A Photographic Mind

An inadequate explanation of my passion for photography

Recent Acquisitions (or A Photographic Mind’s 2017 Photobook List)

Here is the list of some of the favourites amongst my photobook acquisitions in 2017. These are mainly, but not all, published in 2017, and include some that I acquired in 2017 not having had the chance before. I am buying fewer photobooks nowadays, partly because I have in the past been buying older books for my collection as well as newly published ones. Of the newer books I am now looking at more on a limited range of subjects, particularly the major world problem of Inequality as portrayed by photographers. So, in no significant order:

“Imperial Courts”, Dana Lixenberg, Roma Publications, 2016
“Merrie Albion”, Simon Roberts, Dewi Lewis, 2017
“Small Town Inertia”, Jim Mortam, Bluecoat Press, 2017
“Photobook Phenomenon”, Moritz Neumuller (ed), RM CCCB/Fundacion Foto Colectania, 2017
“Incoming”, Richard Mosse, Mack, 2017
“IMMO Refugee”, Marco Tiberio, Defrost.ed, 2017
“Voices of the Tempest”, Adriana Groisman, Editiones Laviriere, 2016
“Looking for Alice”, Sian Davey, Trolley Books, 2015
“Exist to Resist”, Matthew Smith, Youth Club, 2017
“A Guide to Infrastructure and Corruption”, Alejandro Cartagena, The Velvet Cell, 2017
“Under a Grey Sky”, Simon Burch, Gallery of Photography, Dublin, 2009
“City of Rivers”, Maciej Leszczynski, Another Place Press, 2017

I went to the Deutsche Bourse Prize show at the Photographers Gallery and was blown away by the large format prints in Dana Lixenberg’s “Imperial Courts” project. I thought it by far the strongest work in the shortlist and was very pleasantly surprised when it was selected as the winner. Simon Roberts’ “Merrie Albion” is a demonstration not only of superb technique, particulary point of view and breadth of vision, but also a deep understanding of how the British psyche plays to the landscape, and the current tensions within our society.

I have been tracking Jim Mortram’s work for a few years and was delighted to have the opportunity to back this important photobook project on Kickstarter. The brilliantly titled “Small Town Inertia” was justifiably one of Kickstarter’s fastest fund raises of the year at 8 hours. It is saying something from a deeply personal long term experience point of view about the priorities of our politicians over the past seven years and the effects they have had on the most vulnerable members of our society.

Richard Mosse’s earlier work left me rather cold, as I felt that it was all concept and little content. The book “Incoming” however, moved me as the previous work hadn’t, and I go back to it frequently to get more from the impression it leaves, either as you flick through, or by engaging more intensely with a small group of the images at a time. Also about refugees, Marco Tiberio’s little estate agent like brochure “IMMO Refugee”, displaying available and desirable “properties” in Calais for people from many lands, was a great find at the photobook fair at Derby Format Photography Festival this year.

My friend Adriana Groisman’s massive “Voices of the Tempest” arrived early in 2017 and was the subject of another crowdfunding, raising a huge amount of money to produce this weighty tome, about a weighty subject. The juxtaposition of images of the Falklands/Malvinas landscapes with the portraits and stories from participants from both sides’ militaries is very powerful and moving indeed. It shows what humans fight over and the results of that predilection in sad detail.

By contrast, at the estimable Brighton based “Miniclick” photography group, I was introduced to Sian Davey’s delightful book “Looking for Alice”, about her Downs syndrome challenged daughter. This is a testament to the love that happens when parents have an atypical child and love him or her the more because of what they learn together about what it is to be human. Of course this is very close to home for me, as my own daughter Emily is autistic, and this year has been challenging for us in finally getting the state to fund an appropriate college placement, now that she is a young woman of 20. In a sense this issue, and those of the Mortram and Mosse and Lixenberg and Tiberio books, all tie in to the final book that I got this year – Matthew Smith’s “Exist to Resist”, which is a review of 30 years of protest and resistance to right wing goverment policy through the festival/subculture scene in the UK. It seems that governments do not naturally do the right thing; politicians wait until things are so bad and broken that they have to respond, or start to have serious social unrest.

Governments are also open to constant pressure from business interests, whether legal or not, as is depressingly well reported in Alejandro Cartgena’s little handbook, “A Guide to Infrastructure and Corruption”. This shows not just the results in Mexico of the direction of public money to unnecessary, unfinished and ill thought out infrastructure projects, but also, in the little appendix in the inserted booklet, the human tragedy of the responses to those who do push back against this process.

In 1982 I spent several months in China, when it was very closed to visitors and an alien society, which I documented in my first real photographic project. I spent some time in Chongqing, one of the cities that is now a huge megacity in the new China; so the lovely images in Maciej Leszczynski’s little book “City of Rivers” had an interest and appeal for me that was especially personal. I photographed some of these places 35 years ago. The joy of a small, very reasonably priced, book’s success in showing what would normally be printed as large as possible is one of the pleasures that I have had this year.

Not all my book purchases are new books; some are what we now try to think of as “pre-loved”. In contrast to “City of Rivers”, another view of man’s effect on the landscape, a particular concern of mine for some time, was in finding Simon Burch’s thoughtful book “Under a Grey Sky”, about the peat cutting fields in Ireland, as they closed down in response to falling demand. Sadly this came to me through the sale of Sue Steward’s book collection, after she died this year, and the book is more poignant for having a few little PostIts marking the images that she particularly responded to herself.

Lastly, in May I was very lucky to find myself on holiday in Barcelona when the amazing “Photobook Phenomenon” exhibition was on. Fortunately I was able to go back not just once, but twice, to fully take in the astonishingly well curated homage to the photobook, aptly much of it in a church-like cloister environment, that revered some of the icons of the genre, from some of the most important photobook collectors and photographers of the past 150 years. The catalogue is itself innovative and creative in its presentation of some of the concepts that the exhibition displayed and is well worth getting hold of if you are at all interested in the history and development of photobooks.

So my list of photobooks of 2017 is more a personal response to things that I have acquired in 2017, than an attempt to define the highlights of the photobook cannon. The context of my acquisitions includes our move to Brighton, where we are now settled very happily, although this has necessitated my culling my photobook collection by about half in physical terms – there will be an announcement of the auction catalogues in the New Year. Brighton has a lively and interesting photography scene and I have met some old friends again and am making many new ones. This is where I now hope to be able to do more, both with my personal photography projects, and in working with others on subjects where photography has the chance to make a difference to the world.

Have a great New Year in 2018.


Written by Robert Ashby

December 31, 2017 at 7:37 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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