This year, confronted with a photobook scene that has become richer, more diversified and more international than ever before, we decided that we couldn’t assemble a “best photobooks” list all by ourselves. So, we reached out to over 20 of the world’s foremost photography experts and asked them for their favorite picks from 2015.

As you might expect, their responses ranged widely. After all, each of us has those precious books, those hidden gems, that strike us deeply and personally while remaining not widely known. But what surprised us was that a small handful books, ten to be exact, were repeatedly noted by several of the experts as among their personal favorites.

To take one example: Moisés, a book created by an Argentine photographer, Marie Sancari, could be described simply as a “typology of men in their 70s.” Yet, as the comments below reveal, the book deeply resonated with a Spanish festival director, a British magazine editor and two different curators, one from South Korea, the other from the United States. This seemingly humble object, then, has the power to carry the photographer’s personal experiences and connect them with diverse readers scattered all the way around the world.

Thus, besides presenting great photographs, ideas and texts—contained in all sorts of inventive formats and sizes—these books also offer a testament to the universal, connective power that a lovingly-made art object can hold. In 2015, at least for this group of photobook lovers, these ten seemed to offer something special.

We hope you enjoy—and long live the photobook!

—Alexander Strecker


Moisés
by Marie Sancari
Published by La Fabrica

This book visually conveys the artist’s attempt to piece together an image of her late father in his 70s, as he might have looked had he not committed suicide decades earlier. The photos take the form of a typology of portraits; seemingly random men of her father’s hypothetical age—a composite picture of a man not there.

Central to the book’s pleasure is its unique design: constructed with double spines and split into three parts. This means it can be opened left-right and also right-left, allowing the reader to continually encounter the work on different pages and in unexpected combinations. The unexplained mystery of the subjects goes together perfectly with the fluid design of the book: as Anne Wilkes Tucker said, the book is “delightfully challenging in its exactly right choice of design applied to present the work.”

Or, as María García Yelo wrote, “There is an elegance and brightness that emanates from this ‘object’—rather than ‘just’ a book. Through it, a deeply personal experience becomes a universal emotion: a little great jewel.”

Picked by:

María García Yelo, Director, PhotoEspaña
Caroline Hunter, Picture Editor, Guardian Weekend Magazine
Sujong Song, Curator, Co-founder, Seoul Lunar Photo Fest
Anne Wilkes Tucker, Museum Curator



Imperial Courts 1993-2015
by Dana Lixenberg
Published by Roma Publications

In 1992, Dana Lixenberg went to the Imperial Courts, a public housing project in the Watts neighborhood of South Los Angeles, while on assignment for the magazine Vrij Nederland. While there, she made black-and-white portraits of the predominately African-American residents. Lixenberg then returned to the neighborhood 15 years later and picked up where she left off. The result is a project spanning over two decades, consisting of powerful portraits that embody the photographer’s commitment to the community and the strong connection she feels with the residents. Like a modern-day Walker Evans, Lixenberg documented her subjects with both integrity and dedication.

As Monika Condrea wrote, “I feel this book is particularly prescient as it comes at a time in America when we are faced with growing inequalities and the ongoing plight of African-American communities. I admire everything about the book: the paper and format, the exquisite design, but most of all, I admire the phenomenal portraits, which convey the sitters in all their pride and dignity without resorting to theatricality.”

Indeed, besides her long-term commitment to the subject, Lixenberg’s work is also set apart by its material craftsmanship. The use of a large-format camera with black-and-white film produced images with a rich range of gray tones—a welcome relief from the constant flow of color selfies and digital snapshots.

Other reviewers were similarly effusive about the work. Kim Knoppers said, “The staying power of Dana Lixenberg is admirable. The result of this multi-decade involvement might turn out to be her Magnum Opus.” Or, as Karin Bareman wrote, “This is Lixenberg’s masterpiece and life’s work rolled into one.”

In conclusion, Condrea told us, “There are numerous attempts by photographers to go and photograph a poor neighborhoods—yet there are only a few successful ones. This is without a doubt one of the best and most authentic ones I’ve seen in a long time.”

Picked by:

Jenny Smets, Photo Editor, Vrij Nederland
Kim Knoppers, Curator, FOAM
Yannick Bouillis, Director and Founder, Offprint Projects
Monika Condrea, Director of Marketing and Communications, North America, Steidl
Karin Bareman, Exhibitions Coordinator, Autograph ABP


Edges of the Experiment
by Marie-Jose Jongerius
Published by Fw: Books

“Books like this are food for the eyes and the mind. Another fantastic, hybrid photobook that sits neatly between catalogue and artist book,” said Markus Schaden when asked for his favorite books of the year.

This unusual project, produced by Marie-Jose Jongerius, investigates the idyllic notion of the American landscape, showing which elements contribute to the iconic landscape, and at what cost they can be maintained. In short, a critical look at the American Landscape as a construct.

Edges of the Experiment is a two-volume publication. Volume one shows over 60 photographs made over a period of ten years by Jongerius. Volume two is a collection of essays ruminating on the making of the “American Landscape.”

The book’s design was singled out by both experts as exemplary. Schaden went so far as to write, “Only Dutch photobook-maker Hans Gremmen could do something like this.”

Picked by:

Markus Schaden, Publisher, Director, The PhotoBook Museum
Karin Bareman, Exhibitions Coordinator, Autograph ABP



The Heavens
by Paolo Woods and Gabriele Galimberti
Published by Dewi Lewis Publishing

Since the banking crisis of 2008, the world of international finance has increasingly come under the spotlight. At stake? A mere $32 trillion of private financial wealth that lays hidden across the world’s tax havens. Driven by a relentless obsession to translate this rather immaterial subject into images, photographers Paolo Woods and Gabriele Galimberti spent over two years travelling the globe to see the places that embody tax avoidance, secrecy, offshore banking and extreme wealth: Delaware, Jersey Island, British Virgin Islands, City of London…

Besides traveling to international tax havens, the two photographers went a step further: they established their own global company called “The Heavens.” The book, then, is ingeniously designed as the annual report of this company.

Yet the photographs reveal these haven/heavens to be rife with exploitation and privilege, built solely on the distortion of financial markets and benefiting those that already have the most. While flirting with extreme wealth and the gamblers of high business, the photographs expose how these individuals not only hold tremendous sway over the peaks of the global economy but also impact our everyday lives. As if the images weren’t damning enough, the book includes a text by the skilled investigative journalist Nicholas Shaxson. In sum, a penetrating, inside-out examination of a shadowy, near invisible—yet crucially important—part of our contemporary world.

Picked by:

Irène Attinger, Curator and Director of the Library, Maison Européenne de la Photographie
Jenny Smets, Photo Editor, Vrij Nederland
Louise Clements, Artistic Director, QUAD & FORMAT International Photography Festival



In the Shadow of the Pyramids
by Laura El-Tantawy
Self-published, with design by SYB

The Arab Spring was a shock that disrupted the world between 2010 and 2013 and found one of its most emblematic and dramatic embodiments at the Tahrir Square, in Cairo. Photographer Laura El-Tantawy, with unimaginable bravery and acuteness, found her way through the crowd to show us what lay at the heart of this historic gathering.

As Marc Prüst writes, “With her knowledge of, and attachment to, Egypt and its history, combined with the distance that must have developed while living abroad for so many years, El-Tantawy is able to provide us with precious insight into what happened in Tahrir Square, and why it mattered. The personal story becomes the carrier of an experience, which allows us—those who were not part of the Arab Spring—to better understand what it was like to be there.”

Meanwhile, even those skeptical of the powers of documentary photography, have been won over by the book’s particular blend of fact and feeling. As conceptual photographer Daniel Mayrit said, “Though I’m usually skeptical of documentary photography, the book’s mixture of personal and current events leaves you with a very particular mood rather than a static, documentary Truth. Sometimes feelings can tell us more about the world than fact.”

Picked by:

Daniel Mayrit, Photographer and Winner of the 2015 Paris Photo–Aperture Foundation First PhotoBook Award
María García Yelo, Director, PhotoEspaña
Marc Prüst, Photography Consultant and Curator



A Handful of Dust
Text and curation by David Campany
Published by Le Bal and Mack Books

A Handful of Dust is David Campany’s speculative history of the last century—beginning with a fateful plate of glass from October 1922. The book (and accompanying exhibition) sets off on an impressive curatorial quest centered on Man Ray’s photographic documentation of Marcel Duchamp’s The Large Glass after it had collected a year’s worth of dust.

This simple starting point triggers Campany to survey everything related to that photograph: drawing from the object’s (Surreal) abstraction and its (documentary) realism, Campany touches upon everyone from Gerhard Richter to Mona Kuhn, and throws in anonymous press photos, postcards, and magazine spreads on top. The dizzying array makes sense only within the sprawling yet strangely cohesive vision presented by Campany in the pages of his book.

Indeed, the catalogue, as the exhibition, has been lauded by experts from around the world. As Erik Vroons said, “I personally hope this catalogue will lead the way to more visual theses being produced. May this serve as a challenge for anyone working in this field to grasp their subject with the same brilliantly articulated and aesthetically sensitive drive as David Campany has done.”

Or, to put it more plainly, Francis Hodgson wrote, “David Campany’s lovely meditation is neither right nor wrong about anything—but just elegantly says some things that were worth saying.”

Picked by:

Erik Vroons, Editor-at-Large, GUP Magazine
Francis Hodgson, Professor, University of Brighton, Co-founder, Prix Pictet
Nathalie Herschdorfer, Director, Musem of Fine Art Le Locle
Ihiro Hayami, Organizer, Tokyo International Photography Festival



Matrix Botanica: Non-Human Persons
by Melanie Bonajo
Published by Capricious

The first issue of MB_Matrix Botanica mimics, in a loose way, the appearance of a yellow National Geographic magazine cover. Beneath this non-threatening surface, Bonajo gives herself the freedom to explore, at once, our relationship with nature, photography, animals and the internet.

Bonajo draws her images, as her inspirations, from far and wide. The pictures sourced from the internet are helpfully (playfully) categorized into genres like “Non–Human Persons and Rehab,” “Non–Human Persons and Food” and “Non-Human Persons and War.”

Bizarre, yet joyful. As Kim Knoppers wrote, “This issue is a great start in the advancement of understanding issues of ecological and humanitarian significance against a capitalist background. With this series, Bonajo offers us our daily dose of ‘medication against capitalism.’ ”

Picked by:

Kim Knoppers, Curator, FOAM
Yannick Bouillis, Director and Founder, Offprint Projects



Until Death Do Us Part
by Thomas Sauvin
Published by Jiazazhi Press

Until Death Do Us Part focuses on the central role that cigarettes play in the ritual of Chinese weddings. While the day is meant as a celebration of love and life, cigarettes, those small tokens of death, are omnipresent. For example, to thank the guests for coming, the bride often lights a cigarette for each and every man invited. This is only the tip of the iceberg—the small book is filled with many more such discoveries.

The photos themselves come from the Beijing Silvermine project, an archive of half a million negatives salvaged over the years from a recycling plant on the edge of Beijing. While the provenance of the images is immense, the final result is anything but: the book appears in a real cigarette box, which even still smells of cigarettes.

Regina Anzenberger describes it as, “The best book to enthuse anybody about photobooks!” while Ihiro Hayami said simply, “This is kind of the book that when you see it, you want to own it.”

Picked by:

Regina Anzenberger, Founder, Anzenberger Agency/Gallery/Bookshop
Ihiro Hayami, Organizer, Tokyo International Photography Festival
Louise Clements, Artistic Director, QUAD & FORMAT International Photography Festival


Shōji Ueda
Published by Chose Commune

Shōji Ueda (1913-2000) was one of Japanese photography’s most remarkable figures—a master and a free spirit, an artist who bucked the trends of his contemporaries to make work that was true to himself. Profoundly attached to his birthplace of Tottori, by the Sea of Japan, Ueda became known around the world for a life-long series of images set in the sand dunes surrounding his hometown.

But as this new publication shows, Ueda’s work embodies so much more. In the words of Irène Attinger, “His keen eye was drawn to everything around him: a map of the world, a wheat field caressed by the wind, a boy in roller skates, the graceful figure of his wife, Norie…When Ueda wasn’t out wandering, he composed still lives of seasonal fruit and incongruous objects, small treasures found here and there.”

Marc Fuestel calls this “one of the more unexpected books of 2015, since Ueda never published any memorable books during his lifetime.” This publication is the first trilingual monograph devoted to his work, and brings together a great many previously unpublished photographs, in both black and white and colour.

Françoise Callier affirms that the book’s surprising contents (and passing over of the beloved dune works) is “not mere posturing but a pertinent editorial take, allowing us to appreciate his lesser-known work—work that is unique and defies all labels, marked by a permanent state of research.”

As Attinger notes, the book opens with an admirable text by the writer Toshiyuki Horie, “whose words are like musical notes resonating with the photographer’s distinctive universe.”

Picked by:

Irène Attinger, Curator and Director of the Library, Maison Européenne de la Photographie
Marc Feustel, Independent Curator, Writer and Editor
Françoise Callier, Curator and Program Coordinator
, Angkor Photo Festivals & Workshops



Deadline
by Will Steacy
Published by B. Frank Books

This five-year long project investigates the decay of one of the great American newsrooms—The Philadelphia Inquirer—and shows how with its decline, we are losing much more than just a business.

We can find the passion of Steacy, who was driven by his close personal connection with the newspaper, beating on every page. Across five different sections (which each include columns written by different people involved with the newspaper), we come face to face with the vitality and heroism of this institution. As Pete Brook tells us, ”Deadline honors the labor of the copyboys, the reporters, the inkers and the editors equally. Decorated journalists reflect back on the Inquirer’s ‘Golden Age’ and Steacy’s dad reflects on generations of their family working in newspapers.”

Indeed, every expert was as thrilled by the work as with the object itself. In Marc Feustel’s view, Deadline “is a perfect example of the importance of the form of a photobook. By choosing to tell the story of the decline of the newspaper industry through the form of the paper itself, Steacy both celebrates and draws our attention to what is in danger of being lost.” Or as Sujong Song wrote, “This is a stunning idea and powerful homage to the golden era of newspapers.”

But perhaps Brook put it most emphatically when he concluded, “The amount of research, fact-checking, phone-calls, line-editing and captioning in Deadline is astounding. Unrepeatable. Unbeatable.”

Picked by:

Pete Brook, Founder, Prison Photography, Editor, Vantage
Marc Feustel, Independent Curator, Writer and Editor
Sujong Song, Curator, Co-Founder, Seoul Lunar Photo Fest


Editors’ Note: We’d like to offer a BIG thank you to all the people who contributed to make this article possible. We couldn’t have done it without you, really.

Readers, keep an eye out for further installments to this year-end books list…