Chiara Bardelli Nonino's Best of 2017

Monica Alcazar Duarte’s The New Colonists, published by Bemojake and The Photographers’ Gallery
Why would we want to colonise Mars when we have Mars on Earth? Mexican-British photographer’s book The New Colonists, co-published by The Photographers’ Gallery and Bemojake and designed by Ramon Pez, explores the idea and iconography of the space race by following four UK scientists who are on a worldwide shortlist for a one-way trip to Mars in 2027 and spacing their story (and suspended existences) out with mundane images of every day life in the American suburban town of Mars, Pennsylvania. This strange but powerful juxtaposition raises questions on our need to constantly push our limits and explore the unknown –  ultimately, it makes us reflect on what does it mean to be human.

Spread from The New Colonists by Monica Alcazar-Duarte
Mathieu Pernot’s Les Gorgan, book and exhibition
Producing a meaningful photographic work on the gypsy culture after Koudelka is no easy task but Mathieu Pernot’s moving portrayal of the Gorgan family exceeds all expectations. Published in a splendid book by Éditions Xavier Barral and exhibited at this year’s edition of Les Rencontres d’Arles, Les Gorgan is a work of rare grace: Pernot chronicles the history of the Gorgan family over a period of two decades, mixing different formats, genres and even authors (some of the photos have been taken by members of the family). In these pictures, which Mathieu Pernot started to take when he was a student at the Arles photography school, you can see the relationship between him and the family evolve until the borders between artist and subjects blurs and what remains is an unusual dialogue that defies all definitions – and proves that you don’t need an exotic location or an extravagant book design to produce an unforgettable piece of work.
Jon Larsen’s In Search of Stardust: Amazing Micrometeorites and Their Terrestrial Imposters, published by Voyageur Press
Eugene Cernan was the last man to walk on the moon and apparently while he was there, before re-entering the Lunar Module and returning to Earth, he scribbled his daughter’s initials in the lunar dust. While this is not something you can easily match to impress your loved ones, thanks to Jon Larsen, a Norwegian jazz musician and amateur astronomer, you can now go stardust hunting on rooftops, sidewalks and parking lots (actually it seems that cityscapes are the best places to collect micrometeorites). Larsen was the leader of an international team that proved that extraterrestrial dust can be easily found and identified practically everywhere, and he explains how to do so in a book studded with beautiful micrographs (photographs taken through a microscope) of cosmic dust. If the child in you is not widening the eyes in awe and excitement, I don’t know what could ever do the trick.
Lab New Artists exhibition at Red Hook Labs
Red Hook Labs, founded by Jimmy Moffat, is not your average photography space: it’s a place in which a photography studio, a gallery, a school and a production company coexist as a unique creative community – but most of all, is a a public-benefit corporation committed to discovering, nurturing and sustaining new talents in photography. I found its summer group show Labs New Artists (for which I participated as a juror) particularly important because it gave a real opportunity and a carefully-targeted exposure to 25 photographers not yet represented by a gallery or an agency. Watching some of these young artists grow in their career and being able to help them with initiatives like this, or through our Photo Vogue Festival, photography channel and magazine, is one of the things that makes me happiest about my job.
Crushed: Brooklyn Dirty Book Fair, presented by MATTE Magazine and Point Green
This year Crushed debuted: set to be an annual event, it’s a niche book fair entirely devoted to “independent publishers of erotic and pornographic material and artists working with sex” curated by artist and publisher of MATTE Magazine Matthew Leifheit. This year the fair featured a loop projection of George Pitts’ virtually unseen erotic work, an exhibition of selected queer zines, publications, performances, and/or readings by, among others, Alphachanneling, Math Magazine (a magazine of “radically inclusive porn”), Ben McNutt, Rachel Stern, Chloe Wise – plus a closing “orgy afterparty”. A good reminder that art is supposed to deal also (mostly?) with questions that we may find disturbing, uncomfortable or just simply arousing.
Emmet Gowin’s Mariposas Nocturnas book and exhibition
If you love photography, then you must love Emmet Gowin’s intimate portraits of his wife Edith. I remember the delight in reading that lately, while travelling in the tropics to photograph moths’ flight, Gowin would bring with him a cut-out silhouette of Edith when she couldn’t come along; the images of his wife (or his wife’s simulacrum) surrounded by the hectic, fluttery traces of the little nocturnal animals were so different from his early work but equally otherworldly and lyrical.
This year, Emmet Gowin surprised me again: at 75 he produced his first colour work, an Edith-less celebration of the usually overlooked moth, published in a book by Princeton University Press titled Mariposas Nocturnas: Moths of Central and South America, A Study in Beauty and Diversity, and exhibited at the Pace/MacGill Gallery in New York in the show Here on Earth Now – Notes from the Field.
The moths are all photographed alive (apart from a couple of specimens which Gowin insists are easily spottable if you observe closely their “body language”) and are mostly shot against vividly coloured backdrops that, despite being indistinguishable in the final images, are usually printed copies of his favorite works of art – so we have Piero della Francesca, Andrea Mantegna, Henri Matisse and William Blake walking through the jungle with the photographer and the field biologists.
In the afterword of the book, Gowin writes: “the sight of a moth happily settled on a brightly painted wall under an electric lamp overwhelmed me with the feeling that I was being graced by a visit from an otherwise invisible world”. His beautiful, mystical photographs are doors to this world.