Ten photobooks by emerging photographers to take note of

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This article is printed in the latest issue of British Journal of Photography magazine, Ones to Watch, delivered direct to you with an 1854 Subscription.

These photobooks showcase the work of emerging photographers, students and recent graduates. Many are self-published, and some are still dummies, hopefully, to be published soon

by Marvel Harris
Winner of the Mack First Book Award 2021
Mack, £30

Self-portrait © Marvel Harris. Courtesy of Mack.

“Growing up, I did not know I was autistic. Like many teenagers, I just wanted to feel accepted,” writes Marvel Harris in the artist’s statement accompanying their debut photobook, Marvel, the winner of the Mack First Book Award 2021. “I tried to fit in by mimicking social interactions and behaviours, but this was damaging and exhausting in the long-term. I had sacrificed a lot of my authenticity just trying to survive.”

Harris discovered that they could express and articulate feelings and experiences through photography in a way they could not through words. Marvel brings together raw and honest images tracing their struggles with mental illness, self-love and gender identity. It is a reflection of Harris’ experiences as an autistic, non-binary, transgender individual, with a series of evocative black-and-white self-portraits presenting insight into their physical and emotional transitions. We see Harris cry and laugh, celebrate and struggle. “By sharing my experiences, I hope to contribute to an increased awareness of the issues surrounding gender identity and to participate in a more inclusive and understanding world,” they say.


Weekends with my mother and her lover
by Ashley Markle
2020 graduate, Advanced Track Program, International Center of Photography, New York
Self-published, $40

Upskirt © Ashley Markle.

Ashley Markle’s debut self-published photobook captures the complex dynamics at play in any family. And it does so by honing in on the photographer’s own: her mother, stepfather and Markle herself. The staged photographs, set amid the family’s Midwest suburban home, interrogate relationships between the trio and them as individuals. The images allude to childhood traumas experienced by the subjects. As Markle describes it, she presents each member, including herself, “like a wounded child in an aged body versus an adult who should know better”. And she endeavours to visualise these traumas through capturing “shapes made by the body in choreographed moments of subconscious communication between [Markle] and [her] family”.

The publication also unsettles the behaviour we associate with a middle-aged adult or a 25-year-old woman and those we ascribe to parents and children. The photographs are simultaneously playful and provocative. In one, Markle’s mother feeds her a ripe plum, while in another the photographer stands in a bra, facing the camera, with her mother’s hand on one arm and her stepfather’s around her waist. As Markle says: “Transforming roles, exchanging control and highlighting sexuality form new ways of looking at these subjects.”


The Trails of Imperial Dwellings
by Jodie Wilkins
2021 graduate, BA photography, Arts University Bournemouth
Vessel Editions, £25

Bathing, at home © Jodie Wilkins.

Losing her childhood home and with it, a sense of belonging provoked Jodie Wilkins to embark on her year-long project, The Trails of Imperial Dwellings. The understated book comprises shadowy domestic interiors and intimate portraits, details in her new surroundings evoking her previous home. Wilkins’ use of light and shadow imbues otherwise mundane moments with atmosphere: a fragile sense of comfort and safety. In one photograph, sunlight floods onto a threadbare sofa, a single pillow bathing in its glow, while in another several dishes rest on a rack, slowly drying in the kitchen corner.

Wilkins appears throughout; bathing, lying down, resting, drinking tea. Occasionally, a young man or a friend accompanies her. Their expressions and body language are subdued, a melancholy mood accentuated by Wilkins’ decision to often shoot in black-and-white. Indeed, The Trails of Imperial Dwellings embodies the sense of loss and search for belonging that leaving home engenders. As Wilkins writes in the book’s introduction: “Home disappeared slowly, like baby teeth. One by one, losing parts I thought I needed.”


Blue Tongue
by Tayla Nebesky
2021 graduate, MA photography, University of the
West of England, Bristol
Book dummy

Sunflower in Smoke © Tayla Nebesky.

When it comes to photographic approaches, Tayla Nebesky identifies as a collector — someone who “happens upon scenes or things and makes photographs as those moments come up,” as she describes it in an interview with the Then there was us platform, paraphrasing Jason Fulford. In Blue Tongue, Nebesky frames details across her parents’ ranch in California, a place she left 10 years earlier, but to which she unexpectedly returned for an extended stay. Photography was not always Nebesky’s calling; she studied trumpet performance at Manhattan School of Music before pursuing an MA in photography at UWE, Bristol. But now, returning home, camera in hand, Nebesky could “translate into imagery my observations of a place I know intimately”.

Indeed, the photographs that compose Blue Tongue are meditative, framing intricate details across the ranch. A tiny fly creeps along the slope of a horse’s back, while a wispy leaf lies caught in the delicate threads of a spider’s web. A ratty pink string curls through the gap in the fence while light drenches a forest’s leaf-strewn floor. The atmospheric images capture the ranch’s colour, light and character; windows onto a peaceful and sun-dappled world.


Cherishing archiving repeating
by Johannes Kuczera
Student, HFBK University of Fine Arts, Hamburg
Self-published, €35

Untitled © Johannes Kuczera.

The word ‘archive’ conjures up images of long hallways leading into dark rooms packed with documents, artefacts and memories. However, in Johannes Kuczera’s Cherishing archiving repeating, the archive becomes something else. Here, the photobook acts as an “image container” with Kuczera’s photographs immortalised within it. Three chapters divide the publication. Images of red amorphous forms fill the first, cherishing. These start out abstract, with the silhouette of a leaf slowly appearing before melting into abstraction again. A blank double-page spread bookends the series; outlines of the photographs before and after are vaguely visible – an “image of images”.

Photographs of a ping-pong table’s thin leg introduce archiving, the following section. These give way to a diptych of portraits: one of a woman’s profile and the other of her front-on four years later. A series of images compose the final chapter, repeating. Two hands clutch a portrait of a woman, her hair peeping out from beneath a floral scarf. Over the following pages, the image is bent and creased; repeating in varied forms. The hands obscure the subject’s face, which Kuczera reveals in full in one of the final images. Ultimately, in Cherishing archiving repeating, Kuczera pushes us to question notions of subject and object, playing with the photobook format to consider how we preserve and consume images.


by Linda Zhengová
2020 graduate, BA photography, Royal Academy of Art, The Hague
Self-published, €45

Image © Linda Zhengová.

As a child, Linda Zhengová experienced a traumatic event. Growing up, she attempted to suppress the memory by denying it had ever taken place. But when recurring nightmares and flashbacks intensified 10 years on, she was forced to confront what had happened. Informed by her lived experience, the Czech photographer’s self-published title (and also her final degree project), Catharsis, visualises an “imaginary collective of traumatic experiences”. It explores how we might picture trauma, motivated by the question: “how can one represent something visually that is by its very essence unrepresentable?”

The publication combines new and archival images alongside childlike drawings, oscillating between moments of abstraction and lucidity. It portrays the struggles of coping with trauma in a manner that is neither vague nor precise. The artist seeks to visualise such experiences without trivialising them or over-simplifying trauma as a collective experience that is the same for each individual. “I believe that the creation and viewing of trauma-related art can plant the seed for mutual acceptance and understanding in society. An ethical process that ultimately lifts existing stigmas and helps those suffering from trauma recover and ultimately achieve catharsis,” she writes in the essay accompanying the book.


by Jessie Morgan
2020 graduate, BA photography, Kingston School of Art, London
Self-published, £20

Image © Jessie Morgan.

At the start of Jessie Morgan’s final degree project sits Coco, long-haired and staring into the camera. The pages that follow chart a year in the life of the neurodiverse seven-year-old as they struggle with their identity and outlook. As the publication progresses, Coco changes. There is a handwritten note, which reads, in part: “I want to be a boy. I want to have short [hair].” There are the ends of two snipped plaits. There is a neon blue balloon in the shape of a seven. And then Coco reappears, their hair cropped short.

Over the 100-page book, Morgan documents Coco as they explore their gender identity. The series blends documentary photography with the format of a family album: the images are organic and unstaged, and Coco is present throughout – writing on Polaroids, and in their letters and drawings, which pepper the pages. The connection between photographer and sitter derives from Morgan being a family friend. However, there is also a shared understanding, as the artist describes: “The work sees me create a portrait of someone else that embodies experiences I’ve had myself […] I see both them and who I once was.”


She you me
by Atefe Moeini
Student, BA photojournalism, Iran School of Media Studies, Tehran
Book dummy

Image © Atefe Moeini.

In 1979, following the Islamic Revolution, the hijab was made mandatory for all women in Iran. Despite angry protests against the ruling, women could no longer leave the house without wearing the garment, and a ‘morality police’ emerged with the power to enforce this. In contemporary Iran, it is the Gasht-e Ershad (or ‘guidance patrols’) that ensure women dress according to law. In 2019, the Gasht-e Ershad arrested Atefe Moeini. “In their opinion, my clothing wasn’t Islamic,” she says. Moeini was wearing a red scarf, long coat and ripped jeans. It was her jeans that caught the police’s attention and they violently detained Moeini alongside 40 other women locked up for breaches of dress code. After five hours, Moeini’s friend sent her a pair of trousers, and she was released. “It was only five hours, but I was scared to walk in the streets for months,” she says.

The experience incited her to find other women who had been confronted with similar ordeals. She you me, which Moeini hopes to publish as a photobook, captures women wearing the ‘inappropriate’ outfits for which they were arrested. Several of those featured requested that Moeini conceal their identities. In these cases, clothes and hair become the focus, monumentalising what the authorities persecuted them for wearing in public.


by Mikaela Kilkenny
2021 graduate, BA photography, Arts University Bournemouth
Self-published, £18

Image © Mikaela Kilkenny.

When the UK government enforced a third national Covid-19 lockdown in England in January 2021, over two million students in the UK were impacted once again. Mikaela Kilkenny should have been completing the final term of the BA photography course at Arts University Bournemouth. Instead, she found herself at home with her family in Stratford-upon-Avon, “heavily uninspired”, and expected to develop a final project.

As February rolled around, Kilkenny began writing a diary and photographing her surroundings. Each evening before bed, she sifted through her images, selecting one that reflected how she felt. The result is the self-published Twenty-eight, an intimate record of the ebbs and flows of her state of mind over the month. The zine, which combines images and handwritten reflections, drifts through melancholy snaps of her environment, restless shots of clutter, and more optimistic texts paired with golden sunsets and swans. “I knew I wanted to use the extraordinary situation of the pandemic to produce something true to its time,” says Kilkenny. The result is an honest portrayal of her experience of lockdown, but one that resonates with many other students too.


Ain’t Nothing Changed
by Ali Mohamed and Noah Tjijenda
Students, BA photojournalism and documentary photography, London College of Communication
Self-published, £10

Soap © Ali Mohamed and Noah Tjijenda.

Ain’t Nothing Changed, the first iteration of an ongoing project intends to expose the racism that underlies so much of visual culture, spanning media, advertising, academia and literature. It reaches into history, drawing on sources from the 19th century advocating polygenism: a theory positing that human races are of different origins that is used to justify racial discrimination and inequality. In this way, the project endeavours to understand the roots of racism, putting today’s situation in context. Both deconstructed and reconstructed quotes from varied literary sources sit alongside the imagery, providing critical analysis of the images featured.

A racist advertisement for Pears Soap begins the book. A Black individual is shown in a bathtub, labelled with the caption “Matchless for the Complexion”, as a white person passes him a bar of Pears Soap. A second picture reveals the individual outside the bathtub, his skin now white. The text on the opposite page reads: “[Words and images] are twisted to create a link between the superiority of the product and the superiority of the White man.” Throughout the book, similar pairings of image and text reinforce the message that when it comes to the perception of ethnic minorities, ain’t nothing changed.