Source Magazine: Thinking Through Photography - Issue 88

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The winter 2016 issue of Source is all about Photobooks. What is the greatest ever photobook? We have conducted an international poll to discover the answer to this question, asking photographers, publishers, critics, booksellers, collectors and others to nominate their favourite books of all time. You can see additional analysis in the magazine but here are the results including the comments and selections of every nominator.

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Browse Photobook Poll Results:

(indexed by voter name)

Photobook Poll Results - M:

Gordon MacDonald

Artist, writer and founder of GOST Books, UK

Oliver Chanarin and Adam Broomberg, Fig, 2007.

Brenda Colvin and Jaqueline Tyrwhitt, Trees for Town and Country, 1947.

Joan Fontcuberta, Sputnik, 1997.

Jacqueline Hassink, The Table of Power, 2000.

Susan Lipper, Grapevine, 1994.

L.S Michaelis, MD with photographs by Vera Elkan, First Aid Through Photographs, 1941.

Barbara P. Norfleet, various photographers, The Champion Pig, 1979.

Joachim Schmid, Bilder von der Strase, 1994.

Wendelle Stevens, August Roberts, various photographers, UFO Photographs (vol. 1), 1986.

Min Yong Rok – various photographers, Outstanding Leadership and Brilliant Victory, 1993.

I have chosen these ten books from the hundreds I own, not to represent the ten best books in my opinion, but to represent ten books I think about most regularly. To try to identify the ten ‘best’ photography books ever made would, for me, be an impossible task. I do not buy photography books to speculate on their value as commodities, but because they engage me on my own terms and somehow interact with my experience and understanding of the world. This said, these ten books represent to me, a series of high-points in form and function for photography books – where the content and production merge seamlessly into one complete object. There is no aesthetic consistency in this selection, as they can be hardback or softback, instructional or conceptual – but each one, in it’s own way, is a perfect example of the form. I could easily identify ten different publication tomorrow, but these will do for today.

Michael Mack

Publisher, UK

Michael Schmidt, U-NI-T-Y, 1996.

Richard Billingham, Ray's a Laugh, 1996.

Alec Soth Broken Manual, 2010.

Robert Frank, The Americans, 1959.

Sophie Calle, Blind, 2011.

Takashi Homma, New Documentary, 2011.

Wolfgang Tillmans, Neue Welt, 2012.

Christian Boltanksi, La Vie Impossible, 2002.

Roni Horn, To Place series, 1990-2011.

Lewis Baltz, Candlestick Point, 1989.

Mike Mandel

Artist, USA

Bill Burke, I Want to Take Picture, 1987.
Bill Burke takes us on a journey to Southeast Asia at war in a very personal manner. The book is full of great photographs, but also documentary artifacts, diary entries, postcards, advertising imagery, much of which is designed by Burke in a free-flowing stream of consciousness style.

Walker Evans James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, 1941.
The above three, what more can I say about them that hasn’t already been printed a billion times. They are great works of art that were specifically designed to be books.

Robert Frank, The Americans, 1958.

Walker Evans, American Photographs, 1938.
The perfect 20 year separation of these two is uncanny.

Ralph Gibson, Deja-Vu, 1972.
One of the best photobooks early on that clearly demonstrated an understanding of facing page relationships that are purely photographic and not narrative. This is one of the books that informed Larry Sultan and I when we were thinking about how to put pictures together for Evidence.

Claudie de Cleen and Erik Kessels, Useful Photography No.1, 2002.
I consider this to be the "unedited, unfiltered, earth archive of Evidence" i.e.. all the pictures you can imagine from an amalgam of sources laid out one after another after another. The pages are jam full of images that slowly evolve in subject matter and composition from one thing to just about anything other.

Kodak Corporation, Clinical Photography, 1972.
It's supposed to be clinical photography, a manual for medical photographic practice. It turns out to be one of the most pornographic books ever printed. Kodak: no wonder you’re out of business!

Takao Komine, Combat Action Pose Collection: Nude v. 2, 1999.
There is a kinship here to Kodak’s Clinical Photography except that now we’re in Japan and all hell has broken loose. The author photographs naked women in action poses with guns from dozens of different perspectives ostensibly as a guide for people drawing the human figure for comic books. Yes, I guess it could be used for that purpose. You and I would see it as the ultimate sex and guns book, set in Japan after all the limits of erotic expression have been torn apart. After seeing this book one will never see another book again in the same way. I wonder what volume 1 looked like. Amazing, insane, overwhelming and completely satisfying.

Ed Ruscha, The Royal Road Test, 1967.
The best of the little Ruscha books. The book is designed to be akin to a police crime scene. The typewriter the victim at 90 mph. Ruscha wasn’t thinking about the end of the typewriter and the advent of the personal computer as this book was published in 1967 and even though Ruscha is brilliant, I don’t give him that much credit. But the book is brilliant. The design is much more complex and nuanced than anything he made as a book except Every Building on the Sunset Strip, which was pretty damn good as well.

Chantal Zakari (Show-n-tell), webAffairs, 2005.
(disclaimer: Chantal Zakari is my wife and collaborator) webAffairs is an artist’s documentation of an adult video web community fairly early on in the history of electronic chat rooms (2005). Show-n-tell begins as a voyeur but eventually becomes a regular within this community. She finds naked men by their computers in their offices, living rooms and bedrooms. She collects images of their naked bodies juxtaposed with their surroundings that the webcam captures. As she becomes more engaged with this community people begin to share their personal stories and crises with her. Show-n-tell participates in the community both as an observer and a performer. After a while she has her own virtual sex show. The electronic screenshots made with the low res webcams of the early 2000s require that the images disintegrate into low res pixels that inform the aesthetic of the book and serve as an historical marker of the history of electronic image-making. The book was self-published and had a limited distribution but it’s still in print. Even though I’m her husband, I think it’s one of the greatest photobooks ever (not just my favorite…)

Lesley Martin

Publisher, Aperture, USA

Richard Billingham, Ray’s a Laugh, 1996.

Walker Evans, American Photographs, 1938.

Paul Graham, A Shimmer of Possibility, 2007.

Nan Goldin, Ballad of Sexual Dependency, 1986.

Jim Goldberg, Raised by Wolves, 1995.

Takashi Homma, Tokyo Suburbia, 1998.

Joan Fontcuberta, Sputnik, 1997.

Paul Fusco, RFK Funeral Train, 2000.

Rinko Kawauchi, Utatane, Hanabi, Hanako 2001*.
*I consider these a book in three-parts, despite the fact that they exist and were released as three individual volumes; they are best considered as a whole in my mind

Martin Parr, Common Sense, 1999

These ten book have been selected from amongst my personal favorites and are all books that have impacted my thinking about photography and book making in one way or another. Many of them were discoveries made early on in my life in photobooks and yet each continues to be meaningful – and maybe more critically, interesting – to me on repeat readings.

Susan Meiselas

Photographer, USA

Larry Clark, Tulsa, 1979.

Danny Lyon, Conversations with the Dead, 1971.

Jim Goldberg, Rich & Poor, 1984.

Jim Goldberg, Raised by Wolves, 1995.

Gilles Peress, Telex Iran, 1984.

Peter Beard, The End of the Game, 1965.

Mikhael Subotsky, Ponte City, 2014.

Bruce Davidson, East 100th Street, 1970.

Philip Jones Griffiths, Vietnam Inc, 1971.

Ballad of Sexual Dependency, Nan Goldin, 1986.

Neil McIIwraith

Bookseller, Beyond Words books, UK

Todd Hido, Excerpts from silver meadows, 2013.

Josef Koudelka, Chaos, 1999.

Yamamato Masao, e, 2000.

Richard Misrach, Chronologies, 2005.

Sylvia Plachy, Signs and relics, 1999.

Pentti Sammallahti, Sammallahti, 2002.

Alec Soth, Sleeping by the Mississippi, 2004.

Joel Sternfeld, American Prospects, 1987.

Minor White, The Eye That Shapes, 1989.

Vanessa Winship, She Dances on Jackson, 2013.

Done! Terrible task! The focus on the last 30 years or so probably reflects the fact that I haven't actually seen copies of many of the older classics. The list is largely made up of my favourites (get back in touch in a month for a different list!) and makes no claims to be a definitive 'greatest' list.

Elsa Modin

Librarian, Hasselblad Foundation, Sweden

Berenice Abbott, Changing New York, 1939.

Sophie Calle, Blind, 2011.

Edward S. Curtis, The North American Indian : being a series of volumes picturing and describing the Indians of the United States, and Alaska, 1907-1930.

Nan Goldin, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, 1986.

Klara Källström, Village, 2015.

Helen Levitt, A way of seeing, 1965.

Zanele Muholi, Faces + phases 2006-14, 2014.

Dayanita Singh, Sent a letter, 2007.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled film stills, 1998.

Francesca Woodman, 1998.

Awoiska van der Molen

Photographer, The Netherlands

Pablo Casino, Barespagnol, 2016.

Katja Stuke, Suits vs. Facts & Fiction, 2008.

Dirk Braeckman, Dirk Braeckman, 2011.

Pablo Larreta, Time Lost, 2011.

The Promise, Celine van den Boorn, 2015.

Craigie Horsfield, Relations, 2006.

Batia Suter, Surface series, 2011.

Raymond Meeks, Erasure, 2013.

Nobuyoshi Araki, Sentimental Journey, 1971.

Dragana Jurisic, Yu: the lost country, 2015.

Pablo Ortiz Monasterio

Photographer, Mexico

Brassai, Paris de Nuit, 1993.

Ed Van Der Elsken, Sweet life, 1968.

Joan Fontcuberta, The artist and the photograph, 1995.

Masahisa Fukase, Ravens, 1986.

William Klein, New York, 1956.

Sergio Larrain, Valparaiso, 1991.

Nacho López, Ciudad de México, 1960.

Daido Moriyama, Farewell Photography,1972.

Gilles Peres, Telex Iran, 1984.

Larry Sultan & Mike Mandel, Evidence, 1977.

Hisako Motoo

Curator and editor, Japan

Nobuyoshi Araki, Sentimental Journey, 1972.

Diane Arbus, An Aperture Monograph, 1972.

Jean-Eugène Atget, Atget: Photographe de Paris, 1930.

Richard Avedon, Nothing Personal, 1964.

Peter Beard, The End of the Game, 1965.

Hans Bellmer, The Doll, 1995.

Brassai, Paris by Night, 1932.

Josef Koudelka, Exiles, 1988.

Daidō Moriyama, Farewell Photography, 1972.

Shomei Tomatsu, The Pencil of the Sun, 1975.

Browse Photobook Poll Results:

(indexed by voter name)