Photobooks of 2018: Sarah Allen
A handful of the books that caught my eye this year:
Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness by Zanele Muholi
Zanele Muholi’s much anticipated first monograph. Drawing together many of the visual activist’s theatrical self-portraits made using props, the book interrogates what it means to be black and lesbian in South Africa and beyond. Masterful handling of sequence, white space and printing combine to create a book of incredible power and beauty. The variety of voices in the varied text contributions reinforce the activist nature of Muholi’s work.
My Birth by Carmen Winant
My birth intersperses images of the artist’s mother giving birth to her three children with found images of anonymous women also giving birth. The collaged world created in the book is punctuated by an intuitive handling of text. From page to page emotions heighten as the women moves closer towards the moment of birth. A brave, honest and unflinching reflection on an experience that is shared by so many yet often hidden from view.
Halfstory Halflife by Raymond Meeks
This book brings together images of young men jumping into a river in the Catskill mountain region of New York. The design and printing of this book transforms a humble subject into something much more meditative and poetic. The project calls to mind Siskind’s iconic Pleasures and Terrors of Levitation but unlike Siskind this is less a study in abstract shape and form and more rooted in a sense of place.
The Pyramids and the Palm Trees Test by Bruno v Roels
The book considers the relationship between meaning and images – looking specifically at pyramids and palms trees – two forms that are considered to be universally understood regardless of differences in language, culture or geography. A minimalist and elegant production and fantastic to see Roel’s take his signature subject-matter of the palms tree into book form.
One Wall a Web by Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa
This book combines photographs taken by the artist, text and archival images to ask questions related to racism and gendered violence in America. Flowing from a “mixture of rage, incomprehension, reverie, deep-seated fear and very, very fragile hope” the project gathers together two of the artist’s photographic series made in the USA ‘Our Present Invention’ and ‘All My Gone Life’ along with two text collages and an extended essay. An important book for fraught times.
On Abortion by Laia Abril
The first in what will a from a trilogy entitled A History of Misogyny, this book tackles the subject of illegal abortion. The product of deep investigation into the subject realised in a truly compelling mix of photographs, archival images and text. Its release is timely – in the midst of the MeToo movement and in light of recent changes in legislation around abortion, Ireland’s recent referendum for example. I have high hopes for the second installment in this series -On Rape Culture
Sarah Allen is Assistant Curator, International Art at Tate Modern where she works on exhibitions, displays and acquisitions. She has a specialist focus on photobooks and is currently working on a yet to be announced monographic photography exhibition programmed for 2020 at Tate Modern.
Images: top – Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness by Zanele Muholi, below – On Abortion by Laia Abril