Photobooks of 2015: Mark Power

Songbook

Next to share his photobook picks from the past 12 months is photographer Mark Power. In alphabetical order they are:

1. Missing Buildings – Thom and Beth Atkinson (Hwaet Books, London)

 

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A simple idea beautifully realised. The pictures are faultless in execution, the design is elegant and appropriate, and David Chandler’s essay is eloquent and thought-provoking. For a first book this is a triumph. Now for the difficult second album…!

 

2.  Prophet – Geert Goiris (Roma Publications, Amsterdam)

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I’m a huge fan of Goiris, although most of the time I struggle to understand what his work is about. He’s hard to categorise and his sequencing seems utterly random but, through it all, a unique kind of authorship shines through and every picture, when looked at on its own, is just wonderful. Even though they’re all so different I can always recognise one of his photographs, which I guess is the highest praise.
 

3. Lago – Ron Jude (Mack, London)

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For me, this is even better than ‘Lick Creek Line’, Jude’s seminal book from 2012. A fact/fiction retracing of childhood memories at an unnamed lake in the Californian desert (I want to believe it’s the Salton Sea) the book is more about an intimate relationship with the landscape than with the sparse community that lives upon it, although traces of human marks on the surface are omnipresent. Jude has the enviable ability to be able to photograph virtually anything and make it seem extraordinary, and his picture of the telegraph pole with two wires hanging loose just might be my favourite photograph of the year.

 

4. Unfinished Father – Erik Kessels (RVB Books, Paris)

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This is a sad little book, its pathos emphasised by Kessels’ short but poignant text. For makers of ‘To Do’ lists everywhere, it’s a reminder that we’ll never finish everything because, one day, time will run out on us all. There are loose stickers inserted for the reader to complete the empty pages, but not enough, so the book itself will also remain unfinished.

 

5. Nude Animal Cigar – Paul Kooiker (Art Paper Editions, Ghent)

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This just makes me laugh. It’s a bizarre concept, sequencing nudes, animals, cigars, nudes, animals, cigars, nudes, etc, etc for a couple of hundred pages but, really, it’s just great. And better still when we learn that Kooiker himself made all these pictures in the last five years and that they are not – as we might assume from first impressions – found photographs dating back a hundred years.

 

6. Imperial Courts 1993-2015 – Dana Lixenberg (Roma Publications, Amsterdam)

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Twenty-two years in the making, this is an epic body of work about one tiny community in Los Angeles. We see the characters grow from children into adults and have kids of their own, while others pass away, or disappear. At the back there’s a useful ‘pictorial family tree’ to help make sense of it all, but it really doesn’t matter. Most remarkable are Lixenberg’s sustained engagement with this downtrodden, under-resourced community, and the quality of so many of her portraits.
 

7. Good 70s – Mike Mandel (J&L Books, New York)

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What a treat! Those mythical little book projects I’d heard so much about but never seen – Seven Never Before Published Portraits of Edward Weston, Myself: Time Exposed, and of course the Baseball Photographer Trading Cards, are all here, with others, reproduced as facsimiles and housed in a Agfa Brovira box. Mandel is either stark raving bonkers or a genius… but he’s surely both.
 

8. The Black Rose – Trent Parke (Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide)

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Back in 2007 a few Magnum buddies thought it might be fun to send each other pictures from home – our families, our everyday lives, our local landscape – so we could learn a little more about each other. Trent led this worthy endeavour from the very beginning, sending lengthy emails with intimate confessions, each ‘illustrated’ with extraordinary photographs. It wasn’t long before the rest of us agreed that Trent was the most naturally gifted photographer among us (and I’m including Goldberg, Soth, Subotzky and others here). His work came like a tidal wave: a six-month period when we all received a daily picture of the sunset seen from the beach at the bottom of his garden; every fish he’d caught for tea, laid out in intricate patterns on the sand; and ever more elaborate sculptures made for the camera. The Black Rose is the result of his monumental project, and although the book doesn’t come close to the excitement (or trepidation) of yet another Parke email, or to the hugely ambitious exhibition in Adelaide, there are so many pictures inside its covers that are nothing like we’ve seen before… it just has to be included in my list.

 

9. Until Death do us Part – Thomas Sauvin (Jiazazhi Books, Tokyo)

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So cute, yet so disturbing. It’ll be a long time before I forget the picture of the smoking baby.
 

10. Moises – Mariela Sancari (La Fabrica, Madrid)

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Another sad book, a cry for closure on the early death of Sancari’s father and the body she wasn’t allowed to see. Photographing men the age her father would be if he were alive today, and dressed in his clothes, might sound macabre, but it’s done with such sincerity that we empathise completely. The picture of one old man (presumably a stranger) brushing the artist’s hair is heartbreaking and, in the end, we can only hope the whole exercise was therapeutic. The innovative design interleaves pages from left and right, like a kind of puzzle.

 

11. Songbook – Alec Soth (Mack, London)

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I know we’d already seen the pictures in Soth’s various ‘Dispatches’, but who cares? Every single one grabs and holds our attention – so much complexity behind a veneer of simplicity – and the sequencing is evidence of a master at the top of his game. It’s been said he’s the most important visual chronicler of contemporary America working today and it’s easy to agree; a couple of years ago, in another list of best books, I wrote that Soth leads while the rest of us follow… and he’s still holding the flag.

 

12. Greetings from Auschwitz – Pawel Szypulski (Editions Patrick Frey, Zurich/Foundation for Visual Arts, Krakow)

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Szypulski, a fascinating Polish artist and curator, spent several years searching through junk-shops for postcards sent by tourists visiting Auschwitz, and this book features the best of his considerable collection. There’s something unnerving about these matter-of-fact messages, which contravene the expected response to this darkest of subjects. Instead, this is a ‘social memory of the Holocaust… entirely different from the memory that is present in high art and scientific discourse’. Some cards have their stamps removed (or part-removed), a homage to a great tradition of stamp-collecting under Communist rule. You can still buy postcards in the Auschwitz ‘giftshops’ today, by the way.

Mark Power is a photographer and the author of several books. He is a member of Magnum and is the Professor of Photography at the University of Brighton.

A selection of books from the Photobooks of 2015 feature can be purchased here.