Interesting Artist and Photographic Books for 2020

As in years past, we have been providing a short list of artist books and photographic books we have found to be very interesting. These are books that we continue to return to engage with again and again. Our selection derives from books with intriguing photographic content, brilliant project concepts, and excellent book designs that support the artist/photographer’s intent in conjunction with spot-on production qualities; the books that are the most interesting have a delightful combination of all of these creative, if not critical, elements.

Our editorial staff — this year consisting of Douglas Stockdale, Gerhard Clausing, Wayne Swanson, Melanie Chapman, Steve Harp, and Debe Arlook — has chosen a list of twelve noteworthy photobooks that we wish to call to your attention, chosen from among all the other excellent work reviewed or about to be reviewed this year.

For our editorial team’s selection, we have limited ourselves to the artist books and photobooks that we received with time to really evaluate the book object in its entirety. I have readily admitted in the past we do not have access to every photobook that was published during the year, thus our list is not meant to be in any way inclusive. Our list is also not meant be the “Best” photobooks of 2020, but rather that we have selected some of our more interesting photobooks that might warrant your consideration and time.

Our list includes the following artists and photographers: Steven Berkham, Kathleen Y. Clark, Yukari Chikura, Sarah Hadley, Ian Howorth, Jamie Johnson, Dieter Keller, Hannah Kozak, Sal Taylor Kydd, Vera Lutter, Tatsuo Suzuki, and Cristiano Volk.

We have published commentaries for most of these books, which are linked-up below. It is our intent to finish publishing reviews of the remaining titles, as noted below, shortly. We hope you enjoy these as much as we have. 

In alphabetic order by last name:

Stephen Berkman – Predicting The Past – Zohar Studios: The Lost Years

Creating a panoramic and humorous view of American life in the second half of the 1800s, channeled by a mythical nineteenth-century Jewish immigrant studio photographer. A massive and immense assemblage of history with necessary fictions.

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Kathleen Y. Clark – The White House China  

This project is a novel approach to political visualization; using collages, it merges depictions of historical events that are often conveniently overlooked (slavery, decimation of native inhabitants, etc.) with the formal dinnerware of the White House. The idea is clever and subversive, the execution is excellent, and it provides a thought-provoking look at the contrast between the idealized national identity and reality.

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Yukari Chikura – Zaido

An introspective and touching story, brilliant book design and printing with attention to every detail, a trade book that emulates a beautiful artist book. The narrative is very touching and utilizes wonderful sequencing with photography that I think successfully illustrates the photographer’s concept.

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Sarah Hadley – Lost Venice

A delightful collection of haunting photographs in which she creates a narrative that enables the reader to contemplate relationships and individuals that resulted in solitary journeys.

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Ian Howorth – Arcadia 

A well-executed narrative asking where is each person’s paradise “where does one really belong” done by a photographer from Peru now living in Britain.

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Jamie Johnson – Growing Up Travelling

Both an intimate look at a misunderstood community and a touching look at the universal joys and challenges of childhood. Johnson’s rapport with the Travellers puts her subjects at ease, and as a result the images are both natural and well-composed.

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Dieter Keller – The Eye of War / Das Auge des Krieges

A well-edited photobook, closely observing the horrors of war, exquisitely photographed during World War II.

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Hannah Kozak – He Threw the Last Punch Too Hard

This project is a well-designed approach to the major problem of domestic violence, making effective use of background material, updated documentation, and the role of the photographer/daughter.

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Sal Taylor Kydd – Landfall

A quiet introspective book that incorporates her photographs and poems in a layered book design that beautifully resonates with her artwork. Understated, elegant and wonderful to hold and read. Her poems are printed on reverse of a French-fold semi-translucent vellum sheet, such that reading her poetry is similar to experiencing words that are lost in a gentle fog.

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Vera Lutter – Museum in the Camera

Lutter’s work is that rare combination of visually beautiful (sublime would be a better word), conceptually challenging (“good to think with,” to use Claude Levi-Strauss’ phrase) and continually surprising, perhaps odd, given the fact that throughout her career Lutter has become known for creating similar, large scale, camera obscura imagery.

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Tatsuo Suzuki – Friction / Tokyo Street

The book is very well edited, and the black and white images are dynamic. The simplest way to describe this body of work is “A Japanese version of Robert Frank’s The Americans, in which the public faces of bustling Tokyo street life are contrasted with images of the unfortunate, the lonely, the homeless, the lost, for whom time has slowed or even stopped.”

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Cristiano VolkMélaina Cholé

A compelling visual presentation of a world that is out of sorts; Volk gives us much to contemplate by relating minute everyday details and symbols to our universal challenges.

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Articles and photographs published on PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s).

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