01 January 2012

My nonpopular year in books

How did photo-eye know how ill-prepared I was to consider the best books of 2011?

Having written for their year-end summary for two years, I thought I might be asked to contribute again. But as the year in books approached its close, I wondered about what I’d seen and been impressed by, new-book-wise, during the last twelve months. As I am most years I was deeply involved with books, including co-curating Threefold, a show of indie photobooks at the PRC, with Shane Lavalette and Larissa Leclair, and writing several essays for photographers' monographs. But apparently I missed a few new titles.

Scanning the published lists (including photo-eye’s 26, which cite 157 books, and the astounding, labor-of-love compendium from Marc Feustel of eyecurious noting books that appeared on at least two of 52 lists he surveyed--he had to find some way to winnow down the 313 different titles that were highlighted), I realize that my friends in Santa Fe understood something, perhaps unconsciously, about my bandwidth as a reader/reviewer. It is, I am surprised to realize and admit, quite narrow.

Where have I been this year? Boston, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Portland; I’ve been around the photo circles, but still I saw only a small percentage of the books “everyone” is talking about (52 “best of” photobook lists? That’s a large bandwagon.). I have scarcely enough in-person experience of the  “bests,” let alone the entire 2011 crop, to pass judgment. I have 22 of the listed items; some I bought, others I was given (thanks Alec, Jen, Ken, Lydia, Susan), and a few I reviewed. There are ten titles that I was interested in before they were lionized, including one very highly ranked one that I am awaiting for review (Talk about pressure! See the review here.). And there a few I have coveted, and in more flush years I might have purchased.

I am, in short, woefully incapable of passing judgment on the burgeoning trade in contemporary photobooks. Many of the books on people’s lists were completely unfamiliar to me. I should add that I am also comparably clueless when it comes to year-end rankings of popular movies, video games, music (I’m not always sure which is the name of the group and which is the music they produced), and local bars. I am decidedly not enmeshed in the "popular." But at least in the realm of photography I consider myself more involved than most. Still, I am glad I didn’t have to rely on my fractional awareness of the year in publishing to make my own list. It is so hard to keep up these days.