Bruno Bayley's Best of 2017

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Lewis Bush’s Shadows of the State, forthcoming from Brave Books
‘Numbers stations’ are mysterious radio broadcasts which most people suspect are a means of secure communication between states and their covert actors abroad. I have been quietly fascinated by numbers stations since stumbling across the Conet Project’s website some years ago: the hair-raising, other-worldly voices, and the mythology of stations like the ‘Buzzer’ (thought by some to be linked to a cold war doomsday device) were all it took to get me hooked. Lewis Bush’s new book on the subject is interesting not only in terms of the subject matter, but also it’s composition. There are none of Bush’s photos in the book – which is made up of write-ups on respective stations, as well as visual information sourced from the internet using free satellite imagery and maps which Bush pored over. It’s a photobook about something unseen and invisible, in which there are no ‘photos’ in a traditional sense – a fascinating book, and project.
Bronx Documentary Center
In November I had the great pleasure of meeting Joseph Rodriguez at the Bronx Documentary Center, where he walked me through the show for his new book Spanish Harlem: El Barrio in the ‘80s. Before that I knew very little about the BDC. Quite apart from the show (which was wonderful) and Rodriguez (who was candid, informative and funny), seeing the BDC in the flesh was amazing. It was a national holiday, but there were young photographers associated with the Center’s youth project coming in, visiting the dark room in the basement, and opening the space up for visitors. It was an inspiring thing to see. A hands-on initiative, still operating within the community that it looks to serve, and engaging young people. It was the sort of place that reinvigorates one’s enthusiasm for the ‘photography world’, and reminded me of what I love about the medium.
Mathieu Asselin’s Monsanto: A Photographic Investigation, published by Actes Sud and Verlag Kettler
I remember first seeing this work online some time ago on Mathieu Asselin’s site and then seeing the dummy of the book on display as part of MACK’s First Book Award shortlist in 2016. I rarely set reminders for things, but created numerous notes in various places reminding me to check in on the project – and to keep an eye out for the book’s release. It is, to me, a good example of the extension of what a ‘photo book’ can be… Brining in research, archival documents, press cuttings, still life, knick-knacks, memorabilia, and original photos – the book is an in-depth look at the infamous company’s impact on the environment, and people. It is a thorough, revealing, and visually engaging document about a challenging subject, the implications of which have the potential impact us all. Pablo Piovano’s book on agrotoxins in Argentina, The Human Cost, is another amazing body of work published this year tackling a similar subject and laying bare the brutal effects of chemical contamination.
Laurence Rasti’s There are No Homosexuals in Iran, published by Edition Patrick Frey
Laurence Rasti’s book about Iranian homosexuals living in a sort of limbo in Turkey takes its title from Ahmadinejad’s claim, made in 2007, at Columbia University. The illegality of homosexuality in Iran means that many gay people opt to leave the county rather than live in secrecy. Many who leave end up in Turkey awaiting visas that might allow further travel. Rasti’s photos and the book’s design are beautiful, bright, and vivid. The portraits don’t seem to dwell on the subjects’ marginal status, but celebrate their energy and pride, while acknowledging the difficulties of their situations, and the very real dangers they face at home.
Val Wilmer’s Show and Tell at Tate Britain
I first saw Val Wilmer’s work on an Honest Jon’s LP sleeve about ten years ago, and was able to track her down only thanks to the very fortuitous realisation that we had a friend in common. Since then I have worked with her a number of times, and I have never met anyone more amusing or forthright in the delivery of innumerable tales from the intersection of photography, music, and journalism. In October, Tate Britain hosted a ‘show and tell’ around work that informed or was featured in the Soul of a Nation show. Val was one of the guest speakers, and those fortunate enough to be there in the gallery’s reading room that lunch got a taste of her trademark frank and funny story telling as she gave context, and flavour to some of her photos.