For this end-of-the-year list, we asked friends and colleagues around the world to recommend their personal favorite photobooks of 2019. As you will see, it’s an eclectic mix, and this compilation represents a wide range of personal tastes. As such, there are many other great books that deserve attention but did not make it to this short list. Likewise, these titles do not pretend to be the “best” books of the year, but they are personal favorites that these photography experts like to share with their friends.

We believe photobooks are some of the most intimate and rewarding ways to engage with a photographer’s work and vision. Well-designed books welcome us into whole new worlds and different ways of seeing—and they can be compelling objects of art themselves. It was fun and surprising for us to compile this list of favorites, and we hope you will discover some inspiration here, too. Enjoy!

—The Editors, LensCulture

The Pillar by Stephen Gill. Published by Nobody.

Editors’ note: This book was selected as a personal favorite by two of our friends, so we include statements by both.

The Pillar may look a bit dull at first, but Stephen Gill has a hidden treasure inside. It is the result of letting a camera work by itself, thanks to movement detection. The camera is installed right opposite a big pole standing somewhere in the fields in southern Sweden. We see lots of different birds taking a break on the pole’s high and safe viewpoint, and sometimes a few deer or a fox passes by, while seasons change. Once you get in the flow of the magnificent edit Gill has made out of thousands of photos, it is easy to lose yourself in the thought that you are right there, taking a relaxing walk through this place that reveals its beauty just by taking time and looking around.

Edie Peters, PhotoQ Bookshop, World Press Photo House

One of my favorite photobooks of the year is The Pillar by Stephen Gill. It is entirely made up of photographs made remotely from a camera that is fixed in a single position without variation. The camera is triggered by birds landing on a pillar in the middle of a field, creating an amazing procession of curiosity. What happens on this pillar is related to one of the reasons this is one of my favorite books at the moment: after being thoroughly spent from watching the political disaster unfold in America on a daily basis on the television in my kitchen, I decided one day to find something more positive to saturate myself with and I stumbled across a nature show on the BBC. What a pleasure it was to take in information about wonderment in this world, and as simple as it sounds, I feel like I really needed to find that station and that nature show when I did. Gill’s book affirms that the natural world is far more interesting than all the nonsense occurring in our world. Also, don’t miss his previous book called Night Procession, another book with similar parameters to this.

Todd Hido, Photographer

Family Car Trouble by Gus Powell. Published by TBW Books.

Gus Powell’s new book Family Car Trouble is one of the most touching and thoughtful works I have seen in some time. It is a tribute to Powell’s mental fortitude that he was able to conceive of such a moving project at a time of such despair. While we grapple with the death of his father, Powell reminds us of the wonderment of life by turning his lens towards his two curious and energetic kids. The interweaving stories of life, death, and Gus’s unceasing car troubles reminds us all that in the face of tragedy—whether you are ready for it or not—life moves on or, in this case, hovers in the mechanic’s parking lot. Powell’s deeply personal story is accentuated by the scale, design, and sequence of the book; as usual, everything is keenly considered in a Gus Powell production.

Christopher McCall, Director, Pier 24 Photography

Continuum by Paul Cupido. Self Published.

I chose this beautiful self-published book because it is pure freedom of creation and doesn’t follow any rules. The book itself takes us to the Japanese islands of Ishigaki, Iriomote and Taketomi, but there is no narrative. It is a feeling, a spiritual journey. It isn’t linear at all but it feels like a Japanese haiku, every image is connected to the next one. The book features a modern twist on Japanese binding, and each page is a tactile experience. The enchanting images are printed on rare paper, there are transparent pages, different printing techniques and some pages smell like pure ink. All of these features makes this book an extraordinary experience.

Anaïs Lopez, Photographer, Founder and Director, Dockingstation

How to Secure a Country by Salvatore Vitale. Published by Lars Müller.

Gaining unprecedented access to Switzerland’s national security system, Italian photographer Salvatore Vitale has been able to explore how the authorities of the country deal with contemporary issues such as migration, terrorism and citizen protection, while raising a crucial question: How much are we willing to sacrifice our privacy (and freedom) in order to feel safe?

I had the pleasure of discovering Salvatore’s project when it was awarded the PHmuseum 2017 Photography Grant 1st prize and have followed its development since then. It’s quite exciting to see how he was able to successfully translate this complex and articulate project into a must-have book, which also contains cool data and infographics.

Giuseppe Oliverio, Founder and Director,

Chas Chas by Luis Cobelo, Self-published.

This book is the much anticipated follow-up to the magic realism of Luis Cobelo’s first book, Zurumbático. The visual narrative of Chas Chas is based on a real neighborhood in Buenos Aires, but seen through the hallucinatory playful eyes of Cobelo. It reads like a graphic novel or a mystery story, with many layers of internal reference, along with comic strips, newspaper clippings, “found” street sculptures, graffiti, aerial views, and even includes a handwritten, sealed, stamped airmail envelope with a letter inside. The flow of images conjure a smile-inducing dream logic that feels strangely rooted to the reality of street life in Parque Chas. Chas Chas is my personal favorite book of 2019.

Jim Casper, Editor-in-Chief, LensCulture

Kazal: Memories of a Massacre Under Duvalier by Kolektif2D. Published by André Frère Éditions.

This is an essential book because it participates in the rewriting of Haitian modern history. The starting point of this photographic and editorial project was a 3-year masterclass led by the photographer Nicola Lo Calzo and coordinated by Maude Malengrez, head of the media department of the Fondation Connaissance et Liberté (FOKAL). The project was focused on the Kazal massacre of 1969, one of the biggest civilian massacres under the dictatorship of François Duvalier. Six Haitian photographers known as Kolektif2D—Edine Célestin, Fabienne Douce, Réginald Louissaint Junior, Moïse Pierre, Georges Harry Rouzier, and Mackenson Saint-Félix—all from the first post-Duvalier generation, have all tackled this difficult question: How can we document such an event 50 years later?

The answer is strong because it is alive, complex and shows its contradictions. In this book, 88 color and black and white images bring together direct or indirect witnesses of the facts, the places where these facts took place, and the ways in which their memory has been inscribed in the landscape and in the daily life of the inhabitants of Kazal, a village north of the capital, Port-au-Prince.

Jeanne Mercier, Founder, Afrique in Visu

Gift by Mari Katayama. Published by United Vagabonds.

The book, GIFT, by Mari Katayama made a big impression on me. It is a fair and poetic book focusing on her self-portraits. Self-consciously she looks at the viewer and at the world. She shows herself the way she is: she misses parts of both her legs and has a deformed hand. Sometimes you see self-portraits without her prosthetic legs, at other times she uses them very consciously. By not hiding anything, she makes her limitation her strength. At the same time, she also shows her vulnerability by turning fabric into legs and hands, and by zooming in on her brightly painted prostheses.

Geert van Eyck, Curator, BredaPhoto Festival

Our Loss by Joel Sternfeld. Published by Steidl.

He is already quite established, and he is published by a publisher that does not need promotion. However, Joel Sternfeld’s work deserves constant attention. His latest book, Our Loss, is the most moving and important photobook I have come across in a long while. When David Buckel set himself on fire publicly in 2018 decrying the increasing pollution of the earth, his suicide was perhaps the most extreme act of “ecotage” and it was almost impossible to respond to it artistically without incurring all sorts of ethical issues. By focusing on the slow revitalization of the exact location where the tragic event happened in NYC’s Prospect Park, Sternfeld decided to pay tribute to “the hope that climate change might be reversed.” The reading of this book should be preceded and followed by a minute of silence to think about how egocentrism and ecocentrism are dangerously intertwined.

Federica Chiocchetti, Director, The Photocaptionist

Are They Rocks or Clouds? by Marina Caneve. Published by OTM and FW:Books.

Marina comes from the same region as my family, the north-eastern part of Italy, an area well known for its beautiful peaks, the Dolomites. The sublime beauty of this province has been however dotted by disastrous calamities in the past, and will be in the future. Marina approaches the matter as an artistic research nurtured by scientific knowledge (with the contributions of a geologist and an anthropologist) as well as popular wisdom.

The seemingly indifferent majesty of the mountains counterplays with the portraits of the inhabitants, revealing a fragility that is due to its natural state and also to human behavior. We are left with a layering of items: streets, trees, homes, maps, documents, archival images, rocks, and text. Everything contributes to the creation of a poem that serves as a document. I paraphrase from Taco Hidde Bakker who writes an essay in the book: “We are drawn into the natural and human spaces looking for answers, and we exit with questions on issues which are very much on our minds these days.”

Arianna Rinaldo, Curator, Artistic Director, Cortona On The Move

The Way to the High Mountain by Eldad Rafaeli.

Eldad Rafaeli’s influence on photography in Israel is obvious. His work incorporates a new kind of subjectivity, intimacy, and criticism. Perfectly merging subjects, techniques and strategies of editing, he has developed and broadened the language of photography. In The Way to the High Mountain, we come face-to-face with a painfully dense and moving book. Here, the photographer is able to pull together poetry from a wasted civilization. His images often change hue and format, reminiscent of a Pieter Bruegel or Hieronymus Bosch in their description of detail and space. Rafaeli is a storyteller, holding a camera in one hand and in the other his heart: his work is his contribution to the collection of tales that recount a human struggle for meaning. He shows a broad emotional range, with horror, empathy and beauty side-by-side.

Ângela Ferreira, Independent Curator, Researcher and Writer

The Canary and the Hammer by Lisa Barnard. Published by MACK.

Lisa Barnard’s The Canary and the Hammer is an excellent example of how documentary photography can be brought to new and not-fully-explored directions. I’ve been following and discussing the evolution of this work since an early stage, so I’m not surprised by MACK’s choice to publish this relevant story into a photobook. Shot over four years in four countries, the work focuses on gold and its impact in modern societies. Barnard provides several entry points, allowing the audience to take a tour of the multitude of applications attributed to gold. Started in “reaction to the financial crisis of 2008 and its stark reminder of the global West’s determination to accumulate wealth,” The Canary and The Hammer sets out to question Western societies in relation to the consequences of the gold rush and the ubiquitous yet invisible presence of gold in everyday life. Sharp and intelligent research supports the visual content both playing on a double level: from one side the book invites the audience to take a further step into creating a self-awareness on the world we live in, while on the other side it questions the cornerstones of documentary photography by presenting a complex narration.

Salvatore Vitale, Photographer, Editor-in-Chief, Yet Magazine

Re-visions by Marcia Resnick. Published by Edition Patrick Frey

This year, the 10x10 Photobooks team was excited to see the reprint release of Marcia Resnick’s critically important autobiographical book Re-Visions from 1978. Through cleverly staged scenes and short writings based on memories, Resnick examines the interior struggles of female adolescence. Her unnamed protagonist is a universal reference to an “everywoman” character. The original version of Re-visions has been on 10x10’s radar for some time and was included in our How We See: Photobooks by Women as a historically significant and groundbreaking photobook by a woman. Presented within lush textured silk boards that frame a 1970s image of a woman wearing heart-shaped glasses (inspired by the film poster of Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita), this superb reprint of Re-visions is as relevant today as it originally was in 1978.

Olga Yatskevich and Russet Lederman, 10x10 Photobooks

Present by Stephan Vanfleteren, Published by Hannibal.

Belgian photographer Stephan Vanfleteren looks back at his career in the year he turned 50. Along with an exhibition, he released a big heavy book: almost 500 pages with images and written reflections on his life, his experiences and his work. The printing is beautiful, the work is powerful and overwhelming. It traces the development of the photographer, from student, to newspaper photographer covering news events at home and abroad, portraits for media, and personal studio color work. Vanfleteren apparently locked himself up in his basement to go through his archive, and this is what eventually came out of this process. This is not a book you leaf through at leisure; this monument needs time and attention. We can only hope this photographer looks forward again and continues to create and develop.

Marc Prüst, Curator, Editor and Educator

The Coast by Sohrab Hura. Published by Ugly Dog (self-published).

Rarely do I come across a book that is more disturbing and at the same time poetic. Hura’s kaleidoscopic narrative intrigues from the first to the last page. I find different stories every time I pick up the book. The edit is completely hypnotic. The book is ambivalent in several ways: a confrontational photographic intuition combined with a refreshing lack of tradition. With The Coast, Hura convinces through his collaboration with both the camera and his heroes to create authentic stories.

Lotte Sprengers, Co-head BA Photography and MA Photography & Society, Royal Academy of Art The Hague

Dyckman Haze by Adam Pape. Published by MACK.

At first glance, this classically designed black and white photobook opens a rich, dark and fantastic world. With New York’s sprawling, nocturnal parks as its backdrop, the viewer wanders through the darkness. Simple encounters, sometimes playfully staged, others confusingly convincing as rough observations, plot out a new world. This photobook manages to keep a fine balance while making realities slide. As I struggle to write this text, I realize this is exactly what makes me love the book so much: it proves photography is still a very powerful tool for communication.

Lotte Sprengers, Co-head BA Photography and MA Photography & Society, Royal Academy of Art The Hague

Rooted by Henk Wildschut. Self-published.

Henk Wildschut has been working on nuancing the depiction of the refugee crisis for a long time. Teaming up with designer Robin Uleman, Wildschut sets out to portray a fragment of daily life in the camps. Focusing on plants, gardens and vegetation, he manages to humanize the topic and effectively bridges the usual gap between “us” and “them”. Although there is not one individual in any of the photographs, the viewer can experience the close connections Wildschut has been able to build through this herbarium for the displaced.

Lotte Sprengers, Co-head BA Photography and MA Photography & Society, Royal Academy of Art The Hague

Essay on The Concave City Corner by Stijn van der Linden. Published by Photobook Week Aarhus.

Stijn van der Linden has made a witty, intelligent and absurdly funny book. An artistic experiment to systemize our world. an essay on the concave city corner is a poetic and faux-scientific look on hidden and vague locations in the city, and it very successfully plays on the border between an artist’s book and a photobook. Just to make it clear: Yes, I might have a conflict of interest writing about the winner of Photobook Week Aarhus’ Dummy Award winner, even if I was not in the jury, and I have no commercial interest in it. However, it might just be a self-fulfilling prophecy that I love the result of a quite complex process, in which I was partly involved.

Moritz Neumüller, Editor, Author, Curator and Educator, The Curator Ship

Combing for Ice and Jade by Kurt Tong. Published by Jiazazhi.

I have known Kurt Tong for years now, and yet, he surprises me with every new project he undertakes. His trick seems to be that he takes the necessary time to research, develop, and materialize his ideas. Ideas that often are connected with his personal life, such as in the case of Combing for Ice and Jade, a love note to his nanny, who was one of the last remaining “self combed” women living in China. The book is extremely well made and has pretty much all the “bells and whistles” (as Lesley Martin would call it) that are costly to produce and completely unnecessary in a photobook. Here they aren’t. Found photographs, Chinese life-style magazines and propaganda leaflets enhance the fascinating story he has to tell about a woman who has served his family for 37 years and features in the background of most family pictures, yet only owns eight photographs of just herself. And all of them are passport photos.

Moritz Neumüller, Editor, Author, Curator and Educator, The Curator Ship

Editor’s note: See the LensCulture review of the book here.

Midlife by Elinor Carucci. Published by Monacelli Press.

In Midlife, Elinor Carucci celebrates the complicated beings we become over time. Images of her with her husband, teenage children, and parents as they pay bills, clean house, caress, do laundry, and cook record the mundane while exalting it. Extreme close-ups turn a painted mouth into a transcendently lit study of facial hair and wrinkled lips. Startling abstractions painted in the artist’s blood accompany Carucci’s fearless portraits of her aging body, graying hair, and uncompromising eyes. I found I moved through this book very slowly, as if it were the story of my life too. Every image is a rich nexus of possible narratives to be pondered and savored with the intensity the artist put into its making. Midlife affirms my belief in photography’s ability to tell the truth, utilizing the medium’s unequalled capture of particularity to point us to the universal.

Alison Nordström, Independent Scholar and Curator

Editor’s note: Read an excellent interview with Elinor Carucci here.

Deep Time by Lynn Alleva Lilley. Published by The Eriskay Connection.

In this elegantly designed and informative book, Lilley gauges “deep time” by directing a lens on the oldest animal species still alive, in many aesthetically pleasing pictures of her own, combined with additional research material and illustrations. Lilley followed the horseshoe crab around Delaware Bay, where much earlier she had become familiar with this Arthropod (although the horseshoe crab is in a class of its own, namely Merostomata, meaning “legs attached to the mouth”) while camping in her youth on the barrier islands south of Lewes. There, the crabs would wash ashore dead or alive. Besides the marvelous images, including some microscopic shots, the curious reader is invited to learn more about this tenacious animal (of which the oldest fossils found date back 445 million years ago); from its origins and anatomy to its system of visual perception—a crab uses ten eyes in addition to further photoreceptors.

Taco Hidde Bakker, Independent Writer

Seeing Science: How Photography Reveals the Universe by Marvin Heiferman. Published by Aperture.

Not a book I would buy for its design, but because it serves as a good introduction and reference work for those interested in the vast world in which photography and science coalesce. It’s not easy to see them as separate since photography itself is largely a child of scientific experiment. Seeing Science focuses not only on what scientists have achieved by creatively and methodically employing the camera (which also led to related imaging techniques, such as X-ray and thermal photography), but also on how photography has been used to popularize scientific achievements, how scientists have been portrayed, and how photographic artists have found inspiration in the sciences. Although I’m relatively well versed in the subject, I had not yet encountered “femto-photography”, with which light can be “captured” at one-trillionth of a second—fast enough to capture photons as they bounce off objects.

Taco Hidde Bakker, Independent Writer

Climate Archive by Suzette Bousema. Self-published.

Bousema photographed cross sections of ice cores from Antarctica and Greenland against a black background. These ice cores contain information about global climatic conditions up to 20,000 years ago. If there is indeed an umbilical cord between photography and time, as suggested by Roland Barthes in Camera Lucida, then these photographs amount to a sort of two-plied string with time. And like the “future anteriority” of photography (there-has-been and there-will-be), these ice cores also hold the future, a warming future that threatens ice to the core. Anticipating the disappearance of ice, and therefore the natural “climate archive”, Bousema has since begun to capture air (including the gasses it contains) in small glass sculptures.

Taco Hidde Bakker, Independent Writer

This World and Others Like It by Drew Nikonowicz. Published by Fw:Books and Yoffy Press.

An intriguing photographic meditation on how landscape and imaging technologies are fundamentally interwoven. Landscape (from the Dutch word “landschap”) is originally a genre in painting, after in early-modern painting it had been “foregrounded” from being merely a background to (usually Biblical or mythical) stories. It was also quickly established as a photographic genre after this medium entered history’s stage. Nikonowicz taps into a long tradition of the sublime, yet also demonstrates how much looking at landscape depends on the “techniques of the observer”, to borrow a phrase from Jonathan Crary. New lens and screen technologies intersect and overlay earlier technologies, with consequences for maker and viewer alike.

Taco Hidde Bakker, Independent Writer

Tohu wa-Bohu by Awoiska van der Molen, Bart Lunenburg, Eva-Fiore Kovacovsky, Stephan Keppel, Jaya Pelupessy & Felix van Dam, Taco Hidde Bakker, and Remco van Bladel. Published by Extrapool.

Tohu wa-Bohu is a riso-printed artist book that I have curated and that we have worked on during various group and solo sessions at the art venue Extrapool in Nijmegen, The Netherlands, which also houses their famous riso printshop Knust Press. We reflected on the Hebrew term “tohu wa-bohu”, which occurs in the beginning of Genesis. Robert Alter translated it as “welter and waste”, but it is more known in the King James version, “without form, and void.” The participating artists made or collected images in and around the city of Nijmegen, after which they translated their work to fit the riso-printing technique, of which Knust’s printers are masters. Together with graphic designer Remco van Bladel, who designed the cover, we gathered all the printed sheets and edited them into signatures in the spirit of the theme: a creative arrangement and (sequential) order based on what exists rather than a creation-from-nothing (creatio ex nihilo). As such, this book grew into being instead of having been “designed.”

Taco Hidde Bakker, Independent Writer

Conversations on Conflict Photography, edited by Lauren Walsh. Published by Bloomsbury.

This new book is a vital text that brings together some of photojournalism’s most prominent voices to reflect on the ethics of conflict photography in our increasingly image-saturated world. As critic W. Scott Olsen writes, “Conversations on Conflict Photography is not a ‘how-to’ book, and it’s not a series of memoirs either. It’s much deeper than that, and much more troubling. It’s about the ethics of our work. It’s about imposition and intent. It’s about apathy. It’s about putting your life at risk to tell a story no one may ever see. It’s about the moral imperative of telling the news.” This series of interviews, discussions, and photographs was compiled by Lauren Walsh, who teaches at The New School and New York University and also directs the Gallatin School’s Photojournalism Lab, as well as Lost Rolls America, a national public archive of photography and memory.

Jim Casper, Editor-in-Chief, LensCulture

Editor’s note: Read our review of Conversations on Conflict Photography here.

Lassen by Małgorzata Stankiewicz. Published by Meta/Books.

Lassen is a reaction to the climate crisis. A call for action in a form of an abstract photographic experiment that started in the darkroom and grew organically into a book. After producing images at Lassen, the national park in the Northern California suffering from draught, Małgorzata Stankiewicz spent countless hours developing the expired slide film and printing large-scale C-print composites. The fact that each image, sized 105 x 80 cm, consists of a few sections led the artist to the idea of producing a book where a page would correspond to just one of the sections instead of the full image. Besides, what if one image could cover a full press sheet required for offset printing? As the result, a viewer never sees a complete photograph, just fragments of 24 composites. The linear way of reading a book’s ‘narrative’ would not work any longer. The edit suggests exploring multiple ways of engaging with a publication: to go back and forth throughout the bulky volume, to ‘project’ full images in one’s imagination, or to perhaps even put a few copies of the book together, one next to another. The publisher Meta/Books was up for the challenge of producing a very special publication, as well as, once again, supporting a voice of a strong female artist.

Daria Tuminas, Head of Unseen Book Market & Dummy Award, Curator at FOTODOK

No No No No Good Club by Chen Etang. Published by DMP Editions.

Chen Etang has got to be one of the most exciting contemporary photographers working in Asia right now; actually working anywhere! This book with Taiwanese imprint DMP Editions is full of energy and life. The images negotiate a diaristic tone whilst also intelligently and subtly seeking to understand the garishness and over-the-top-ness of popular culture and society in 2019. Etang’s camera takes a quasi-anthropological tone, albeit one that is seemingly infused with ten cans of Red Bull, and where the volume is turned up to 10. The book production and printing handles the humour and subtext of his images smartly, and the design itself is simple and beautifully done. I think 2020 is going to be a big year for Etang as the European and American photoworld start to discover his work.

Daniel Boetker-Smith, Academic Director of Photography Studies College, Melbourne & Director of the Asia-Pacific Photobook Archive

The Moment in Space by Barbara Probst. Published by Le Bal and Hartmann Books.

Barbara Probst interrogates the very idea of a single defining picture of reality by using multiple cameras to register the same real moment from many different points of view simultaneously. The results of these “exposures” can be uncanny, to say the least. When we, as viewers, try to unpack each small group of images from the same moment, it can be emotionally difficult to accept what we know from a logical point of view. This work creates an initial cognitive disconnect, and then, an “aha!” moment. A new book, The Moment in Space, providing an overview of her life’s work so far, was published in 2019. In addition to presenting the photographs themselves (many with fold-out spreads and diagrams of the multi-vantage-point set-ups), the book includes quotes and insights from the photographer about her process and ideas.

Jim Casper, Editor-in-Chief, LensCulture

Editor’s note: Read our review of The Moment in Space here.