A selection of photobooks to look out for this spring

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This article is printed in the latest issue of British Journal of Photography magazine – a special edition with a double theme, Love / Ukraine. It can be delivered direct to you with an 1854 Subscription or available to purchase as a single issue on the BJP shop.

From Rhiannon Adam’s latest photobook to Susan Meiselas’ historic series Carnival Strippers revisited, we round up the recently-released publications not to miss

Carnival Strippers Revisited
by Susan Meiselas
Steidl Verlag and C/O Berlin, $85

Image © Susan Meiselas.

Susan Meiselas began working on her series Carnival Strippers five decades ago, soon after turning 24. The year was 1972, and the photographer met a dark-haired stripper in the bathroom of a country fair. It was an encounter that “led to a journey of many returns,” as Meiselas describes it, and arguably one of the most significant photographic projects of the second half of the 20th century, which helped earn Meiselas membership to Magnum Photos.

The making of Carnival Strippers spanned four years and 15 different locations across America’s rural east coast as Meiselas followed the carnivals from town to town, documenting the lives of the dancers on stage and off. In 1976, the photographer collated the work into the historical photobook Carnival Strippers, re-released in 2003.

The publication blends photography and text to create what Meiselas describes as “a filmic approach inviting a total immersion”, a method enabling the photographer to explore a subject susceptible to voyeurism with complete distinction. “I had to imagine a different form to engage readers in the nuanced experience of the girl shows,” she reflects.

Carnival Strippers Revisited marks the third edition of the book. It comprises two separate publications: a revised version of Carnival Strippers complete with previously unpublished photographs, and a companion volume, Making Of, which provides an insight into the work’s creation. “For decades, no one has looked at the box from which this collection of archival materials came,” writes Meiselas in one of the texts. “Viewing it now, I can remember the endless hours leading from months into a year, transcribing words by hand, excerpting quotes from many conversations onto file cards, then sitting on the floor and weaving those cards between images to create a narrative context.”

Making Of provides an unprecedented insight into this process, comprising work prints, proofs with printer annotations, contact sheets, pages from Meiselas’ handwritten field notebook, selected correspondence with the project’s subjects, quotes from initial historical research, and typed transcriptions of extensive audio recordings. The inclusion of early colour images is particularly compelling given black-and-white photographs solely composed the original publication. More than anything, however, Carnival Strippers Revisited serves to emphasise the importance Meiselas has always placed on connecting with her subjects. As she articulates: “Making Of begins to peel back some of the layers, reclaiming my belief in the possibility of mutual engagement with both subjects and readers through photography.”

Big Fence/Pitcairn Island
by Rhiannon Adam
Blow Up Press, €99

The Devil Makes Work For Idle Hands, Irma Christian © Rhiannon Adam.

In March 2015, Rhiannon Adam travelled to the remote island community of Pitcairn in the South Pacific, which, a decade earlier, entered into public consciousness after a string of high-profile sexual abuse trials. On Pitcairn, Adam intended to photograph every islander during her three-month trip. Although she succeeded in infiltrating the closed community and creating the first in-depth photographic series on the island, titled Big Fence/Pitcairn Island, the resulting work is distinct from that which she intended to create. Instead, it reflects the insidiousness of sexual abuse on Pitcairn, but also more widely. As Adam writes: “While this project is a study of one location, we should also see this work as an allegorical construct, a lens through which we can scrutinise society’s collective darkness.”

The follow-up book of the same name expands this central element of the work. It is a multilayered publication: simultaneously a reflection of Adam’s experiences on Pitcairn and during her childhood growing up at sea, a historical reference book of sorts, and an art object in and of itself. The pastel-coloured cover bears a gold-rimmed illustration of a ship navigating choppy seas. This is undoubtedly a reference to Mutiny on the Bounty, a childhood gift from Adam’s father intended to convince her of the adventures that one could have living on a boat, which also partly inspired the work.

Inside the cover is a pouch containing a detailed map of Pitcairn, aerial images, a family tree, and a caption index. The book is divided into two parts: a volume of Adam’s photographs alongside archival material and interviews with her subjects, and a second section devoted to her own experience, detailed in extensive captions and two texts, one by Adam and the other written in collaboration with Gem Fletcher.

by Vanessa Winship
Deadbeat Club, £43

Ohio, 2020 © Vanessa Winship.

Vanessa Winship’s latest monograph began with a commission. It’s an unexpected starting point as Winship rarely works on assignments. Nonetheless, the photographer found herself in rural Ohio, where the rugged landscapes immediately compelled her, and then repeatedly returned, endeavouring to understand what was drawing her back.

Snow is the result – a beautifully crafted book, reminiscent of a journal in both shape and feel. White flecks speckle the cover. And Winship’s name adorns the back, scribbled across it in elaborate scrawl.

The subjects and landscapes in Snow are distinct from much of Winship’s work. A sense of detachment permeates them, contrasting with the intimacy for which the artist’s portraits are renowned. The corpse of a deer lies limp in the grass, while the black silhouette of a faceless figure is visible from above; willowy trees part, forming quiet clearings, as curious ornaments populate eerie front yards. A fictional text by the poet and novelist Jem Poster runs through the pages, adding to the sense of mystery: it tells of a female photographer, who is not Winship, and a recalcitrant subject, who’s not visible in any image.

Photography: Race, Rights and Representation
by Mark Sealy
Lawrence Wishart, £14

Above: Are My Dreams Too Bold for the Carbon Skin I Bear #1 © Courtesy of Wilfred Ukpong and Blazing Century Studios, Nigeria.

Mark Sealy’s latest book, Photography: Race, Rights and Representation, expands on ideas and arguments explored in his publication Decolonising the Camera: Photography in Racial Time. It collates texts generated by Sealy over his three decades working as a curator of photography and director of Autograph. As Sealy writes in the publication’s introduction: “When [the texts] were first written, they were not aligned to a fixed photo-orthodoxy, they simply existed. In these hostile times, they serve as reminders of how vigilant we have to be in defending social justice and political change. Collected together, they are cultural offerings that attempt to give voice to historically marginalised perspectives within photography.”

Alongside thematic essays and in-conversations, Sealy includes texts devoted to individual artists and also specific photographic series, such as Joy Gregory’s Autoportrait (1989–90), Aïda Muluneh’s The Memory of Hope (2017), and Sunil Gupta’s From Here to Eternity (1999). “Collectively, the bodies of work discussed here function as missing chapters, black chronicles or lost scores,” writes Sealy, “sometimes at rest but often trapped in between official histories of photography.” Indeed, Photography: Race, Rights and Representation feels urgent. It considers past, present and future decolonial visual practices at a moment when the politics of looking are both fraught with tension and ripe for change

by Shane Rocheleau
Gnomic Book, $65

Jo pregnant © Shane Rocheleau.

Lakeside – set in a suburban Virginian neighbourhood of the same name – is a dark, brooding book permeated by a quiet yet uneasy atmosphere. The mood is accentuated by the lack of text, save for two quotes, which bookend the publication – one from the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung and the other from the American writer Cormac McCarthy. Apart from these, the seven chapters that divide the publication, and a detailed caption list, the photographs are left to speak for themselves. The paper stock means the dark tones almost glimmer, immersing us in the desolate scenes: a suburban road shrouded in the shadows of trees; the cluttered interior of a gloomy room, illuminated by a strip of light creeping through a door. And there are portraits too — all depicting men, their sombre faces etched with wrinkles.

Lakeside’s darkness reflects the bleakness of the social and political realities it confronts: a fractured America poisoned with “nationalist rhetoric and myth”, as Shane Rocheleau articulates. Rocheleau hones in on the ramifications of a broken US in the context of Lakeside. But, ultimately, the book speaks to issues facing the country and, indeed, the world.

Road to Nowhere
by Robin Graubard
Loose Joints, £35

Image © Robin Graubard. Courtesy of Loose Joints.

Robin Graubard was born in New York City and came of age amid its 1960s and 70s counterculture. She graduated from NYU film school and worked as a photographer in the city for a time. However, after the newspaper that she was employed by closed down, Graubard bought a plane ticket to Prague. She remained there from 1993 to 1995, the city providing a safe base from which to explore the tumult of Eastern Europe with Graubard traversing the former Yugoslavia, Albania, Russia, Bulgaria, Poland, Romania and Hungary. With press credentials from Newsweek, where Graubard had done some freelance work, the photographer documented the Yugoslav Wars, Bosnian genocide and Kosovo uprising, often collaborating with a German-French writer who was a Count descended from Hungarian royalty.

However, Graubard did not solely cover conflict. Through her rich colour images, she also framed socially-focused stories: runaways and orphans living in train station tunnels in Bucharest, a girls’ school in Prague, and emerging subcultures and post-Soviet identity. Despite the strength of her raw documentary images, Road to Nowhere is Graubard’s first photobook, and although undoubtedly overdue, its publication seems unfortunately timely.

The Vulgarity of Being Three-Dimensional
by Tine Bek
Disko Bay, €40

Image © Tine Bek.

Ripe, round apricots nestle amid folds of pink tissue on the cover of Danish artist Tine Bek’s first monograph, The Vulgarity of Being Three-Dimensional. The visceral image encapsulates what’s to come: a rich exploration of texture and shape through a succession of photographs framing “an excess of uncontrolled forms”. There’s a mound of pâtisserie pastries dripping with icing, piled high in an ornate, golden-rimmed pot; a woman’s face, her cheeks plump and blushing, golden hair piled atop her head; black, soft armpit hair creeping out from beneath a sleeve.

“We are never satisfied with the images it would seem, as we turn the pages voraciously in a wild joy in search of meaning – a narrative that will act as a tempering device to relentless hunger,” reads one of the accompanying texts. Indeed, the visual exuberance is not satisfying in and of itself. Instead, we are left pondering the significance of the images, searching for meaning. The publication masquerades as an object of beauty. However, the avalanche of vivid colours and intriguing shapes intentionally lacks substance, provoking readers to question why they want more; what meaning are they attempting to extract from the photographs?

The Truth is in the Soil
by Ioanna Sakellaraki
Gost, £45

Achlys (Mist of Death), 2018 © Ioanna Sakellaraki.

The death of Ioanna Sakellaraki’s father prompted the artist’s series The Truth is in the Soil – a five-year reflection on her own experience of grieving, grounded in an exploration of collective mourning in Greek society. The artist focused on the last female community of professional mourners on the Mani Peninsula of Greece; individuals traditionally hired by grieving families to lead their ritual laments. Professional mourning dates back to ancient times, although it has gradually disappeared due, in part, to Greece’s economic issues and the custom not being passed down through the generations. Sakellaraki found a certain solace in the practice, which allowed her to explore the performative and fictive aspects of mourning and the idea of creating a space where death can exist.

The poignant images that compose the publication evoke the process of their making. They are muted and multilayered, filled with subjects grounded in reality, but imbued with colours rendering them dream-like, as though they exist on an alternate plane. Faceless silhouettes gaze onto rugged mountain ranges while expressive portraits of female mourners lock eyes with us beneath crinkled veils. Coloured light bathes eerie landscapes, and mysterious still lifes punctuate the pages. Alongside the photobook, the project will be exhibited at Belfast Exposed until 21 May 2022 and at Photo 2022: Being Human, in Melbourne, from 29 April to 22 May 2022.

Hannah Abel-Hirsch

Hannah Abel-Hirsch joined British Journal of Photography in 2017, where she was Assistant Editor. Previously, she was an Editorial Assistant at Magnum Photos, and a Studio Assistant for Susan Meiselas and Mary Ellen Mark in New York. Before which, she completed a BA in History of Art at University College London. Her words have also appeared on Magnum Photos, 1000 Words, and in the Royal Academy of Arts magazine.