Blind has handpicked top 10 books from the short list of 58.
1. Seiichi Furuya & Christine Gossler, Face to Face, Chose Commune (shortlisted for the Author Book Award 2021)
Face to Face is the sixth and final installment in a series of books entitled Memoirs, launched in 1989 by the Japanese photographer Seiichi Furaya. The project began in 1973 when Furaya left Japan for Europe on the Trans-Siberian Railway. Newly arrived in Austria, he met Christine Gössler, and in 1981 they had a child together. Shortly thereafter, she began to show signs of schizophrenia and committed suicide in 1985. Since then, Furaya has kept revisiting his/their story through his archives, building what could be called his life’s oeuvre. Having published five books on the subject, in 2018 he uncovered photographs taken by Christine with a small, 35mm pocket camera. While examining his findings, he was surprised to discover that Christine would often take his portrait at the very moment he was photographing her. This “face-à-face” is presented chronologically, tugging at our heart strings. Elegantly edited by Chose Commune, the result is extremely moving.
2. Cemre Yeşil Gönenli, Hayal & Hakikat: A Handbook of Forgiveness & A Handbook of Punishment, Gost Books and Fil Books (shortlisted for the History Book Prize 2021)
This astonishing book brings together a book of forgiveness and a book of punishment in two facing booklets of black-and-white photos of men whose heads are outside the frame. The images hark back to the reign of Abdul Hamid II, the 34th sultan of the Ottoman Empire, in power from 1876 to his deposition in 1909. The sultan had once read in a detective novel that “any criminal with a thumb longer than the joint of their index finger was likely to murder.” Prompted by this pseudo-science, he ordered that all convicted murderers be photographed with their hands in plain sight, in preparation for amnesty to be based on the length of their thumbs. It was during a workshop that Turkish artist Cemre Yeşil Gönenli came across this story, in the course of research, he discovered the archives that supported it. The photographer then cropped out the faces of the prisoners to accentuate the ambiguity of the images. The fate of each inmate remains unknown to this day, as no trace has been found of the verdict Abdul Hamid II gave upon seeing their hands.
3. Mashid Mohadjerin, Freedom is Not Free, Royal Academy Fine Arts (shortlisted for the Author Book Award 2021)
“I had no specific plan when I started this series, I just wanted to find images that spoke to me,” said Iranian photographer Mashid Mohadjerin, referring to her project Freedom is Not Free, which eventually took the form of an eponymous book published with a print run of 500. It is divided into five parts, each introduced by a text written by Mohadjerin. The starting point is the year of her grandmother’s birth: 1934. We then follow the thread of Iranian history across portraits of the women who had surrounded her, from friends to family members. These portraits are juxtaposed with places from the photographer’s childhood, objects she found touching as well as images connected with the 1979 revolution and the way this upheaval had affected the daily life of Iranian women. In the background, collages superimpose elements of everyday life, music icons, and so on. Through this intimate self-portrait and that of her intimate circle, the artist tells the history of women in Iran and, in the backdrop, of their fight for freedom.
4. Miguel Trillo, La Primera Movida, Archivo Lafuente and La Fabrica (shortlisted for the Historical Book Award 2021)
The book takes a look back at La Movida, one of the most unique, spontaneous movements in contemporary Spanish culture, active mainly in Madrid in the early 1980s, and whose members included the famous director Pedro Almodovar. La Primera Movida is the work of the Spanish photographer Miguel Trillo, who was a privileged witness to the parade of mods, punks, moderns, sinisters, rockers, and Teddy Boys. Trillo was always taking pictures of this world that surrounded and fascinated him. He took part in all the wild nights. To show his images, he recalls, “since I could not share them on Instagram,” he would create fanzines (Rockocó, Callejones y avenidas) which he distributed by hand. They made it into this book which pays a vibrant tribute to a generation of legends.
5. Stephen Knöll, Nasa Apollo 11: Man on the Moon, Tillack Knoll Studio, Spector Books (shortlisted for the Historical Book Award 2021)
The cover of the book shows a footprint on the surface of the Moon, to be precise, one made by the left foot of Neil Armstrong, a member of the Apollo 11 crew and the first man to step onto the surface of the Moon on July 21, 1969. In his book Nasa Apollo 11: Man on the Moon, the designer and researcher Stephen Knöll revisits this extraordinary adventure of a successful space voyage. Thanks to materials from the NASA archives, brought together for the first time in their entirety, we go from the inside of the spacecraft to the control room on the ground, covering all the stages that led to this breakthrough mission. To photograph their surroundings on the Moon, three crew members were equipped with a Hasselblad 500EL data camera fitted with a Reseau plate and a Zeiss Biogon 60 mm lens. Whether or not one is interested in space travel and astronauts, leafing through this book and discovering the images of this other world provokes a special emotion.
6. Caroline & Cyril Desroches, Los Angeles Standards, Poursuite (shortlisted for the Author Book Award 2021)
Up and down and across Los Angeles: 1300 photographs taken by the architects Caroline and Cyril Desroches paint an architectural portrait of this multifaceted city. Streets, palm trees, neon signs, storefronts, mini-malls—everything is there. As one turns the pages, one is often taken by surprise, for example by these overgrown houses, inspired by topiaries, where the vegetation functions like a building material. Organized into chapters, Los Angeles Standards allows the reader to establish comparisons, analogies, correspondences. Throughout this meticulous work, we rediscover a city that has been photographed a thousand times and that will never stop surprising us. Los Angeles, city of all possibilities, for better or for worse.
7. Moe Suzuki, Sokohi, Self-published (shortlisted for the Historical Book Prize 2021)
Sokohi, a word coined in the sixteenth century, designates in Japanese an ocular disease that causes severe visual impairment and for which there is still no treatment. The Japanese photographer Moe Suzuki’s father suffers from this disease. A publisher throughout his life, he kept a daily diary and photographed constantly during his travels. His daily life was transformed by his deteriorating eyesight. In this large-coil spiral-bound book (a nod to the notebook the artist’s father used as a diary), his daughter is trying to present the world the way her father sees it or is unable to see it. A project of light and shadow, this extremely touching book is meticulously put together by a woman who defines herself as a book artist.
8. Roberto Aguirrezabala, Two Thousand Words, Editions Roberto Aguirrezabala (shortlisted for the Author Book Award 2021)
A sophisticated yet playful object, Roberto Aguirrezabala’s Two Thousand Words folds and unfolds. It presents twelve images taken at street level by a nameless amateur photographer in August 1968 during the invasion of Prague by Soviet tanks. Hidden in the folds of the images is the original Czech manifesto by the writer Ludvík Vaculík, which simultaneously appeared in various newspapers on June 27, 1968. The text was a reformist declaration, in the spirit of openness that characterized Czechoslovakia in early 1968, with the coming to power of Alexander Dubček, who had tried to give socialism a human face. Moscow reacted to this spirit of change with a show of power, sending Warsaw-pact troops to invade the country and restore order. In what the philosopher Milan Simecka calls book-nobook, Aguirrezabala seeks to negate the book, to push its boundaries, calling everything into question. Did someone say, Revolution?
9. Youqine Lefèvre, The Land of Promises, unpublished (shortlisted for the Luma Dummy Book Award Arles 2021)
“In 1994, six Belgian families, including my father, went to China to adopt girls. I was born in Hunan Province in 1993 and was adopted at the age of eight,” says photographer Youqine Lefèvre. “According to the official documents in my possession, I stayed with my biological family for a month before being abandoned.” With the help of administrative records, archival photos of these six Belgian families (including her own), and snapshots she took in the country of her birth during two trips in 2017 and 2019, Lefèvre looks back in this self-published book at China’s birth policy and its many consequences, but also at her own story. The Land of Promises, she says, “reflects a desire, a need to reconnect with my origins and to reclaim my history.” Alongside portraits taken in her native China, there are excerpts from interviews she conducted with her subjects. This beautiful book, which starts with the photographer and reaches out to others, and vice versa, is a lesson in humanity.
10. Beata Bartecka and Lukasz Rusznica, How to Look Natural in Photos, Palm Studios (shortlisted for the Historical Book Award 2021)
One must peruse How to Look Natural in Photos at length to catch all the nuances, all the connections created by the curators Beata Bartecka and Łukasz Rusznica between these photographs taken by the Polish secret police from 1944 to 1989. Most of the nameless photographers who captured these “reconnaissance photos” were novices, learning to use state-supplied cameras while secretly surveilling their subjects. They documented everything from burned-out cars and fingerprints to plane crashes, demonstrations, briefcases, crime scenes, arrests, and dead bodies. The book reveals extensive and entrenched use of photography as a tool of power, manipulation, and violence. It is a story of spies, agents, guards, algorithm programmers, surveillance subjects, suspects, archivists, convicts, and accidentally photographed bystanders. This is photography at its most human and inhuman.
By Sabyl Ghoussoub
Born in Paris in 1988 to a Lebanese family, Sabyl Ghoussoub is a writer, columnist, and curator. His second novel Beirut entre parenthèses was published by Antelope in August 2020.
To learn more, visit the Arles Books 2021 website.