The photobooks to look out for this summer

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From a photographer’s vision of New York to a publication born out of the complicated relationship between artist and ‘muse’, we round up the recently-released and forthcoming photobooks not to miss

Catherine Opie
by Hilton Als et al
Phaidon, £100

Tyler S, 2008 © Catherine Opie.

Over the years, Catherine Opie has photographed diverse subjects, including high-school football players, mini-malls, protests, freeways and her family. While refusing the confines of a singular identity, the embodiment of architecture seemingly connects these unrelated works. Opie examines people, places and politics as architectural sites that we build identity upon – all in service of our human desire to belong. In a conversation that frames her new self-titled monograph, Opie tells curator Charlotte Cotton: “All I’m trying to do is to say, ‘I’m living here, now, at this time, and I am an artist who is interested in how we negotiate the lives that we’re all living’.”

In Catherine Opie, we get to explore the photographer’s universe of images. Born over four decades, the publication charts her prolific career, offering dynamic new interpretations through sharp and unexpected sequencing. Occupying a space between critical thinking and critical feeling, the book animates how photographs move through time, how they are imbued with history, and how they reflect the work that still needs to be done. Opie’s mastery is rooted in the embodiment of her politics. She uses photography to trouble our understanding of the world and creates work that moves us to be more accountable and empathetic.

Words by Gem Fletcher.

by Bieke Depoorter
Des Palais, €79

Agata. Paris, France. 02 November 2017 © Bieke Depoorter/Magnum Photos.

Bieke Depoorter first photographed Agata in her bathroom several hours after the pair met in a Parisian strip bar. Agata immediately compelled the photographer. And so began an ongoing friendship and creative partnership between the two. The next three years saw the pair engage in an intense collaboration, spanning several countries, which went further than just photographer and muse. Agata and Depoorter were companions, yet they also “used each other”, Agata searching for and experimenting with her identity before Depoorter’s lens, and the photographer documenting Agata to explore the complexities of her practice.

Agata brings their collaboration to book form. It is an honest publication and reveals two women grappling with themselves and their relationship with one another. Japanese bound, with perforations on the fold, the book’s pages can be ripped open by readers. Unripped Agata exists as a series of exquisite photographs sitting somewhere between documentary and fiction, punctuated by reflective texts and letters between the two. However, if torn open, the book reveals the most intimate and raw moments of their collaboration. As Depoorter expresses it: “It is up to the reader to decide if they want to keep on digging further.

Words by Hannah Abel-Hirsch

Speak the Wind
by Hoda Afshar
Mack, £35

Image © Hoda Afshar. Courtesy of Mack.

The Strait of Hormuz links the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Its blue waters curl past the southern coast of Iran, and the northern tip of the United Arab Emirates and an exclave of Oman. In Hoda Afshar’s Speak the Wind, the Iranian photographer hones in on the islands that populate the waterway, specifically their inhabitants’ belief in the ability of the winds to possess and sicken a person and the unique customs associated with this. The origins of the belief system remain unclear. However, similar beliefs exist in several African countries, suggesting they may have originated in south-east Africa and arrived in the south of Iran via the Arab slave trade.

First visiting the islands in 2015, Afshar felt compelled by the rituals associated with the placating of the winds: islanders practise a ceremony during which a cult leader communicates with the wind to free a possessed individual from its clutches. The islands’ otherworldly landscapes also intrigued her: endless undulating rock formations, worn down and sculpted by the winds too. Speak the Wind is Afshar’s meditation on this mysterious world: a quiet and atmospheric book where solitary figures punctuate shots of exquisite vistas, captured in both colour and black-and-white.

Hannah Abel-Hirsch

Surface Tension
by Tabitha Soren
RVB Books, 34/special edition 130

Berkeley-burning-why-the-campus-erupted-in-protest © Tabitha Soren.

Since 2014, Tabitha Soren has been photographing her iPad screen with an 8×10 view camera in raking light to reveal the residue left behind by her fingerprints as images from her social media, text messages or web history appear below. “The subjects pictured beneath the surface record our culture while the smears of fingerprints record our lives, our flitting attention,” explains Soren. “They map how we spend our time.”

Paris-based RVB Books has devoted a monograph to her series, Surface Tension. Though the overall scope of the multi-year project is wide, the book necessitated a narrow selection. “The edit is very urgent, almost apocalyptic,” says Soren. “After the Book of Job year we all experienced thanks to Covid-19, we felt like sticking to the images that screamed ‘emergency’ made the most sense.” On the front cover, fingerprints merge with billowing, black smoke. Long, iridescent smudges on the back cover feel meteoric, like falling stars, as two cars burn in the background. Inside, images of landscapes and buildings ablaze, protesters in the streets, police lights, and officers creating human barricades overwhelm the viewer. “It is an understatement to say that we humans are not doing well. I wanted the book’s sequence to reflect that,” says Soren.

Words by Allie Haeusslein

Photography Now: Fifty Pioneers Defining Photography for the Twenty-First Century
by Charlotte Jansen
Ilex Press, in collaboration with Tate, £35

From the series Fireflies © Poulomi Basu.

“I have always been fascinated by the idea that a photograph allows us to see the world as another sees it,” writes Charlotte Jansen in the foreword to her latest book. In an era when photography is ubiquitous, Photography Now delves into the work and ideas of 50 living artists – including Nan Goldin, Wolfgang Tillmans, Juno Calypso, Zanele Muholi and Cindy Sherman – to explore how they continue to evolve and contribute to the medium. And how each of their practices visualises distinct perspectives on the world – ones that history has often shut out and which the present continues to.

The themes and subjects addressed by the featured artists are urgent and varied – as are the styles and modes of creating they each employ. Spanning photographic genres and formats, collectively the work featured illustrates the experimentation and invention that continues to propel the medium. The publication shows that photography is not something that frames reality and truth; indeed, an image can never be truly objective. Instead, Jansen illustrates the medium’s complexity and possibilities. And, as the photographers on the pages show, one that has never been more relevant. As Jansen writes: “[Photography] is the clarion cry in a world adrift.”

Words by Hannah Abel-Hirsch.

New York, New York
by Marie Tomanova
Hatje Cantz, €38

Ayet, 2019 © Marie Tomanova.

In 2011, Marie Tomanova left her family’s farm in the small border town of Mikulov, Czech Republic, and travelled to America’s West Coast. She was 26 and alone. Despite having just completed an MFA in painting, she felt lost. It was only a year later, two weeks after moving to New York, that she found her direction after visiting a 2012 show of the late Francesca Woodman’s work at the Guggenheim museum. Woodman’s work resonated, and so began Tomanova’s journey as both a photographer and a resident of New York, employing photography to understand and carve out a place for herself in this new world.

New York, New York, which follows her acclaimed first publication Young American (2019) and which she will launch at this year’s Les Rencontres d’Arles, brings together portraits shot across the city, mostly during 2019 and 2020. As Kim Gordon, formerly of the band Sonic Youth, expresses in her foreword: New York is a place of “freedom”, “good times” and ultimately somewhere that “being ‘cool’ is accessible to all, a New York kind of democracy”. And in New York, New York, an assemblage of young and – for lack of a better phrase – supremely cool individuals, who Tomanova captures in her distinctive style, embodies this spirit. Indeed, this is Tomanova’s New York, and a sense of her world – the adventure, experimentation and freedom – bursts through the individuals immortalised on the publication’s pages.

Words by Hannah Abel-Hirsch.