always somehow just outside the frame in Mark Cohen’s frenetic documentations of life in Wilkes-Barre and Eastern Pennsylvania. Maybe he is too caught up snapping the pattern of an overcoat or the casual gesture of a passerby, a chunk of snow melting on the street or the shadow cast by a few apples sitting on a newspaper. But the Pennsylvania he sees — in photographs that span decades, mostly in black and white, with snatches of color — is raw and captivating.
“War/Photography: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath” (Yale University Press), by Anne Wilkes Tucker and Will Michels with Natalie Zelt
The result of 10 years of research, this book, published to accompany an exhibition that first appeared at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, is the most comprehensive compilation of great war photography in recent memory.
“Bill Brandt Nudes: A New Perspective” (Thames & Hudson)
Brandt photographed his first nude in the 1930s and continued this work — obsessively exploring the female body — throughout his life. “Bill Brandt Nudes: A New Perspective” collects these pictures into one volume.
“A Period of Juvenile Prosperity” (Twin Palms), by Mike Brodie
A modern-day Kerouac with a camera. Or maybe Huck Finn. Brodie’s photographs of his cross-country rambles mostly by train-hopping, are epic, romantic, often gross and sometimes insane.
“Mother” (Prestel), by Elinor Carucci
Beginning with her pregnancy and spanning nearly a decade, Elinor Carucci photographed herself and her family in a deeply personal series. Carucci takes the most familiar subject matter — a missing tooth, a first haircut, a brother and sister fighting — and infuses it with mystery and danger. Carucci photographs motherhood as we have never seen it before.
“Still Lifes, Portraits and Parts” (Mörel), by Daniel Gordon
A disembodied hand. A peach pit. A blue eye. A lily. These are some of the images Daniel Gordon found, printed, cut out, stuck together, rephotographed and otherwise appropriated to make the images in “Still Lifes, Portrait and Parts.” Eva Respini likens his process to “a kind of analog photoshop” in her accompanying essay. He takes the most classical of artistic forms and reinvents them. What comes through to the viewer is Gordon’s gleefully vivid palette and the tactile pleasure of his constructed portraits and still life images.
Each year, a few books have passionate advocates in the photo department but do not make the top 10. This year, we asked each photo editor to select one such book as a juror’s choice and explain what they love about it.
“Dalston Anatomy” (SPBH Editions), by Lorenzo Vitturi
“Dalston Anatomy” (SPBH Editions), by Lorenzo Vitturi
The most vibrant book published this year surely has to be Lorenzo Vitturi’s “Dalston Anatomy.” Starting with the cover, which is made of a colorful African fabric that feels good in your hands, this book is an explosion of sensuous, eye-poppingly colorful pictures of the people and things found at the Ridley Road Market. Vitturi piles up fruits and vegetables into fulgent sculptures that in their varying states of decay celebrate the extraordinary beauty to be found in detritus. Interspersed with these sculptural images are pictures of people and scenes at the market, as well as printed portraits onto which Vitturi has placed unexpected objects on the sitters’ faces, always in the service of provoking a lively dance of color. This medley of hot pinks, bright greens, cobalt blues and vivid reds, has to be one of the most joyful books to come along in a long time. There is a reason it is on so many top 10 lists. —Kathy Ryan
“Sketch of Paris” (Aperture), by J.H. Engstrom
Twenty years of photos taken in Paris and, thankfully, nary a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. Engstrom’s photos are more about the unseen Paris. Scary, tough, smoking-cigarettes-and-partying-hard Paris. This book is a sensory overload of full-bleed photos, mixing black and white with color effortlessly. It’s a diary of a life lived very, very . . . interestingly. — Amy Kellner
“The Non-Conformists” (Aperture), by Martin Parr
Who knew Parr started his career taking thoughtful black-and-white pictures of small town life in England? “The Non-Conformists” was Parr’s first body of work after graduating from art school in 1975. But among the images of sheep grazing, grouse hunting and churchgoing, are glimpses of the humor we now so strongly associate with Parr. — Stacey Baker
“Resort 1,” by Anna Fox
I feel rather sheepish admitting that I’d never heard of the photographer Anna Fox before. I paged through “Resort 1” with delight. Its beautiful, large-format color photographs capture families vacationing in West Sussex at a Butlin’s resort, part of a 77-year-old British chain. They swim at Splash Waterworld, play in Billy’s Buddies toddlers’ play area, eat at Bar Rosso and enjoy a theatrical performance of “Bob the Builder.” Fox’s influences include the British documentary tradition as well as American New Colorist photographers. I also think there’s a similarity between her approach and that of the Swedish photographer Lars Tunbjork: ironic detachment with just the right amount of whimsy. — Joanna Milter
“Food” (Post Editions), by Henk Wildschut
Henk Wildschut’s two-year documentation of the food industry in The Netherlands is a frank, unapologetic look at the space between farm and table. The pictures are straightforwad records of the processes, products and by-products of food production. A great documentary project, smartly presented. — Clinton Cargill
“Bright Nights: Photographs of Another New York” (Prestel), By Tod Seelie
Tod Seelie shows a gritty New York through images taken beginning in 1999. Seelie’s photographs explore underground parties, warehouses, vacant lots, street scenes and hideaways that make us think about all the subcultures that mostly remain unseen. — Gabrielle Plucknette