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Lots of lists of photobooks cropping up for different reasons.


To close out the remarkable efforts of Jonathan Worth’s experimental open-sourced, web-based, free Photography and Narrative (#PHONAR) course offered through Coventry University, the #PHONAR course closed with a bevvy of recommended readings.

The following photographers, writers, teachers and journalists made picks:

Alec Soth; Andy Adams; Cory Doctorow; Daniel Meadows; David Campbell; Edmund Clark; Fred Ritchin; Geoff Dyer; Gilles Peress; Grant Scott; Harry Hardie; Jeff Brouws; Joel Meyerowitz; John Edwin Mason; Jonathan Shaw; Jonathan Worth; Ken Schles; Larissa Leclair; Ludwig Haskins; Matt Johnston; Michael Hallett; Miki Johnson; Mikko Takkunen; Nathalie Belayche; Peter Dench; Pete Brook; Sean O’Hagan; Simon Roberts; Stephen Mayes; Steve Pyke; Todd Hido

As a contributor, I picked out three titles. Predictably, each dealt with photography in sites of incarceration:

Zona – Carl de Keyzer

Too Much Time – Jane Evelyn Atwood

Intimate Enemy – Robert Lyons

Chris Verene‘s Family was a later addition.

It was a privilege to be asked to guest lecture on this pioneering educational model. Thanks to Jonathan, Matt Johnston @mjohnstonmedia (Chief Engineer) and students for their encouragement and engagement.


The #PHONAR list was spurred by Wayne Ford’s Photobooks and Narrative list.


Following the #PHONAR list, contributor John Edwin Mason extended his selections. Mason’s Photobooks and Narrative: My (Slightly Flawed) Phonar List has an African and African American emphasis.


Tonight, Soth put forward his Top 10+ Photobooks of 2010. As ever, Soth is thorough, thoughtful and generous in response.


Jeff at 5B4 has picked out his 15 choices for Best Books of 2010. The comments section is lively and I don’t think being to conceptual (as Jeff is accused of) is a problem, even if it were a fair allegation.


Sean at the Guardian has selected 2010’s best photography books that you should put in someones stocking.


Niall has put together his Photobooks and Magazines of the Year.

Melanie McWhorter has really taken on the ongoing photobook discussion, archives, exposure, and championing and made it her own.

So far, she’s published three discussions about photography on newsprint. Wonderful stuff!

Newsprint and the Contemporary Photobook, Part 1: Alec Soth and Andrew Roth

Newsprint and the Contemporary Photobook, Part 2: Nicholas Gottlund and Grant Willing

Newsprint and the Contemporary Photobook: Part 3 : John Gossage, Michael Mazzeo and Erik van der Weijde

Clearly, Alec Soth does know what he is talking about … and he talks a lot of sense … and he talks often.

Last week, however, Magnum Photos attributed this quote to Soth and twatted it into the webiverse:

“It’s not about making good pictures anymore. Anybody can do that today – it’s about good edits…”

Thus a medium-sized discussion ensued on the Fraction Mag Facebook page covering the need for outside perspective, audience expectations, technologies beyond those of cameras but of distribution also, etc, etc …

I wanted to know why and when Soth said this and in what context he made the statement. I emailed him. Here’s his response:

Dear Pete,

I don’t when or in what context this comment was made or if it was made at all. Nor do I know who posted it. But this itself is quite telling, isn’t it? Are people interested having serious discussions about miscellaneous, fragmentary tweets? I would much rather talk about a fully realized interview or essay. In a similar way, I’m much more interested in edited projects than I am in isolated images.



I don’t know if we should now discuss this fragmentary correspondence or just leave it alone?

“I’m looking for specific leads you might have in California for the following:

-Sleepwalkers (specific individuals would be best)
-Punk hangouts
-Self-mutilation/flagellation, scarring
-Horror film (in progress….otherwise horror makeup artist)
-Star Wars iconography / Star Wars collectors
-Dolores Huerta / United Farmworkers
-Hare Krishnas
-Metal detector enthusiasts
-Hang Gliders
-Emo’s in Tijuana or Mexicali
-anything else that fits this stream of thinking”

For a long time, in the early days of the war on Iraq, Abu Ghraib was a primary target for insurgents. Even before the photographs of torture were leaked, Abu Ghraib was mortared almost daily. Abu Ghraib held thousands of falsely accused men, the majority of whom were later released without charge, ceremony or apology.

Monica Haller‘s new book Riley and His Story is a collection of thoughts, diary entries and digital photographs from his tour of Iraq. For a period, Riley was a nurse in Abu Ghraib and the images from the medical tent are novel, uncensored, bloody.

Riley’s photographs from the hospital sits between snapshots from military vehicles, marines sat in paddling pools, goofy group shots, Al Franken (?) and decaying out-of-use planes.

This is the aesthetic we all know exists and we occasionally glimpse when there is interest, lawsuit or cultural re-use of military personnel snapshots in the media.

There must be millions of digital photos by American marines. Haller’s book is simultaneously a cleverly assembled piece of the wider dissemination of such imagery and an affirmation to the unexpected familiarity of such imagery.

A 21st century war is not a war without vernacular conflict photography.

Just as soldiers of WWI sent home words thus defining modern war poetry, so the soldiers of today bring home pixels and jpegs and define modern war imagery.

The singular prose, simile and letter-writings that painted a mind’s picture have been replaced by the multiple functionaries and fingers of digital observation.

As were the Abu Ghraib torture photographs, why shouldn’t we expect the next most iconic images of this century to be amateur snapshots? And why shouldn’t we be prepared for an equivalent violence in said iconic imagery?

It is curious that discussions about the lamentable loss of unembedded journalism have not always been balanced by discussion on the tumorous growth of ‘soldier-journalism’ (a term unsuitable, but an understandable extrapolation from the term ‘citizen-journalism’).

Whether you like it or not, the Canon PowerShot and its hand-held competitors own the future of war coverage.

Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon buffered the cruelty of war, but there are few artists now. (We are grateful to Haller for being such a thoughtful manager of Riley’s output.) Nothing is softened or made poetic/metaphorical. Laid bare. Perhaps, both the best and worst of scenarios we should expect is military censorship?

Monica Haller’s book is important not because it is Abu Ghraib and not because the images are snapshots made by American military personnel, but because it is a portent of an aesthetic already upon us. And we are in denial.

From here on in photography is ugly.

I found this project through Alec Soth on the Little Brown Mushrooms blog, via LensCulture.

A video interview with Haller is permanently available at LBM vimeo.

A sizeable preview pdf (over 100 pages) of Riley and His Story is available here.

Riley and His Story has a website. You can find out more about Monica Haller here, here and here.

Joshua, Angola State Prison, Louisiana 2002 © Alec Soth

Alec Soth shot to notoriety before I dipped my toes in photography appreciation. He also terminated his treasured blog before I could jump aboard.

I missed the early boat on Soth’s work and have always felt quite maudlin about that. Really there is no need for my malaise; Soth has travailed the papers, the cameras and the blogs as widely as he has the American Interstates. He has left a busy legacy of interviews.

The sheer number of interviews contributed further to my sense of awe – they amassed to an unscalable mountain of words that needed to be noticed because, as Soth continually insists, photographs cannot tell stories.

During his trips making Sleeping by the Mississippi, Soth asked many of his subjects “What is your dream?” He ended up not using the responses for the book, but held onto the scraps of paper on which folk had written their dreams.

Fort Jefferson Memorial Cross, Wickliffe, Kentucky 2002 © Alec Soth

Of all the responses, the man who stands second from left in the Kentucky prison work crew (above) had Soth’s favourite dream. He said, “I want to operate and own a pilot school”. Soth liked how the dream was “both specific and grand”.

I know this because Soth mentions it in this fantastic presentation and discussion with Andrei Codrescu at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. If you have an hour and seventeen minutes to spare this weekend watch and listen to it.

If not, bookmark any one of these interviews and read at some point in the next year.

Soth with Michael David Murphy
Soth on Assignments
Soth on Portraits
Soth with Ben Sloat
Soth with Aaron Schuman
Soth with Carrie Thompson
Soth with Daniel Shea
Daniel Shea on Soth
Soth with Anthony LaSala
Soth with Paul Schmelzer
Soth with James Miller
Soth with Conor Risch
Soth with Jeff Severns Guntzel
Soth with Roger Rochards
Soth with Joerg Colberg
Soth with Paul Laster
Soth with Jen Bekman
Soth with Minnesota Public Radio
Minnesota Public Radio without Soth
Hilarie M. Sheets on Soth
and Rob Haggart on Soth’s back
Yasmina Reggad interviews Soth with an exchange of images

The Farm, Angola State Prison, Louisiana 2002 © Alec Soth

In the same discussion with Andrei Codrescu Soth confessed to avoiding too much research before he goes to a place; he doesn’t want to burden himself with the knowledge. He also expressed surprise and delight at coming across the histories of places and institutions he’d not consciously sought out … and of those he mentioned prisons.

I was going to add some analysis to these pictures but now that I have exorcised my fear of the massive cult, enjoyment and coverage of Soth, I think I’ll just drop him a line and ask him about incarceration in America. Stay tuned.


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