2020 has been a challenging year for practically everyone. The impact of the global pandemic has curtailed the vibrant sense of community and discovery that many of us usually enjoy at photo festivals, book fairs, galleries, museums and even at our local book shops. But the pleasure of sitting alone with a good book is still available to us, and it can be a wonderfully immersive experience when you find the right book for your mood.

To spark that sense of discovery and connection, we reached out to curators, artists, editors and other photography experts, and asked for their personal favorites from this year. We were delighted to get 36 heart-felt recommendations that range from quirky to poetic, academic to novelistic, visionary to just plain fun.

This list is very subjective, and without a doubt there are many other great books from 2020 that we will continue to discover. But for now, take a look at these to find some inspiration.

Necessary Fictions by Debi Cornwall, with short texts by Nomi Stone, Roy Scranton, Sarah Sentilles and Makeda Best. Published by Radius Books.

Debi Cornwall, a former civil rights lawyer, is a committed artist with searing intelligence and a sharp eye willing to take on some of the thorny issues of our time. Necessary Fictions uses photographs of immersive, realistic military war games to ask larger questions about how American power is staged and performed, deployed and embraced. It’s about the stories we are told, the games we play, and government attempts to manage unsettling realities in a time of perpetual war. The design, page layout, striking cover, and balance of photographs to text is elegantly presented. There are compelling surprises amongst the pages, add-ins and different paper sizes and a print in an envelope at the end of the book. A real treasure.
—Matthew Flowers, Managing Director, Flowers Gallery

I think Necessary Fictions is one of the finest produced books I have ever seen. The sequencing is unexpected as the story unfolds from page to page, with surprises throughout. Personally, it is the first photobook I have ever read cover to cover in one sitting. Beyond fantastic!
—Catherine Edelman, Founder, Catherine Edelman Gallery

Debi Cornwall may have perfected the next generation of visual storytelling with her novel-length photobook, Necessary Fictions. Mostly visual, with masterly restraint in the images and their presentations (simple, pared down, nothing extraneous or distracting) accompanied with haiku-like observations, quotes, snippets of conversation, ad copy, factual lists and inventories, government purchase orders… It’s about war games and simulations with extreme psychological fidelity. It’s a true story and a stunner.
—Jim Casper, Editor, LensCulture

Seeing Time: Forty Years of Photographs by Mark Klett. Published by University of Texas Press.

I already owned a dozen books of Mark Klett’s work but my hands-down favorite photobook of 2020 is his Seeing Time. This 480-page book contains work from 13 series, as well as a fascinating interview with the artist by Anne Tucker and two superb essays by Keith Davis and Rebecca Senf. It is wonderful to watch his early, already great, work deepen and evolve over 42 years—powered by the three engines of working a lot (and well), thinking a lot (and well), and collaborating a lot (and well) with interesting people, living and dead.
—Christopher Rauschenberg, artist and Co-Founder of Blue Sky Gallery

Loving: A Photographic History of Men in Love, 1850-1950 by Hugh Nini and Neal Treadwell. Published by 5 Continents Editions.

For twenty years Hugh Nini and Neal Treadwell have collected hundreds of vernacular photos, taken between 1850 and 1950, that portray couples of men apparently in love, in a time when romantic relationships between men were not allowed. Now, these photos have been collected in a surprising book that gives the reader the unique privilege of accessing the intimacy, sensuality and tenderness of these couples. A great example of found photography.
–Elena Boille, Deputy Editor-in-Chief, Internazionale

Unintended Beauty by Alastair Philip Wiper. Published by Hatje Cantz.

I realize that I have been working at WIRED for almost 800 years, but photographs of machinery, processing and factories still make my photo soul so very happy. Unintended Beauty Book by Alastair Philip Wiper is perfectly titled. I guarantee you walk by these subjects that he captured for this book every single day, but never stopped and stared at such beauty that is totally unintended. The size of the book is essential to the grand areas he captures. A lunchmeat factory, cannabis greenhouses, and even sex doll workshops all perfectly composed and so clean with lines, it’s reminiscent of the sets in a Wes Anderson movie.
—Anna Goldwater Alexander, Director of Photography, WIRED

A Sensitive Education by Francesca Todde. Published by Départ Pour l’Image.

With A Sensitive Education, the photographer Francesca Todde has managed to delicately narrate the relationship between a man and his fellow creatures. Tristan Plot is a bird educator and a specialist in caring methods. The relationships that he develops with the birds is affectionate, and respectful of subtle codes that most of us have forgotten in the course of evolution. Instinctively he understands them, reading from a slight shaking of wings or a harmony of notes if they are happy, comfortable or scared. A feeling also shared by Francesca Todde who followed Plot for several months. “An experience that has enriched me so much,” she says. “Before, when I was walking around the city, the birds’ singing was a simple background noise. Now I hear it everywhere.”
—Manila Camarini, Photo Editor, D La Repubblica

How I Tried to Convince my Husband to Have Children by Olga Bushkova. Published by Witty Books.

Olga’s husband’s biggest argument was that if a woman became a mother before she became professionally independent, she risked becoming a stay-at-home mom. In the end, they decided to make a playful agreement that if she managed to establish herself as a photographer, her husband would agree to have a child. The result of this agreement paid off handsomely, and is now in my hands. It’s a great book.
Yumi Goto, independent photography curator, editor, researcher consultant and publisher

Cherry Hill – A Childhood Reimagined by Jona Frank. Published by Monacelli Press.

Every once in a long while, a photobook can take you on a deep and meaningful journey; visually, emotionally, intellectually. Cherry Hill – A Childhood Reimagined by the incredibly talented Jona Frank is one of those books. Frank, with her very personal writing and reconstructed images of scenes from her childhood, using actresses Laura Dern and Imogene Wolodarsky, makes us feel and think of the small and big details and stories of her childhood in Cherry Hill NJ, and of the pains and sorrows, fears and dreams, we all, one way or another, felt as children, under our sweet appearance as kids. An astonishing, complex, original, and beautiful memoir.
Elinor Carucci, artist

Visitation Scenes by Andy Wiener. Published by Dewi Lewis.

Andy Wiener first developed his use of photographic masks while studying at the Royal College of Art in the 1980s. Those early tableaux took a sardonic look at what life might have in store. In contrast, Visitation Scenes was made in middle-age and looks back to the family history from whence he came. The faces here are drawn from a family album: a mix of Irish, English, Scottish, German, Polish and Jewish men and women whose destiny was shaped in the turbulent years of the first half of the twentieth century. It is a project that took him from the British Isles, via Ukraine and Poland, to Shanghai as he pieced together anecdotal fragments and those old family photographs that preserve so clearly the likeness of people whose lives already fade like an echo. The result is a beautifully conceived and designed book that illustrates, through the poignant intimacy of the particular, the human tapestry of a collective past the threads of which extend into our present.
—Alasdair Foster, writer, curator, researcher, and publisher of Talking Pictures

An Tagen Wie Diesen by Hans-Jürgen Burkard. Published by Edition Lammerhuber.

My favorite photobook of 2020 is by the Hamburg photographer Hans-Jürgen Burkard. Its title, An Tagen wie Diesen, is named after a very famous German song by the German band Die toten Hosen. Burkard, one of the great reportage photographers of the present day, has undertaken an extraordinary journey through Germany: a journey in which German song lyrics were the model and the associative material for a photographic portrait of German conditions and sensitivities. German pop music, critical, but also loving and self-confident: what does it reveal about the country? Burkard translated song lyrics into large pictures: free, weird, disturbing, cheerful, mysterious. Inspired by the printed song lyrics on the passenger seat, he drove thousands of kilometers across the country, searching for moods and situations that suited him. He found what he was looking for between the Bavarian Gäuboden Festival in Straubing, flown around by Alpine choughs on the Zugspitze summit and the remains left behind by visitors to the festival Rock am Ring. Moments that reflect a mood, document a situation, capture a feeling: contradictions and extremes, shouting or falling silent, a tender look at a world that is both strange and familiar. Burkard shows a surprising, sometimes disturbing picture of Germany society—it’s a great piece of work.
—Andreas Trampe, Senior Picture Editor, Stern

Death in the Making by Robert Capa. Published by Damiani/ICP.

This is a re-issue of a profoundly important book, originally published in 1938 as both an eyewitness account and in solidarity with those fighting fascism in Spain. The photographs are by Robert Capa, Gerda Taro (who lost her life there), and David ‘Chim’ Seymour, arranged by André Kertész and with a preface by Jay Allen. This new edition is better printed than the original, and features a thoughtful and comprehensive afterword by Cynthia Young, including thumbnail identifiers for each of the photographs. The book is dedicated by Capa to Gerda Taro, “Who spent one year at the Spanish front. And who stayed on.” Its reappearance in 2020 is timely and inspiring.
—Fred Ritchin, Dean Emeritus, International Center of Photography

The Station by Chris Killip. Published by Steidl.

This is the last Killip book published in his lifetime and it’s a cracker. Killip visited this punk night club in 1985 and shot there every week for around six months. He did this on a 5/4 inch camera with his darkslides sewn into a specially converted jacket. His son, Matthew, discovered these overlooked images in 2016 and Killip had them scanned and printed. The large format camera reveals amazing detail of the punks and you can also see he was there so often, they just ignored him. Beautifully printed, and designed by Pony, it’s an all round treat.
Martin Parr, Photographer, Magnum Photos

ciprian honey cathedral by Raymond Meeks. Published by MACK.

The best is when one of your favorite photographers makes a book with one of your favorite publishers. And it’s for sure a challenge for a publisher to do a book with an artist who has created amazing handmade books before. Raymond Meeks’ second book with a European publisher is definitely a masterpiece of bookmaking. The design is simple and beautiful, it has a wonderful sequence and the printing is perfect. Meeks’ strength is to give the little things of daily life the importance of a poetical moment. He has found beauty and form where others would not. The portraits of his beloved partner and artist Arianna Ault remind me of Stieglitz’s portraits of Georgia O’Keefe in their aesthetics.
Regina Maria Anzenberger, artist, curator, founder and director of the Anzenberger Agency and Gallery

Thought Pieces: 1970s Photographs by Lew Thomas, Donna-Lee Phillips, and Hal Fischer. Published by MACK. // Bill Brandt | Henry Moore by Martina Droth and Paul Messier. Published by Yale University Press.

Here are two very different but equally magnificent books, both, as it happens, catalogues. Thought Pieces is the story of a show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art which I couldn’t see. It resurfaced astonishing work by Lew Thomas, Donna-Lee Phillips and Hal Fischer, groping towards a radical language of imagery in the 1970s—a search for anti-advertising. Bill Brandt | Henry Moore was the catalogue for a show I did see, at the Hepworth Wakefield, and is just a model of how a catalogue can be: scholarly without being stuffy, revisiting known things for new thoughts, beautifully made and a pleasure to hold. One’s bright red; the other’s bright yellow—they suit each other.
Francis Hodgson, Professor in the Culture of Photography at the University of Brighton

The Last Interview by David Goldblatt. Published by Steidl.

What an insightful read this is. You feel as if you are a fly on the wall listening to passionate views of this man I respect so much. David became a full-time photographer when I was a year old. His pictures are so subtle and so nuanced that I cannot compare him to any other. His views are bold and decisive. He describes himself as a self-appointed critic and observer. He speaks about the dangers of repetition in portrait photography, something I think about consistently, and his dislike of censorship. I grew up in Johannesburg with severe censorship that was only relaxed after Mandela became President. Interestingly art has flourished in that environment since. This candid conversation with Alexandra Dodd took place in 2018. Three months later David died.
Nadav Kander, artist

Phantom Limbs by Lovisa Ringborg. Published by Max Ström.

Phantom Limbs is the first major publication on Swedish artist Lovisa Ringborg. I have been following her work since the mid-2000s, overwhelmingly fascinated by the kind of limbo universe she has created. Originally trained as a painter before turning to photography, Ringborg’s work is very painterly with a color palette reminiscent of meat, clay and soil. She invites the viewer to a world of vibrant beauty with an underlying, alluring darkness waiting to be released. Looking at Ringborg’s photographs is like trying to explain a combination of Baroque paintings and Lars von Trier’s Melancholia seen in a stage of delirium; I am not sure if I am awake or dreaming, calm or terrified, or maybe all at once.
—Pauline Benthede, Director of Exhibitions, Fotografiska International

Höllental und Himmelreich, by Christina Stohn. Published by Another Place Press.

Höllental und Himmelreich, which translates as ‘Valley of Hell and Kingdom of Heaven’, is about Germany’s Black Forest, where photographer Christina Stohn grew up. The book is about deep-rooted customs and folklore that are still cherished today. The area’s traditional and religious festivals—with their fantastical costumes, handmade wooden masks, pom-pom hats and pig-bladder balloons—have also become tourist attractions. The book seems especially fitting this year. Stohn reflects on the region as a place where “everything is strange and familiar at the same time,” offering an insightful look at life in an isolated area. During harsh winters, families are sometimes cut off from the outside world for months—then festival season comes. Stohn captures it all with clarity and curiosity.
—Mee-Lai Stone, Picture Editor, The Guardian

A Parallel Road by Amani Willett. Published by Overlapse.

This small nuanced, multi-layered, and symbolic book powerfully questions the American notion of the ‘open road’ by evoking the overlooked Black-American experience of driving in the United States. Produced at the same size as the historical Negro Motorist Green Book it references, A Parallel Road includes carefully sequenced photographs ranging from Willett’s archival family pictures to the artist’s contemplative portraits and landscapes, as well as media reproductions. The book brings readers on a voyage that begins as personal and progresses into a larger political, social and media-related journey. Filled with sobering reminders of violence and countless wrongful deaths of Black-Americans on the road, this photobook poetically communicates harrowing aspects of deep systemic racism in American society. A Parallel Road is especially relevant today in the context of important societal racial reckoning, particularly given the polarized political climate in the age of Trump.
—Kristen Gresh, Estrellita and Yousuf Karsh Senior Curator of Photographs, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Still Here by Vivian Rutsch. Published by Kehrer Verlag.

Just one year before her seventeen year-old sister died, Vivian started to document her sister’s transgender process in collaboration with her. These touching photographs now make a bigger part of the book together with official documents, drawings and diary entries. The story itself is not only about the tragic death (murder?) of a young person; it is also about sexual abuse within the family, the unexplained death of Vivian’s biological father, as well as being a document of personal loss, grief and anger. Vivian also stumbled upon the phenomenon that in Germany supposedly every second murder remains unexplained—a shocking number. Holding this small and unpretentious book in one’s hands guarantees an intimate experience, it will hit you hard sometimes, and no, there is no real happy ending. This is precisely what books are for: addressing truths that might not always be pleasant, giving them a voice that will last and serving as a reminder not to look away.
—Alexa Becker, Acquisitions Editor, Kehrer Verlag

Mara Kuya by June Canedo. Published by Small Editions.

I chose this book because I find myself returning to it, again and again. The images were taken over the course of seven years and take us through the artist’s family between South Carolina and Brazil. We fully feel, and dive into, a family that has been navigating mixed status citizenship. The moments captured are deeply personal and stunning. Tender portraits of family members and quiet moments give us a glimpse into the complex reality of separation. The book is courageous, and Canedo’s ability to tell her story in such a powerful way leaves a lasting impact.
—Sara Urbaez, Founder and Curator, LISTO

To Make Their Own Way in the World: The Enduring Legacy of the Zealy Daguerreotypes, edited by Ilisa Barbash, Molly Rogers, and Deborah Willis. Published by Peabody Museum Press and Aperture.

The most provocative and relevant photobook of the year for me addressed 15 daguerreotypes made in 1850. They were taken because a white scientist commissioned a white photographer to document 15 men and women of African descent who were enslaved in South Carolina. Rediscovered in 1976, these compelling, challenging portraits—if we dare call them that—provide the framework for scholars and artists to analyze the relationship between photography and race and to examine the responsibilities of makers and viewers of portraits. This book, a compendium of varied and fascinating approaches, is a model of interdisciplinary scholarship. Most importantly, it forces us to consider the rights of those being photographed and the import of the fate of their likenesses.
—Barbara Tannenbaum, Curator of Photography, The Cleveland Museum of Art

Thirty Times a Minute by Colleen Plumb. Published by Radius Books.

This publication of Colleen Plumb’s profoundly moving artistic investigation of elephants in captivity is both gorgeous and heartbreaking. Plumb has been making videos of caged elephants rhythmically swaying, roughly in time with their heart rate, which gives the book its title. The creatures are exhibiting what is called ‘stereotypical behavior’—a consequence of being forced to suppress their natural instinct to roam over fifty miles a day. To raise awareness of the elephants’ plight, Plumb travels the country projecting her videos on urban streetscapes. She doesn’t announce the time or location of the screenings but readily engages any interested passersby in conversation about the elephants. The outsized scale of her projections belies the modesty of her approach but is matched elegantly in the publication. The thick volume includes transparent overlays, a folded insert, sumptuous reproductions, and a wide range of essays that consider her work from a wide range of scientific and cultural perspectives. It’s a monumental achievement to which I find myself returning often during my pandemic-induced confinement.
—Lisa Hostetler, PhD, Curator in Charge, Dept. of Photography, George Eastman Museum

The Community by Eli Durst. Published by Mörel.

Durst’s black and white photographs from The Community have haunted me over the past year. Who are these people? Secret societies? Crystal gazers? Religious fanatics? And…the Boy Scouts?! Most images fall somewhere midstream between ritual and demonstration inside nondescript meeting halls. Actions seem purposeful, mysterious, and ambiguous, all at the same time. We feel equally part participant, part observer. Durst’s skill lies in bringing normalcy to the activities, honoring the participant’s desire to seek community. The temptation to participate is palpable, and that’s what makes this work so unnerving. Printed in duotone in Barcelona by SYL makes for luscious tones to balance the ‘Baltz-like’ starkness of these cool interiors.
—Michael Foley, Founder, Foley Gallery

In 2015, Eli Durst began photographing communities where people go to search for purpose and meaning. For the next four years he visited many different groups, from church services, to corporate retreats and Boys Scout meetings. The body of work took on a new significance this year as we had these types of physical communities taken away from us. For me, Durst’s monograph is a rumination on the questions I have been contemplating in this void. How do our communities benefit us? How do they turn us into something we are not? He uses a bright strobe to create beautiful black and white tones that give the work a stark, scientific feel. Viewed in the context of our current reality, it’s a study of what was, which provides a means to consider what reality we wish to return to.
Thea Traff, photographer and photo editor

25 de Noviembre by Ernesto Bazan. Published by BazanPhotos Publishing.

This is a classic. Solid, powerful black and white images (and a few novel color shots) complete the fourth volume of a lifelong love poem to Cuba, by Ernesto Bazan. 25 de Noviembre is undoubtedly the most profound and melancholic of his books, saturated with contemplation and details. After a 10 year exile from a country he has made his own after years of closeness and a family, Ernesto Bazan returns to his beloved island of Cuba (so empathetically similar to his native Sicily) right after the death of Fidel Castro. A poem to the island’s contradictions and idiosyncrasies, a declaration of love that does not avoid seeing the imperfections, but accepts them with compassion and tenderness.
—Arianna Rinaldo, curator, Artistic Director, Cortona On The Move

Tree and Soil by Robert Knoth & Antoinette de Jong. Published by Hartmann Books.

Next year marks the 10th anniversary of the horrific Fukushima nuclear disaster as a result of an earthquake and a tsunami. This year, the book Tree and Soil by Robert Knoth & Antoinette de Jong was published. The duo explores the intrinsic beauty and value of the nature of this region intensely. While travelling, they also experienced the sense of place deeply felt by families who have been living in the area for generations. By combining their landscape photography with artifacts, plant and animal specimens and woodblock prints from the collection of naturalist and explorer Philip Franz von Siebold (1796-1866), they focus on the deeply-rooted relationship that the Japanese have with nature. The result is an in-depth book that can be experienced on an intellectual level as well as a sensory one. The book is important to me because it makes me think about how we humans are part of a larger whole—nature—in which everything is connected. For me, it reflects on how we have lost that connection and on the importance of restoring that engagement. In the pandemic, this seems of great value.
—Kim Knoppers, Affiliated Curator, Foam

Day Sleeper by Dorothea Lange and Sam Contis. Published by MACK.

Of all the books I acquired in 2020, Day Sleeper is one that I keep going back to and looking at several times. Each viewing brings out certain pictures that feel so fresh and interesting. I would attribute this to being a really curious photographer herself—Contis helped bring forth what Lange had expressed at the end of her life: her wish to “photograph constantly, every hour…and assemble a record of everything to which I have had a direct response.” Lange also mentions that this would become a complete visual diary. One of the things I find most interesting is that the book fluctuates back and forth from Lange’s documentary mode that we have all seen before. But the real standouts in this book are the intimate images of Lange’s family and friends. The combination is riveting.
Todd Hido, artist

Zaido by Yukari Chikura. Published by Steidl.

Zaido is an exquisitely-produced tale of spiritual restoration. It is the poetic documentation of Yukari Chikura’s effort to work through the shock brought on by the sudden death of her father. After a period of mourning, Yukari’s father comes to her in a dream and urges her to “go to a village hidden deep in the snow where I lived a long time ago.” She boards a train then steps into the snowy, mystical village in Northeast Japan that is home to the 1,300-year-old ritual festival known as ‘Zaido’. This monograph seems to have several identities and they all work together quite coherently—elements include a Japanese parable housed in vellum with an ancient map, a succession of pages depicting snowflakes falling from dark night skies, and silver endpapers. A quote from Kierkegaard rests in the middle, reminding us to honor the past but to move forward. Yukari’s documentation of the Zaido processions record the importance of Japanese ritual and culture. But this story is much bigger than that—it is a roadmap of how Yukari pulled herself gracefully out of the darkness of loss.
—Laura Moya, Director, Photolucida

A really well crafted book, in the Steidl tradition. A multiplicity of languages cross in Zaido. The ‘classic’ reportage that gives way to Japanese tradition with very poetic photographs, embellished with a rare quality print and a truly remarkable interweaving of papers. A book that talks about traditions and that finds its maximum expression in the traditional ‘Japanese language’. During a dream, Yukari is urged to go on a journey that will lead her to her origins and, unbeknownst to her, to look inside herself. Photographing is always ‘traveling’ and, many times, without even having to walk a lot. It is keeping in mind our past but with an eye to the future.
—Enrico Stefanelli, Founder and Director, Photolux Festival

Some of You Killed Luisa by Valeria Cherchi. Published by The Eriskay Connection.

Warning: this is not a photobook. It is a full blown investigation in the intricate complexities and mysteries of the kidnappings taking place in Sardinia during the last decades of the 20th century, that is between 30 and 60 years ago. Valeria Cherchi gives words to silence and images to the void: she explains and shows what many Italians have been trying to decipher for ages. Through photos, text, conversations, screenshots, archive images and clippings, Valeria Cherchi constructs an incredibly engaging and engaged book, in a small handy format, that is difficult to put down until the last word (and image).
—Arianna Rinaldo, curator, Artistic Director, Cortona On The Move

DI_GI_TA_LIS by Achim Mohné. Published by Hatje Cantz.

This book is out of the ordinary in several ways: it presents images of plants not from the central perspective of the camera, but taken with the line optics of a flatbed scanner; their creation took place in the course of several public performances, in which the scanned plants were cooked into vegan dishes and eaten by those present, during which the scans were printed out and hung on the wall. They cast numerous lights on a debate that goes far beyond their aesthetic dimension and touches on our relationship to nature in its social, ecological, and media-theoretical references. Consequently, this book not only contains images of plants, it also documents the process of their creation and offers a colorful bouquet of essays that reflect the multiple perspectives of the project. A book on plants that pays tribute to the scientific approach of Karl Blossfeldt and Ernst Fuhrmann, but which, in its melancholic beauty, also addresses a challenge to us: look nature in the face, respect and honor it while it is not yet too late.
—Andreas Müller-Pohle, artist, publisher, editor of European Photography

Estudio Elemental del Levante by Ricardo Cases. Published by Dalpine/Torch Press/The Ice Plant.

This brilliantly bonkers book, full of eye-popping images presented in clashing bleeds and intricate cutouts, is the latest from Ricardo Cases, co-founder of the Blank Paper collective and foremost among a celebrated generation of Spanish photographers who came to prominence in the shadow of the 2008 financial crisis. Drawing on work made over the past decade in eastern Spain (the Levante of the title), the book’s structure is akin to the region’s most famous dish—the paella—throwing everything into the pan, from brass bands to Valencia oranges. Yet the subject matter is predominantly dark; the rotting palms, crumbling new builds, and grotesque close-ups hinting that all is not well. This is a place defined by the boom and bust that preceded The Crisis, freewheeling and out-of-kilter.
—Simon Bainbridge, writer, editor and photography consultant

78 by Issei Suda. Published by Chose Commune.

Dark. Hidden. Shadows. Singular. These are a few of the words that resonate for me with this book by Japanese photographer Issei Suda. A gifted artist, he turned the mundane into something extraordinary. These previously unpublished works from 1971-1983 show just over a decade of his vast body of images, focusing on Tokyo and its surrounding areas. A prolific photographer, Suda would be out every day capturing a Japan in transition, less rooted to the traditions of the past. This is a Japan unfamiliar to most, captured in glimpses, gestures and everyday moments made into something more. The heavy shadows and dark printing create photographs that are at once somber and powerful. Equally compelling is the journey of how the book came to be. Plans were underway to produce a book of Suda’s work with a French publisher. Sadly, the photographer passed away a short time later. Working with his widow, the publisher selected 78 images, learning afterwards that Suda died at age 78. This book was meant to be.
—Deborah Klochko, Director and Chief Curator, Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego

Houseplants by Daniel Gordon. Published by Aperture.

In this impeccably executed pop-up book, Gordon collaborated with master paper engineer Simon Arizpe to answer the question: how do you put a still life into motion? Comprised of six images—each a unique technical feat that springs upright when opened—Gordon’s exquisite artist book adds yet another layer to his signature rephotography practice, which toggles between two and three dimensions. Here, Gordon’s photographs of still life tableaux constructed out of printed imagery are cleverly translated back into sculptural form and animated with a page turn.
Susan Thompson, independent curator and writer

Shirley Baker, edited by Lou Stoppard. Published by MACK.

It was a real treat to see this selection of previously unpublished and unseen work from Shirley Baker’s archive, a British photographer working mainly in the 60s and 70s who I had always wanted to know more about since her posthumous show at The Photographers’ Gallery in 2015 (she died in 2014). The book presents images that editor Lou Stoppard found since delving deeper into her archive, and the inspiration and admiration for Baker’s work she felt through her research is tangible. A wonderful insight into a photographer who I wanted to know more about and which left me feeling equally illuminated and inspired.
—Hannah Watson, Director, Trolley Books

The Parameters of Our Cage by C. Fausto Cabrera and Alec Soth. Published by MACK.

While this is not a traditional photobook in that it contains only a handful of images, it is nonetheless one of the most insightful and moving meditations on the power of photography to encourage new ways of thinking, connect communities, reflect on personal narratives and imagine alternative futures. It astutely alludes to the redemptive power of art. Set against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, Black Lives Matter, and growing unrest across the United States, the book charts several months of exchange between the photographer Alec Soth and his unlikely correspondent, C. Fausto Cabrera, an artist and inmate at a correctional facility in Soth’s home state of Minnesota. Cabrera’s organic intellect and Soth’s candour converge as they reflect on the meaning of justice, inequality, freedom, confinement and the power of the imagination as their conversation moves sure-footedly between poetry, literature and the arts, taking along the way Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man to Robert Frank’s The Americans. A truly unique photobook and one that has helped me redefine the parameters of my own cage in this historic and troubling year.
—Alona Pardo, Curator, Barbican Art Gallery

The White Sky by Mimi Plumb. Published by Stanley Barker.

Mimi Plumb’s new book, The White Sky, was a much-needed 2020 palate cleanser. Plumb took the earliest pictures in 1972. This was hardly a time of American tranquility. But Plumb was only 18 and her attention was focused but unforced. Looking at her book now is like taking an eraser to a giant whiteboard that had been scribbled on for decades.
Alec Soth, Photographer, Magnum Photos

Keeper of the Hearth: Picturing Roland Barthes’ Unseen Photograph edited by Odette England. Published by Schilt Publishing.

I liked the ‘idea’ of this book before I even saw it, and when I opened the book for the first time, I soaked up page after page, from start to finish, delighted, over and over again. Here’s the concept: photographer and author Odette England invited more than 200 photographers, writers and artists to offer personal responses to Roland Barthes’ famous essay about a defining picture of his mother (an image that has never been published, known as the “Winter Garden” photo). So, this book has about 200 photos (on otherwise blank pages), poems, or short notes that have intense personal meaning for each of the contributors. It’s a mostly wordless pure celebration of ideas, memories, and the evocative materiality of photography. You can open it at random and find inspiration throughout. (Barthes’ essay had its 40th anniversary in 2020, and it has obviously inspired at least three generations of artists and thinkers.)
—Jim Casper, Editor, LensCulture