PhotoBooks of the Year

I’m a bit of a sucker for the photo book of the year lists… When some photographer or critic that I admire picks a book of the year, I’m likely to be entering my Paypal password before I even realize it, and I end up with something that may or may not be my cup of tea, whether or not I have any idea what my cup of tea is or isn’t. I’m starting to get an inkling of what I like, and I’m starting to have some opinions of things too, and they’re not merely based on what some critic or photographer claimed in some blog post or podcast that quietly slipped into the ether along with everything else (and along with this blog post, which likely won’t even make a blip on any imaginary radar anywhere).

In sha’Allah I’m going to try to limit my impulse photobook purchases in 2016. They get expensive after awhile, and I needs me some film, a backup (or primary) film body and a proper macro lens long before I need another photobook that I might or might not even look at again. And so, since these unboxing videos might come a bit more infrequently in 2016, I’ll get the year started off right and give some comments and thoughts to these two: Multitude, Solitude: the photographs of Dave Heath and Early Works by Ivars Gravlejs.

First up, Dave Heath.

Apologies, but I forgot to hit the Record button, so you’ll miss the box-ripping part. Apologies.

So… Mike Johnston over at The Online Photographer picked Multitude, Solitude as his Photo Book of the Year. Mike doesn’t have much to say about it in the linked text, but it’s “incredibly rich” and he “hasn’t been able to digest it all yet, despite having paged lovingly through the magnificent reproductions about six times.”

Blake Andrews has a bit of a different take (scroll down to the “Best career jump-start photobook attempt” section). “…meh. Heath has a nice enough body of work, but not very stimulating. Dark figures in moments of reverie, etc. For me his oeuvre slips undistinguished into the mid-century humanist stew.”

I agree a bit more with Blake than I do with Mike. There are some good pictures in the book, and Mr. Heath is doubtless an accomplished photographer and printer, but his technique (for a time, he shot street photography in NYC with a 200mm lens, and there are numerous pictures of homeless people, differently-abled beggars, and other easy targets) leaves a bit to be desired, for me anyway.

I do like the bokeh off a 200mm lens, and black & white bokeh is about the best there is, so that’s something.

The book is huge, probably the thickest photobook I’ve bought this year. There’s a lengthy essay (that I haven’t yet read, but might), a survey of his early (1948-1960ish) and mid periods (1960 to Ididn’tknoticethedate), a reproduction of a photobook mock up, a short essay on his darkroom techniques, and a selection of color work from the 2000s, plus some artist statements, so it’s a trove of information on Mr. Heath and probably worth the $60 I paid for it, though if I had it to do over again, I might not.


Next up, Blake Andrews’ pick for Photobook of the Year, Ivars Gravlejs Early Works.

This book is also (mostly) black & white, but there the similarities end.

From Blake Andrews’ brief review (scroll down to Photobook of the Year) “In today’s photobook climate I have no idea how this got published by anyone, much less Mack. It shouldn’t work, but against all odds it does.” 

Ivars Gravlejs is a Latvian artist that I wan’t aware of before Blake’s recommendation, and Early Works is, as the title suggests, a collection of Gravlejs’ early works back in middle and high school. It’s a completely different sort of photobook than the Dave Heath book: it’s small and thin, smacking of youthful mischief and fun, and it had me chuckling a few times, much like Gravlejs’ later, adult work (see, for example, the “Shopping Poetry” and “Useful Advices for Photographers” sections of his website). The photographs—many of them, anyway—are not great masterworks of technique or form. The printing, from Mack, is good (or seems to be: I’m not much of a judge on that yet), but the book is a thin softcover, rather than a big, fancy career-retrospective thing. There are some nice photograms and collages, unflattering pictures of classmates and teachers, and all kinds of fun schoolboy shenanigans, and looking at Early Works right after Dave Heath gave me a nice glimpse into the breadth of photography and approaches to the medium.

I’m probably more likely to go back into the Dave Heath book to look for ideas or inspiration, but I’m happier to have the Ivars Gravlejs book on the shelf, I think. It’ll be the one that I show to grandchildren, should Allah bless me with any, and/or nieces, nephews, and other young family members when they’re old enough, and if they show any interest.


I bought a bunch of books this year. I started compiling a list in early December and began making notes about them all. In sha’Allah I’ll write up a post and pick my PhotoBook of the year in a few weeks or so.

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