I had thought that I hadn’t bought that many photography books this year (2017), but on checking it appears that I have! To that end I’ve done a (very) small review of some of the books I’ve bought over the course of 2017 – I’m in no way a skilled commentator on photography, I just like what I see and hope that I can articulate that well enough. All in print photography books can be bought from Beyond Words, the books on geography can be bought on Amazon and the out of print books may be found on abebooks.co.uk.
The photographs are intended as a guide only to give you a feel for each book – they are purposefully low quality to improve download times as there are 34 photographs on this page.
If you have any comments or feedback, please feel free to add them at the bottom, and don’t forget you can follow me on Facebook and Twitter following the links below. 🙂
In this self published book Ted Leeming and Morag Patterson limited themselves to one single position outside of their studio in the South West of Scotland. With a forward by Joe Cornish this book has remarkably varied photography considering the challenge they set themselves. With subtle hues and such varied photography you never suffer from image fatigue of thinking that you’ve already seen that shot before as you do with a lot of photography books these days.
Wonderful, varied, subtle, eco-friendly
“Healing” by Colin Bell is very much a labour of love. Self published by Colin, it is a study of the places where humanity has left its mark on the landscape and nature reclamation of it. With a foreword by Joe Cornish (is Joe this year’s Robert Macfarlane? 🙂 ), Colin’s book covers such areas as Hodge Close, Holme Fell (just above Hodge) , the Delamere Forest and Thirlmere – which some of you may recognise from Star Wars : The Force Awakens.
Throughout the book there is dotted poetry by Dom Colon, written is response to Colin’s photography.
Classic views mixed with intimate details, lovely cover
“Abruzzo” photographed by Michael Kenna and curated by Vincenzo de Pompies. I have a confession to make, that despite Michael Kenna’s prolific nature this is my first book of his. Well known for his long exposure shots, particularly of Japan, this book instead looks at the Abruzzo region of Italy and Kenna’s time there between 2015 and 2016.
With proper blacks and whites (and shadows!), my old photography tutor would have been pleased. With the Abruzzo area being in many ways an uncharted photographic territory with no honeypots or clichés, everything is new and fresh. My particular favourite is “Gathering Clouds, Casoli, Abruzzo, Italy. 2016”.
Black and White, Classic
Strange and Familiar
“Strange and Familiar” edited by Alona Pardo and Martin Parr. A hefty tome of observational photography of the British from the 1930’s through until the present day. Taken by some of the most recognised international “street” photographers of the day, it is an interesting reflection on how others see “us” over the decades. From the upper classes, to miners, to royal coronations to the slums of Glasgow.
Not to be missed is the section on Paul Strand, complete with some of his work taken in South Uist, in the Outer Hebrides, during the 1950’s, particularly if you can’t get a hold of a copy of his book “The Hebrides”.
A great “best bits” of, great value, street photography
Zhang Kechun’s “Yellow River” is a wonderfully tactile book with its printed cloth cover. Zhang has followed the course of the Huang He (Yellow River) documenting the land and the people around it using his large format Linhof camera. By over exposing and removing any detail in the sky, he has developed a consistent style throughout the book that conveys a profound sense of melancholy, juxtaposed against the continuing industrial growth of this large and continually evolving country.
A lovely photobook with a sense of melancholy
William Neill – Retrospective
William Neill is an American photographer who is lucky enough to live in the Yosemite National Park. As a consequence in his career spanning over 30 years, a lot of his photography is of this beautiful areas. In the massive 221 page book produced by Triplekite, Neill shares with us some of his work dating back over 30 years. The photography is magnificent, ranging from classic views of Yosemite to more intimate studies of plant life in Hawaii. Split in to a number of chapters, each with its own preface written by Neill, the book is a tour de force of American landscape photography.
If you have the opportunity look out for some of Neill’s earlier books; “Yosemite – The Promise of Wildness” and “Landscapes of the Spirit”
Great Value, Well Produced, Varied
Books on the Landscape
Going out on a (related) tangent, this year I have read a lot about the land and geography of Britain. This started with “Hidden Histories – A Spotters Guide to the British Landscape”, written by Mar-Ann Ochota, who you may remember from the latter series of Time Team. As the title suggests, it is very much a bit of a spotters guide as to why things are the way they are in the landscape; from Roman Roads, to enclosed fields (and why some have a curve at the end!). Packed with useful reference photographs and drawings to re-enforce the points made, this book is very accessible and a useful addition to any landscape photographer’s book collection.
Building on the theme of why the land is the way it is Francis Pryor’s (also of Time Team fame) book “The Making of the British Landscape” explains in narrative form the history and the geography of the British Landscape. An informative and accessible read, Pryor freely admits that his inspiration was W.G. Hoskins’ “The Making of the English Landscape”. A slightly dated book, given away by some of the language used, this book, published in 1955 talks passionately about the English Landscape and how we find it in the state we do now. Perhaps a little romantic/nostalgic at times, this book is for me the primer on how our land is the way it is.
Another book to claim inspiration from Hoskins’ book is the perhaps (by now) unoriginally named “The Making of the British Landscape” by Nicholas Crane (him of red waterproof and brolly on “Coast” fame). I have to admit that I have not finished reading this book – I gave up on it. I found myself getting quite frustrated with the style of writing that dealt with flighty ideas as opposed to hard facts. All made worse for me when I had already read in detail (in the other books) about what he was trying to (and with me failing to) convey in his book.
Inscape by John Blakemore, is far from being a new book being first published in 1991. I acquired this book second hand and it really stands out for me because of the quality of the printing. If you can get a copy, do so, to marvel at the tonality of the black and white prints. As ever with Blakemore there are some tulip shots, but in this book he extends his talents to landscape and seascape photography as well – amongst other things. All executed with an attention to detail and an eye for the subtle.
“Simply” by Peter Dombrovskis is a compilation of the work of this Australian photographer following his death, accompanied by a number of essays on his work. The book focuses mainly on Tasmania, where Dombrovskis earned his reputation as a campaigner to protect and preserve the Tasmanian landscape. (Some of the work included does extend to other areas such as mainland Australia and Borneo).
Most of his work is defined by his shooting in soft light, perhaps in conditions where most other photographers wouldn’t get the camera out of the bag. Indeed, with some of his work, he would head out on his own on multi day treks to take the shots he wanted. Tim Parkin touches on the most recent Dombrovkis book here. I have a feeling that Dombrovkis is at risk of becoming the photographic equivalent of Jeff Buckley, where there seems to be more work published (and re-published) posthumously than there was in his lifetime.
That said, this would be an excellent addition to anyone’s photobook collection.
On Photography Books
Photobooks are for me a thing of beauty. Something physical and tactile to hold on to in an increasingly virtualised world. In that world I am a sucker for a cloth bound book. IA photobook is an opportunity to view other people’s work as they would want you to see it in a carefully thought out book, instead of as a tweet or “pinned” on someone’s board out of context.
There is an increasing trend towards self publishing, where photographers have taken on the task of not only taking the photographs but also designing, marketing, packaging and posting them as well. Kudos must go to Colin Bell who did all of this for his book “Healing” and managed to get a perfectly timed interview in Outdoor Photographer magazine. All of which would have helped in ensuring the success of the book and made sure it sold out. I say this not to diminish Colin’s achievement, but to highlight the planning and hard work that has to be undertaken to ensure that a self published book becomes a success.
Where photobooks haven’t been an immediate success, I’ve seen a number of them being discounted. Which is every photographer’s prerogative – its their book, its their investment in time and money. However, as a buyer of photobooks to see a book you bought for £35 drop to £25 within 2 months and another drop from £25 to £10 within a year is disheartening. Quite honestly it leaves me feeling like a bit of a mug and that my support for self published books is being taken advantage of. The supporters, followers and friends of a photographer are going to be the ones buying the book when it first comes out and it is they, it is becoming apparent to me, are the ones that end up paying the most.
Yes, balance has to be found . Stock cluttering the hallway at home and the need to recover the outlay in a reasonable time (not necessarily to make a profit) all drives the need to sell. Is the cause of this down to a lack of planning? People looking to economies of scale of a 500 book print run, where a smaller run, may in the long term be more beneficial?
One thing is for certain, having seen it happen a couple of times this year (2017), I’m going to be more cautious when buying self published books. It is a shame as there are people out there that I would love to support, even if their photography isn’t my “thing”. However, its got to the point for me where quite frankly its taking the piss out of people’s goodwill to treat the bookbuyer with such contempt to think that bookbuyers will keep buying a photographer’s work if they devalue it themselves with such prompt and aggressive discounting.
There is a bit of me that thinks that the problem is in part down to that, particularly in terms of self published photobooks, the UK market has reached saturation point. There is a finite number of people that will buy photobooks, but increasingly there are more and more books out there of varying quality, quantity and appeal. With more and more books chasing the same people, unless the book is truly standout (or well marketed! (or both)) then it is likely to be a long game to sell all the stock, unless of course they start to be discounted.
On quality, one thing I have learnt to appreciate this year is a photobook that can actually open flat without having to annoyingly hold a page down to stop it from closing – particularly where the photograph goes across two pages. This in some instances is down to the amount of glue used to bind the book and the glue has seeped and in others down to the weight of the papers used. Missing such things (or just ignoring them), particularly in those books that claim to be fine art or artisan is in many ways a lack of true substance over any claimed style – or putting it another way it results in a poor user experience for something people have paid for.
I realise I sound like a complete grump, but I think for me it comes down to this – if you claim you are an artisan or a fine art photographer (and by inference the maker of a quality product) or take genuine pride in your work, then produce a quality product and don’t pass something of lesser quality off as artisan. Don’t devalue your work by discounting it and alienating your buyers – its better to work out what price your market will bear and price it accordingly with the long term in mind and not the quick sale – and if your market won’t bear the price – don’t do it.
Apologies – what started off as a lightweight book review of some of the books I’ve bought this year has become a bit of rant/shouting in to the wind at what I feel about the state of self publishing in the UK.
What are your thoughts? Am I just being a grump? Is there another way of looking at things? Please comment below.