Best Photo Books: April 2022 | popular photography
This month we’re looking at a wide range of photo books. Mika Horie’s cyanotypes present the world in blue; Stephen Shore’s memoirs look back on his long career; Zora J Murff explores darkness in America; Stephen Gill’s Photos of Birds on a Pillar present a new take on wildlife photography; a presentation of 3D images from the dawn of photography gives a glimpse of what could have been; and Walker Evans’ classic photos of Americans in depression remain relevant.
Mika Horie, Trees, Water and light — 120 pages, softcover (IBASHO & the(M) editions)
Cyanotypes are among the oldest photographic techniques. Using iron salts, these prints are exposed to ultraviolet light and grow very slowly. Light and shadow are shown in gradations of monochromatic blues. Photographer Mika Horie’s book is constructed from Japanese paper that she handcrafted, and with an original print on the cover, each copy of the book is different.
Horie says, “Blue has the effect of escaping time and material possessions floating in the past, present and future. I believe it’s the only color that allows you to escape from yourself and enter your world of poetry and memories deep in your heart. Monochrome blue cyanotypes suggest rather than show; printed on handmade, roughly cut paper, the photos take on a hazy earthy look, one of speculation rather than firmly fixed images.
While Modern instances contains photos, it’s not exactly a photo book. It is a memoir, a collection of thoughts and interviews, and a look back at Stephen Shore’s long career as a photographer. Shore is well known for his images of everyday objects and mundane scenes, and in this book he talks about his influences, experiences, and what photography means to him.
Shore says, “One of the reasons I was drawn to everyday life photography is that the everyday world is fertile ground for communicating the experience of living mindfully. A dramatic event acts on you. Being mindful on a daily basis requires you to take action. In this book, he explains how he sees the world, and we can learn from him to see the world with new eyes.
True Colors (or, Affirmations in a Crisis) is “a chronicle of survival”, which combines Murff’s photos with found and appropriated images, and a number of texts commissioned for the book. Described as “a manual for coming to terms with the historical and contemporary realities of America’s privilege and caste division structures,” this book catalogs the black experience and juxtaposes contemporary imagery with historic photos, advertisements, and more.
Murff asks, “What does it mean to be engaged in this act of photography that has been used to denigrate me? A former social worker, he brings his experience of working with minors on probation to this exploration of Blackness in America.
Stephane Gil, The pillar — 224 pages, hardcover (Nobody Books)
Sometimes the most striking photo books are based on very simple premises. Stephen Gill set up a camera looking at a pillar, which was next to a stream in a flat, open landscape in Sweden, near his home. You see the open fields, the houses in the distance, and the subtle vanishing point of the stream. The seasons change, the weather comes and goes and the light varies. Meanwhile, birds come to perch on the pillar.
Gill says: “The pillar had channeled the birds of the sky giving them a place to rest, feed, nurse their young and look around. I was captivated. The images were often chaotic, the birds staggered and clumsy like contortionists, but the shapes and smooth lines made by their bodies and wings were striking.
The pillar attracted many species of birds: sparrows, eagles, owls, egrets, etc. These are not just photographs of birds, not the type of images you see on calendars or postcards, but birds captured standing still or in mid-flight with a camera triggered by a motion sensor. The pillar, now back in print, is filled with those incidental camera-captured moments that seem much more alive and dynamic than most bird photographs. These photos speak of the changing landscape and the creatures that live there as they come and go, sharing our world.
Denis Pellerin and Brian May, STEREOSCOPY – The dawn of 3-D — 216 pages, hardcover (London Stereoscopic Company)
In the early days of photography, two types of images vied for supremacy: flat images and stereoscopic 3D images. The latter used a sort of porto virtual reality goggle (the stereoscope) that held together two slightly different photos (the stereogram). These give the viewer the illusion of depth. First theorized by Charles Wheatstone in 1832, before the dawn of photography, the stereoscope became popular when David Brewster invented a portable viewer in the 1840s. Over the following decades, these devices helped popularize the photography, although their use has faded over time.
This book, written by art historians Denis Pellerin and Brian May, explains the process and technology behind 3D photos. It also features photos from the May collection. The book comes with an OWL stereoscope, designed by May, who also has a doctorate in astrophysics, to view some of the 150 stereoscopic images it contains.
Walker Evans, American photographs — 208 pages, hardcover (Museum of Modern Art)
First published by the Museum of Modern Art in 1938 to coincide with one of the museum’s first photo exhibitions, Walker Evans’ American photographs is a classic of its time. In the foreword to the second edition of the book, published in 1962, Monroe Wheeler, director of museum publications, wrote: “It revealed a new master of the camera who expressed the tragic meaning and troubled awareness of this period of economic depression and political change, although in mood and style it was more thoughtful than tendentious.
These photos – portraits, street photographs, photos of houses and towns – show America during the Depression, and many of them have become symbolic of that time. Over the years, as America emerged from these difficult times, these photos bear witness to the harsh times. The juxtaposition of photos showing homeless people sleeping in front of buildings with photos of couples out on Coney Island highlights the disparities Americans face, some of which have not changed since then.