Overall, 2022 was another strong year for photobooks. There were self-published works that stood toe-to-toe with new releases from the heavy hitters, rediscovered bodies of work from past decades, and comprehensive artist retrospectives, not to mention several book-length essays exploring the nature of photography. As always, it’s an impossible task to choose the best, but here, in no particular order, are five that stood out.
Baldwin Lee by Baldwin Lee (Hunters Point Press)
Surprisingly, the book that probably made the largest impact this past year is a self-titled monograph, the first from University of Tennessee photography professor Baldwin Lee. In the 1980s, he documented Black life across the American South using a 4×5 view camera, but until recently, that body of work remained largely unseen.
At first glance, Baldwin Lee is an unassuming book from an almost completely unknown photographer. Flip through the pages and its significance becomes clear very quickly. Lee studied with Minor White and Walker Evans, and their influences can be felt in these images. Yet, the work is very uniquely the photographer’s own testament and vision. These are powerful, sensitive, and above all intelligent images that convey ideas rooted in racial and social justice without ever seeming didactic, heavy-handed, exploitative or cliche. There’s much more that can be said about this incredible work–in fact, a ton of ink has been spilled about it over the past few months –but the bottom line is, if you only seek out one book off this list, this is the one.
Cue The Sun by Trent Parke (Stanley/Barker)
Lee established relationships with the people he photographed as he traveled across the American South. Magnum photographer Trent Parke went a different route in his latest book, Cue The Sun. The work was made in northern India in 2020, just before the pandemic. Parke’s images hue closely to a street photography aesthetic. The hook is that every photograph was taken from the window of a moving vehicle, utilizing fast shutter speeds.
The result is a kind of visual travel diary. It’s also a creative exercise in image-making with constraints placed on movement and framing. What makes Cue The Sun worthy of inclusion on this list is the amount of thought and reflection on the photographic process that it can provoke. Specifically, on how much photographers rely on split-second reactions (not to mention instinct and muscle memory) when striving to create meaningful work, and just how fast the creative process happens when photographing, compared to other mediums. What’s more, it reveals how a fraction of a second is all the time that people need to establish an emotional connection or rapport with someone or something.
It’s also an exercise in bookmaking. The work folds out, concertina-style, and separates into two back-to-back sequences: photos taken during the daytime and photos taken at night (when Parke cued his flash, blasting everything outside his window with direct light). This format helps the body of work come together in a way that resembles a journey in and of itself.
The Unseen Saul Leiter edited by Margit Erb and Michael Parillo (Thames and Hudson)
It’s hard to believe there was a time when, like Baldwin Lee, acclaimed photographer Saul Leiter worked in relative anonymity. But that was the case until about 15 years ago. Since his passing, the Saul Leiter Foundation has continued to curate and catalog his vast archive of Kodachrome slides taken on the streets of New York dating back to the 1950s.
Essays by Foundation director Margit Erb and associate director Michael Parillo, offers a window into their curation, preservation, and restoration process. Visually, they provide glimpses of the process as well. Open the book and you encounter several photos of a slideshow projection inside Leiter’s former studio, where the Foundation is headquartered, as well as a montage of slides arranged on a light table printed full bleed. Like old 45 records, these vintage Kodachrome slides, in mounts that sometimes feature handwritten notes from the photographer, are themselves art objects.
But it’s the images on those slides that are truly astounding. The Unseen Saul Leiter unearths 76 color street photographs from Leiter’s vast archive that are as strong and innovative as his other known works. His dynamic compositions make masterful and evocative use of color, blurred reflections, rain-drenched abstractions, wide apertures and slow shutter speeds. These atmospheric photos are presented with black borders instead of white–a nod to the slideshow experience.
Refractions 2 by Ralph Gibson (Brilliant Editions)
In 2005, Ralph Gibson published Refractions, a compendium of insights into the theory and practice of photography. 17 years later, he continues this exploration with a follow-up, aptly titled Refractions 2. Gibson is as insightful here as he was the first time around, going deep into a range of topics. He writes lucidly about the photographic process, visual culture in the digital age, and artistic ways of seeing in general. His written reflections are complemented by gorgeous reproductions of his photos (along with other artwork), including a number of images from his highly regarded Black Trilogy. Like its predecessor (which is sadly out of print), it is at once a manifesto, a memoir, a philosophical treatise, and a how-to guide.
Some Say Ice by Alessandra Sanguinetti (MACK)
Although it’s not a direct sequel, Some Say Ice is, in a sense, a kind of spiritual sequel. Inspired by social historian Michael Lesy’s 1973 cult classic, Wisconsin Death Trip, Sanguinetti spent eight years exploring the environs of Black River Falls Wisconsin, working in the shadow of late 19th Century photographer Charles Van Schaick. As we wrote in our review, “There’s almost an occult feel to some of the images in Some Say Ice and the entire body of work seems haunted by the specters of the past.” Sanguinetti’s monograph is a rumination on the passing of time, existence and mortality, and photography’s potential for interweaving history and memory.
There are many other photobooks that deserve mentioning as well, but these are five that I find myself returning to most often.
And that’s a wrap for 2022! A huge thank you to all of our readers as we finish out our first full year at The Parallax Review. More to come as we expand in 2023!