Five books not to miss this month

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From Collier Schorr’s latest publication to a mini-monograph charting Samuel Fosso’s life and work, we round up the recently-released publications to take note of

© Curran Hatleberg.

It is hot in the photographs composing River’s Dream. The hot, clammy heat of northern Florida, where Hatleberg took most of the images. Bees swarm across a watermelon’s flesh while a snake cools itself, its scales glistening amid a murky stream. Men’s bare backs sweat as they dig dusty, dried-out soil, and children mill about on barren swathes of land. A sluggishness hangs thick and heavy as we meander through shadowy clearings and deserted alleyways and streets. A redhead boy slumps in the shadows, striking a match. A man scoops weeds into a bag, rescuing the weather-beaten gravestones they threaten to strangle.

This is the second printing of River’s Dream (the Blue Edition), following the sold-out Red Edition. The photographs’ “depths are all on the surface,” writes Joy Williams in one of the two new essays featured in the book (the other is by Natasha Tretheway). Indeed, the images exude atmosphere, engulfing us in the sticky heat of the curious world they depict. In River’s Dream Hatleberg transports us, artfully translating the hum of northern Floridian life onto the printed page.

August
Collier Schorr
£40, Mack

Joachim. Study for a soldier at rest © Collier Schorr and MACK.

“I wanted to capture a town,” writes Collier Schorr in the short text that concludes her latest photobook, August: a poetic yet weighty study of the small German city of Schwäbisch Gmünd. The artist took the Polaroids that compose the publication more than two decades ago while visiting the German metropolis, compelled to document its history and present in the aftermath of World War Two. “I arrived in Germany while the American army occupied not only the country but the town I was living in,” she explains. “As an American Jew I felt immense permission to engage in the joint history of Jews and Germans. I felt both a documentarian like August Sander and a war photographer from any time period.” 

The photographs, which comprise landscapes, still lifes and portraits, reference Germany’s Nazi past with Schorr occasionally including overt Nazi iconography in the staged images. An extensive list of credits reveal the carefully thought-out concepts behind every frame. The publication is the third volume in a series of books set in southern Germany titled Forests and Fields (Wald und Wiesen), following Neighbors/Nachbarn (2006) and Blumen (2010). Schorr dedicates this specific book to the state of Palestine. As the artist writes: “And the hopes that it can be recognised and that ghosts of people displaced as a result of racist and antisemitic wars can rest with survivors in all lands.”

Do not Cover
Aija Svensson
€30.00, Kehrer Verlag

© Aija Svensson.

“There are devastating secrets we inherit and leave to our descendants over generations, the ones we cannot or do not want to remember but which are stuck deep inside our emotional memory,” writes Finnish photographer Aija Svensson. “When they are kept in the dark, we continue to build on rotten grounds and – intentionally or unintentionally – slowly start creating and accumulating our own secrets.” Svensson’s intimate series Do not Cover addresses this experience. The melancholic publication delves into the multi-layered nature of trauma. How the effects of painful experiences, if buried by those who suffered them, may cling on through generations, shape-shifting and entrenched.

Colour images filled with silence and loneliness compose the book: the sharp outline of vertebrae visible beneath mottled skin; a man crashing back into water surrounded by a halo of spray; an old woman sleeping in a darkened room, her face taught and creased. This is Svensson’s mother on her deathbed, and the point from which the photographer began to reconnect “with a past where many questions are left unanswered and deeds unjustified,” as the artist and curator Rebecca Simons articulates it. As viewers, we are afforded little clarity about Svensson’s history. Instead, her work incites us to reflect on our own inherited traumas and buried experiences, ripe to be passed down to the next.

Samuel Fosso — Photofile
Samuel Fosso
$16.95, Thames & Hudson

Série 70’s Lifestyle. 1977 © Samuel Fosso Actes Sud, 2022.

Despite being a central figure in 21st-century photography, Cameroon-born Nigerian photographer Samuel Fosso’s path to the medium was not clear-cut. Born in 1962, Fosso suffered from paralysis of the arms and legs during early infancy. Later, following his mother’s death, Fosso was raised by his grandparents and then his uncle, who taught him the art of shoemaking. However, in 1974, Fosso persuaded the owner of a photo studio in Bangui to take him on as an apprentice. His childhood paralysis had meant Fosso was not “deemed worthy” of being photographed during his infancy. And the artist attributes his life-long exploration of self-portraiture as stemming from that reality.

Samuel Fosso: Photofile charts the photographer’s artistic development alongside his biography. It is a self-proclaimed “mini-monograph” that delves into how Fosso, who started out as a commercial photographer, carved out a practice characterised by his experimental self-portraits, which he began as a strictly personal endeavour. An introductory essay guides us through his life and work, while the remainder of the publication showcases images from several significant series. Collectively, the photographs exhibit Fosso’s ability to innovate while remaining true to the distinctive self-portraiture that underscores his work.  

Untitled (Portrait). 2016. Courtesy of D’Angelo Lovell Williams and MACK.

“Their work is not diaristic but provides a glimpse of an interiority that many photographers struggle with as they try hurriedly to execute in a time of immense optics,” writes the visual artist Tiona Nekkia McClodden of D’Angelo Lovell Williams’ work. The observation features in an essay, the dystopic cinematic, included in Williams’ first monograph, Contact High — a powerful book that, as articulated by McClodden, is rooted in the artist’s life experiences and ongoing interrogation of their own perspectives. However, the work is not documentary in the traditional sense of the term. As Williams’ has described, “I separate the work from myself. I was documenting my life, but not necessarily seeing it as documentary. And I didn’t necessarily think about how other people related to it.” 

The featured images, spanning Williams’ oeuvre to date, heave with feeling and meaning, while short poems punctuate the pages. In picturing Black queer figures, themself and others, Williams  interrogates myriad themes embedded in the complexities of contemporary life, while also exploring collective histories and Black ancestral practices. A sense of surrealism veils the work, with Williams’ often distorting figures through subtle elements: hands reaching from beyond the frame, bodies blending to appear as one. “ I wanted to challenge and be challenged in what I produced as a Black, gay person or a queer person,” he explains. “[….] I also think about people who came before me who never got to do what I do or never got to experience something that I do.”

Hannah Abel-Hirsch

Hannah Abel-Hirsch joined British Journal of Photography in 2017, where she is currently Assistant Editor. Previously, she was an Editorial Assistant at Magnum Photos, and a Studio Assistant for Susan Meiselas and Mary Ellen Mark in New York. Before which, she completed a BA in History of Art at University College London. Her words have also appeared on Magnum Photos, 1000 Words, and in the Royal Academy of Arts magazine.