Each November, as hundreds of photographers and artists converge on the French capital for Paris Photo, photobook enthusiasts gather to celebrate the year’s best productions at events like the Paris Photo-Aperture Foundation PhotoBook Awards, which has eestablished itself as the leading photography book award, and Offprint, a popular independent publishing fair.
This is usually the time when, here at TIME, we work on our own list of the year’s best photobooks, selected by a committee of photography writers, editors and curators.
Alec Soth used this year’s Paris Photo-Aperture winner, Illustrated People by Thomas Mailaender, to justify his selection of Diary by Boris Mikhailov. “It’s boring to be part of the consensus, but I agree with the jurors of the Paris Photo-Aperture Foundation PhotoBook Awards that Illustrated People by Thomas Mailaender is the PhotoBook of the Year,” he says. “But the existence of such a book is only possible because of the uncomfortable path carved by the great provocateur Boris Mikhailov. When I think of him, I picture a bowhunter in face paint and loincloth. Mikhailov has always been more interested in the hunt than in artful taxidermy. His newest book, , is a thrilling reminder of how long Mikahilov has stayed out in the woods.” Diary (Walther König)
Martin Parr, who, each year selects 10 titles that caught his attention, one title tops this year’s list: Cabanagem by Andre Penteado. “Editora Madalena continues to publish great new books from Latin America, most of which come from Brazil where the publisher is based,” says the Magnum photographer and avid photobook collector. “This book, cunningly disguised as government documents, explores an area of the Amazon where they had civil riots in the 1830s.”
Yet, as we interviewed more than 35 photo experts, one particular book came up multiple times:
Moisés by Mariela Sancari. Selected by Susan Bright, Larissa Leclair and Erik Kessels, and mentioned by many other people, Moisés offers a clever take on design to strengthen its message. “Many artists return to themes such as love, birth, and death in their works. The best convey a unique and personal quality to these universals. The project Moisés by Mariela Sancari was sparked by her father’s death, and specifically by not being allowed to see his body. She still doesn’t know why this was the case — it was perhaps due to the cause of death (suicide) or related to her family’s religious beliefs,” Kessels explained to TIME in an email. “To find closure, Mariela placed a classified ad featuring an old portrait of her father. She asked men of her dad’s age to study the image and contact her should they see a resemblance. Despite the unusual nature of the request, she got the help she needed.”
Moisés is simply extraordinary: “No other book this year has had even remotely come close to the power of Moisés for me.”
In these selections, all genres of photography are represented, from photojournalism with Will Steacy’s
Deadline, to portraiture with Charleroi by Stephan Vanfleteren, to archival with Kishin Shinoyama’s book of portrait of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, a book selected by TIME.com’s new culture photo editor Ken Bachor. “Shinoyama’s ability to capture Lennon and Ono in a subtle and candid manner provides an intimate glimpse into the couple’s later period in 1980,” he says of the book published by Taschen.
Russell Lord, curator of photographs at the New Orleans Museum of Art, Quentin Bajac’s Object:Photo. Modern Photographs: The Thomas Walther Collection showed that looking at the past can offer us a way of thinking about the future of the study of photography. “The spirit of experimentation in the modernist moment that this book traces is not unlike that of today,” he says, “and the thoughtful analysis (both scholarly and scientific) of the synthesis of image and object might offer some keys to thinking about how new processes inform the meaning of digital work made now.” And for photobook expert and writer Colin Pantall, Early Works by Ivars Gravlejs was “funny, original, and completely relevant to everybody who has ever been bored in school.”
These are just a few of the 36 books our experts from around the world and the photo editors at TIME have selected. Far from being a comprehensive list, these are personal choices made with the agonizing rule of selecting just one photobook to represent 2015 in its entirety.
Follow TIME LightBox on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Moisés by inPublished by La Fabrica Jen Tse for TIME Selected by writer and curator Susan Bright: " Moises is an unusual book. Firstly it attempts to make visual something that is completely unrepresentable - a whole jumble of repressed emotions and her dead father. That is a pretty audacious starting point for any photography project. It utilizes staged strategies which is unusual when dealing with issues of death and dying, as the subject tends to be (but not always) documentary based. And then there is the book itself - small, unassuming, clever pacing and smart use of repetition. There are very few books which I find as compelling. This is partly due to the structure of the book and partly because of the simplicity of the pictures that have a powerful jolt to deal with very real human emotions without ever being sentimental or overplayed. It just surprises me every time I look at it. The old men, why they wanted to be photographed, the cardigan seen again and again and there in the middle of it the artist. It’s extraordinary. It’s also strange, sad, mysterious and at times sinister. No other book this year has had even remotely come close to the power of Moises for me." Jen Tse for TIME Selected by writer and curator Erik Kessels: " Moises is a touching series of portraits, each showing a man who embodies an aspect of Mariela’s father.
But this reconstruction goes beyond passing likenesses. Sancari asked the men to wear her father’s clothes, including one in which a standing dad is shown combing Mariela’s hair. While the portraits are otherwise straightforward, knowing the story behind them gives you goose bumps.
Here is a moving project visualizing the journey of a young woman trying to find peace. Furthermore, it demonstrates how the addition of the personal can empower photography in incredible ways." Jen Tse for TIME Selected by photography writer, curator and collector Larissa Leclair, the founder of Indie Photobook Library: "How do you convey the feeling of love and the search for a love that is lost to us? Mariela Sancari has done just that in her photobook Moises and allows us to join her in a very personal journey about her father." Jen Tse for TIME My Blank Pages by Michael SchmellingPublished by The Ice Plant Jen Tse for TIME Selected by photographer, writer and curator Aaron Schuman: "My Blank Pages is a much looser autobiographical record – or in a sense, a “scrapbook”, albeit a carefully designed and beautifully edited one – of Schmelling’s working life over the course of nearly a decade, and incorporates fragmentary notes, clippings, anecdotes, thoughts, memories, portraits, still lifes, interiors, contact sheets, and compellingly kaleidoscopic snapshots.
Yet the apparent randomness of the book, and the material contained within it, is deceptively controlled and incredibly seductive; as if stumbling upon someone’s secret diary that offers a key to their entire being, its messiness sparks ones own inquisitiveness and curiosity, and insists that the reader inhabit the Schmelling’s fascinating inner world – one that is perpetually explored through the camera, and both fantastically and fanatically consumed by the making, and taking, of pictures." Jen Tse for TIME Charleroi by Stephan VanfleterenPublished by Uitgeverij Kannibaal Jen Tse for TIME Selected by Visa Pour L'Image Director Jean-Francois Leroy: "Charleroi has been covered countless times, by photographers with various levels of talent. Stephan, through his portraits, landscapes and unique atmosphere, manages to make Charleroi endearing. Plus, the printing quality is incredible." Jen Tse for TIME Songbook by Alec SothPublished by Mack Jen Tse for TIME Selected by TIME Special Projects Photo Editor Caroline Smith: "I recently read a metaphor that I find fitting, with an abundance of camera phones at our disposal we can create images of anything and everything. We put those images forth into the world just as easily as we say words in a conversation. At times they are lively, intelligent, emotional and at others just another drop in the bucket.
Photographers today often comment on how difficult they find their art within the flow of images and wonder how they will set themselves apart. I think it comes down to this, if we can equate imagery with words then we are looking for poetry and literature.
In Songbook, Alec Soth does just that he spins a beautiful, awkward and emotional poem to the viewer.
This book feels like humanity, it exposes our unified underbelly, our innate weirdness, our longing for connection and more.
We see images of the earnest, joy, the daily grind, despair, searching, the swagger of youth and the decay of age - is this not any one of us on any given day?
Together they create an ode to our universal experience." Jen Tse for TIME Southern Rites by Gillian LaubPublished by Damiani Jen Tse for TIME Selected by TIME Director of Photography and Visual Enterprise Kira Pollack: "Southern Rites is a culmination of extensive documentation in one community over 10 years with supportive reporting. It's a layered story about how race plays out in a small town in Georgia.
The designer Yolanda Cuomo worked with Gillian Laub to bring these stories to life through photographs and oral histories. The result is a stunning and nuanced document of a critical topic that sheds light on race in America today." Jen Tse for TIME Prisons by Sebastien Van MalleghemPublished by André Frère Jen Tse for TIME Selected by TIME Associate Photo Editor Josh Raab: "When Sebastian gets close he stays there. After spending four years photographing the daily lives of police officers, following it up with three years in prisons was both the natural follow up but also a stark departure. Sebastian provides a unique look into the lives of prisoners with a gritty and seemingly accurate approach." Jen Tse for TIME Places (Series) by Bill JacobsonPublished by Radius Books Jen Tse for TIME Selected by author and photography critic Philip Gefter: "They are photographs of a conceptual nature, all referring to a kind of Minimalist aesthetic, a frame within a frame, addressing the photographic plane on a truly perceptual level." Jen Tse for TIME Jet Lag by Chien-Chi ChangPublished by Hatje Cantz Jen Tse for TIME Selected by TIME International Photo Editor Alice Gabriner: "For more than 20-years, Chien-Chi Chang has explored the happenstance and fate of coupling resulting in three prior books: I Do, I Do, I Do, a sardonic take on the conventions of the wedding industry; The Chain, a brilliant portrait study of mentally ill patients bound together at a Buddhist facility in Taiwan; and Double Happiness, which captures lonely Taiwanese bachelors searching for brides through marriage brokers in Vietnam, where the final matches seem as precarious as the pairings of the insane depicted in The Chain.
In the end, we learn that Chien-Chi Chang’s cynicism about these ties fades upon discovering a truer meaning found at home through deep love for his new wife and two young children.
With this uplifting message at the core of this beautiful book, and as a friend for many years, how could this not be my favorite book of the year?" Jen Tse for TIME Gordon Parks: Back to Fort Scott by Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and The Gordon Parks FoundationPublished by Steidl Jen Tse for TIME Selected by LIFE Photo Editor Liz Ronk: "Gordon Parks revisited his hometown in Kansas in 1950 to shoot this story for LIFE - the story never ran and this is the first time it has been published." Jen Tse for TIME Occupied Pleasures by Tanya HabjouqaPublished by FotoEvidence Jen Tse for TIME Selected by photo editor, photojournalist and multimedia producer Jen Tse: "Seven years of photographing daily life in Palestine, showing the resilience of the human spirit under occupation and a more nuanced, even humorous look at the conflict without explicit violence." Jen Tse for TIME It's What I Do by Lynsey AddarioPublished by Penguin Jen Tse for TIME Selected by TIME.com International Photo Editor Mikko Takkunen: " It’s What I Do, is a riveting memoir by one of the world’s top photojournalists, Lynsey Addario, who takes us on a ride from her poolside childhood in Connecticut to the dusty streets of Kabul, Baghdad, and beyond.
The book is a testimony to the passion and dedication that Addario has for her craft, as well as dangers and tragedies she has had to endure. Recommended reading for anybody interested in photography and journalism." Jen Tse for TIME Lago by Ron JudePublished by Mack Jen Tse for TIME Selected by photographer and publisher Jason Fulford: "In Lago, Ron Jude presents us with 54 images that are ripe with associative potential. It is up to the reader to put the pieces together and find meaning. The edit is a masterful example of gestalt, and each reader will decipher their own private narrative." Jen Tse for TIME Grímsey by Cole BarashPublished by Silas Finch Jen Tse for TIME Selected by TIME Senior Photo Editor Michelle Molloy: "One of the coolest things about my job is I get to visit places via bodies of work such as Cole Barash’s Grímsey. Grímsey features beautiful landscapes, and intimate portraits of locals, of a small remote Icelandic island on the Arctic Circle. Don’t miss the accompanied text by Ian Frisch inside the unfolding dust jacket." Jen Tse for TIME The Hollow of the Hand by PJ Harvey / Seamus MurphyPublished by Bloomsbury Jen Tse for TIME Selected by TIME Senior Multimedia Editor Mia Tramz: "It weaves together Harvey's poetry with Seamus' images in a fresh, new way that I haven't seen done with documentary or photojournalistic work before." Jen Tse for TIME Before the War by Alejandro CartagenaPublished by Self published Jen Tse for TIME Before the War by Alejandro CartagenaPublished by Self published Jen Tse for TIME Selected by photography writer, curator and collector Larissa Leclair: "In terms of book form, “Before the War” is not one cohesive “book”, but rather a splintering of signatures, a splintering of narrative; a book broken up into pieces with an equally disjointed story.
The photographs within are suggestive of the people and places affected by the drug war in Mexico. Yet the more information we are presented with, the less we seem to understand. This experience parallels the confusion of citizens living amongst it. Mexican-based photographer, Alejandro Cartagena, adds his perspective and leaves us questioning; What do we truly know? Who do we believe? What is really going on?" Jen Tse for TIME Blank Pages - Of an Iranian Photo Album by Newsha TavakolianPublished by Kehrer Verlag Jen Tse for TIME Selected by TIME LightBox Editor Olivier Laurent: "I can’t think of another country that has been as much in the news in 2015 than Iran. From the nuclear deal signed in July and adopted in October, to the country’s involvement in Yemen and Syria, Iran is asserting itself on the world stage. And yet, it remains, for many people in the so-called West, a mystery.
With her book Blank Pages of an Iranian Photo Album, Newsha Tavakolian shows us the complexity of her home country using the familiar mechanism and aesthetics of the photo album – an object we can all relate to.
Through her careful selection of images, Tavakolian also shows that artistry and journalism can cohabit, a lesson some documentary photographers tend to forget at times." Jen Tse for TIME Almond Garden by Gabriela MajPublished by Daylight Books Jen Tse for TIME Selected by TIME Multimedia Photo Editor Chelsea Matiash: "Rare and exclusive access, accompanied by highly personal vignettes of subjects." Jen Tse for TIME The Evolution of Ivanpah Solar by Jamey StillingsPublished by Steidl Jen Tse for TIME Selected by TIME Senior Photo Editor Myles Little: "I loved the print quality of The Evolution of Ivanpah Solar, the metallic end papers printed with scenes from the book, and the beautiful proportion of the image size to the page size. The subject matter is magnificent and the patterns within the images themselves are just hypnotic." Jen Tse for TIME About Forty Years by Nicholas NixonPublished by Fraenkel Gallery Jen Tse for TIME Selected by photographer, writer and curator Vince Aletti: "About Forty Years by Nicholas Nixon (Fraenkel) Nixon’s most famous photographs are the portraits he’s been making every year since 1975 of his wife Bebe and her three sisters. The Brown Sisters are not included in this fine retrospective book, but they’re not missed. In their absence, the breadth and depth of Nixon’s work are more clearly apparent.
Opening with a number of cityscapes that ground us first in Boston (the photographer’s professional home base) and then in the wider world, the book covers a lot of physical and emotional ground, touching on sex, death, illness, aging, family, and love. Whether he’s focusing his view camera on a struggling newborn or a stand of hollyhocks in full bloom, Nixon’s images always have an extraordinary emotional clarity–a combination of tenderness and incisiveness unique in contemporary photography." Jen Tse for TIME Deadline by Will SteacyPublished by b.frank books Jen Tse for TIME Selected by writer and curator Pete Brook: "Appropriate design and layout are central to a photobook. A newspaper format was the obvious choice for DEADLINE, Will Steacy’s homage to, an examination of, a downsizing Philadlephia Inquirer.
But after making the obvious choice, Steacy had a long way to go and a high standard to meet. DEADLINE is a workers’ history of a paper that in the eighties was known as the “Pulitzer Machine.”
Fanatical in its view of both the newsroom and the printing presses, DEADLINE honors the labor of the copyboys, the reporters, the inkers and the editors equally. Decorated journalists reflect back on the Inquirer’s “Golden Age” and Steacy’s dad reflects on generations of their family working in newspapers. In five sections, the amount of research, fact-checking, phone-calls, line-editing and captioning in DEADLINE is astounding. A collaborative and self-reflective cousin of the newspaper format it references and reveres. Unrepeatable. Unbeatable." Jen Tse for TIME Find A Fallen Star by Regine PetersenPublished by Kehrer Jen Tse for TIME Selected by Magnum Photos International Global Business Development Manager Fiona Rogers: "Regine's book is a fascinating and ambiguous study which uses meteorite stories as metaphors for memory, mortality, religion and race, to name a few. It occupies a compelling space somewhere between fact & fiction, questioning the adage of truth in photography; something the artist refers to as a 'link between the ordinary and the sublime'.
The book itself is exquisite and layered; stories within stories, which when combined provide a thoughtful and multifaceted narrative." Jen Tse for TIME Imperial Courts by Dana LixenbergPublished by Roma Jen Tse for TIME Selected by TIME Deputy Director of Photography and Visual Enterprise Paul Moakley: "In a year where issues of race and violence continued to be on the forefront of the news Imperial Courts turned away from the dramatic stories to carefully examine the individuals of a Los Angeles community where after spending some time one will get to know its people and families in the most ordinary moments.
The book is a testament to Lixenberg's dedication to making humanistic documentary photography that is introspective yet always questions ideas of representation and collaboration with simplicity and respect." Jen Tse for TIME (in matters of) Karl by Annette BehrensPublished by FW: Jen Tse for TIME Selected by photographer and writer Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa: "This is a nuanced, complex and extraordinarily forthright book that contains rigorous, insightful and evocative research. Behren’s book compels us to deal with the dangers of a forgetful relationship to our past, as well as to consider the moral challenges involved in any effort to retrieve what has been neglected or suppressed.
(in matters of) Karl confronts photography’s tendency to seem grossly insufficient in the face of the unforgivable, and its capacity to give us a means to come face to face with the iniquities of our past." Jen Tse for TIME In the Shadow of Pyramids by Laura El-TantawyPublished by Self-published Jen Tse for TIME Selected by photographer Jason Eskenazi: "In the Shadow of the Pyramids is a kaleidoscopic journey through the so-called Arab Spring where the arc of joy and hope for a democratic future coalesce and collide—only to collapse amidst tear-gas and tears. Like the faces of the biblical heroes adorning the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, that had become tarnished and shrouded by centuries of soot, so too has the thick dust of disappointment and despair settled on the countenance of the citizens of Cairo darkly lit by the shadowy glow and vapor of Tahrir Square's tungsten street lamps.
Laura El-Tantawy's book will remain a testament for those who witnessed the aborted embryonic journey of their fleeting democratic future as the patriotic hued jet-fighter trails also quickly evaporated into thin air. In conjunction with the book is a condensed free newspaper version of the book for Egyptians." Jen Tse for TIME L'Esprit des Hommes de la Terre de Feu by Martin GusindePublished in France by Editions Xavier Barral
An English version of the book, called The Lost Tribes of Tierra del Fuego is published by Thames & Hudson Jen Tse for TIME Selected by artist, curator and art director Yolanda Cuomo: "I love this book because it is like traveling through time to a place I never imagined existed." Jen Tse for TIME Life is Elsewhere by Sohrab HuraPublished by Self-published Jen Tse for TIME Selected by independent curator Yumi Goto: "Life Is Elsewhere is about Sorrab Hura's life. His journey is about looking for his life elsewhere. He tries to constantly question himself by simply documenting the broken fragments of his life that may seem completely disconnected to one another on their own.
But he also hoped that in time he would be able to piece together this wonderful jigsaw puzzle called life, and that this journey will perhaps lead him to reconcile with his own life." Jen Tse for TIME My Last Day at Seventeen by Doug DuBoisPublished by Aperture Jen Tse for TIME Selected by photographer and video artist Latoya Ruby Frazier: "Doug DuBois’ book is a remarkable breathing work of art that transcends the book format as an object. Set against a soft socioeconomic backdrop of a small housing estate in Ireland Doug’s keen, graceful and sensitive eye honors teenage contemplation, growth and struggle. This book updates the validity of non-objective personal-documentary work, it values the experience and memory of teenage life, it teaches us that thoughtful and meaningful gestures elevate time and existence." Jen Tse for TIME Pomodori a Grappolo by John GossagePublished by Radius Books Jen Tse for TIME Pomodori a Grappolo by John GossagePublished by Radius Books Jen Tse for TIME Selected by photographer, editor and publisher Lesley Martin: "Pomodori a Grappolo is a three-volume set of photographic observations captured during the photographer’s travels in Italy — the shadow of a tree cast across and the geometric shapes of a green- and pink-stuccoed wall; porcelain mugs imprisoned in the dish racks of a dishwasher; the rectangular slab of a wooden 2-by-4 casually placed on a concrete parapet.
The descriptions of these images fails to evoke their lyricism; each one is a study in seemingly off-handed composition, color, focus — John Gossage at his best. Beautifully printed, the object itself is equally enticing.
Each of the volumes is bound in graphically striking, striped printed cloth. Icing on the cake: the limited edition features a set of magnets to lock the three-book set into a perfectly imperfect stack — photobook as sculpture, or as planned disarray on your coffee table." Jen Tse for TIME Tiksi by Evgenia ArbugaevaPublished by The Eyes Publishing Jen Tse for TIME Selected by National Geographic magazine Director of Photography Sarah Leen: "When I first saw the work by Evgenia Arbugaeva from her hometown of Tiksi in Siberia, I was transfixed and delighted with the fairy tale quality of the images.
They are magical and dreamlike representations of a lost time and place that immediately took up residence in my heart.
They document the life of a young girl who lives in her imagination seemingly unaware of the declining town around her. The scenes are played out in shadowless landscapes or under a sky full of stars and the rippling rainbows of the northern lights.
This is "a once upon a time..." place where you want to step into the images, shed a decade or two, and remember when you truly believed in magic." Jen Tse for TIME