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Best Photobooks 2012: the meta-list

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I like to look at photographs, in genres very different from my own, particularly in book form. I may write some about this obsession later, but for now let me just mention that in some years, I have spent more on photobooks than on photography gear. I also like best-of lists for many things. Despite their limitations, they are a useful way to try and bring order to possibilities that are so numerous as being practically infinite.

Despite the digital onslaught, there is more interest in printed photobooks than ever. The last few years have seen “best photobooks of the year” lists mushroom in November and December. Last year, curator and writer Marc Feustel compiled a meta “best of” 2011 photobooks list by gathering 52 lists, and giving one vote to a book for each appearance on a list. After completing the exercise, he wrote “if I see another list at this stage, I will probably have to take my own life”. As expected he didn’t compile the meta-list for 2012 photobooks. So here I have done the work, using the same methodology, based on a list of 56 lists gathered by Photot(o)lia that you should definitively explore – plus a few others. When you consider that some of the lists within (most notably Photo-Eye) are already themselves meta-lists, that’s actually more than 90 lists and 500 different titles.

The votes are very spread out. While the clear “winner” received about 25% of nominations, the runner up got only 14%, and from there many titles are tied. This large dispersion reflects the considerable number of titles published. The vitality of the photobook is encouraging, even though the lack of consensus may give the disorienting impression that everything is worth the same.

Non-inclusion on the meta-list doesn’t preclude greatness. American Photographs, one of the two most important books in the history of American photography, was reprinted in 2012 for the first time in a quarter century. Other relatively obscure reprints made it to the meta-list, but not American Photographs (maybe because most photobook lovers own already a copy ? the reprint looks better than my 1938 copy). It appeared only on the list by Mike Johnston’s TOP, initially as the top choice because it is that site’s all-time best seller, with readers ordering more than 1,200 copies.

Many of the top-nominated titles are from small publishers, such Mack Books, a small publishing house focusing on intellectually challenging projects, which started only in 2011 (Michael Mack is a Steidl veteran, though) and doesn’t even use traditional mass-distribution. Well-established Aperture and Steidl appear only from the 10th place. I am only beginning to look at the list. So far, my favorite is “(based on a true story)” which is self-published. I haven’t seen “Afronauts” and don’t expect to do so. Well before any of the lists was written, its 1000 copies had already sold out, which is quite remarkable for a debut, self-published book, published in May 2013. If you do something interesting, despite the avalanche of new photobooks, it is still possible to get noticed, coming out of nowhere !

1st Place (23 votes)

  • The Afronauts. CRISTINA DE MIDDEL Self Published

2nd Place (13 votes)

  • Elementary Calculus. J CARRIER Mack

3rd Place (12 votes)

  • The Present PAUL GRAHAM Mack

4th Place (11 votes)

  • Coexistence. STEPHEN GILL Nobody Books (Self Published)
  • Lebensmittel. MICHAEL SCHMIDT Snoeck
  • Lick Creek Line. RON JUDE Mack

5th Place (10 votes)

  • Looking for Love, 1996. ALEC SOTH Kominek Books

6th Place (9 votes)

  • Dive Dark Dream Slow. MELISSA CATANESE The Ice Plant
  • Down These Mean Streets. WILL STEACY B. Frank books
  • Heaven. PAUL KOOIKER Van Zoetendaal Gallery

7th Place (8 votes)

  • Another Language. MÅRTEN LANGE Mack
  • Jeddah Diary. OLIVIA ARTHUR Fishbar

8th Place (7 votes)

  • Circulation : Date, Place, Events. TAKUMA NAKAHIRA Osiris
  • City Diary. ANDERS PETERSEN Steidl/Swedish Books/GUN
  • Deutschland. GERRY JOHANSSON Mack
  • Uncle Charlie. MARC ASNIN Contrasto

9th Place (6 votes)

  • Found Photos in Detroit. ARIANNA ARCARA Censura Publishing
  • Here Far Away. PENTTI SAMMALLAHTI Dewi Lewis Publishing (Hier weit entfernt, Kehrer)
  • Out to Lunch. ARI MARCOPOULOS PPP Editions
  • Two Thousand Light Years from Home. PIETRO MATTIOLI Kodoji Press
  • Vanilla Partner. TORBJØRN RØDLAND Mack

10th Place (5 votes)

  • (based on a true story). DAVID ALAN HARVEY BurnBooks (Self Published)
  • A Natural Order. LUCAS FOGLIA Nazraeli Press
  • A New American Picture. DOUG RICKARD Aperture
  • Billy Monk: Night Club Photographs. BILLY MONK Dewi Lewis
  • Concresco. David Galjaard Self-published
  • In the Car With R. RAFAL MILACH Czytelnia Sztuki
  • Kiev. ROB HORNSTRA The Sochi Project
  • Life Size. SAM FALLS Karma
  • Los Alamos Revisited. WILLIAM EGGLESTON Steidl
  • Petrochemical America. RICHARD MISRACH & KATE ORFF Aperture
  • Photographs Not Taken. WILL STEACY Daylight
  • Scrapbook 1969-1985. WALTER PFEIFFER Patrick Frey
  • The Father of Pop Dance. TIANE DOAN NA CHAMPASSAK Self Published
  • Touch. PETER DEKENS Self Published
  • USSR 1991. KEIZO KITAJIMA Little Big Man Books

11th Place (4 votes)

  • A Girl and Her Room. RANIA MATAR Umbrage
  • A Retrospective. RINEKE DIJKSTRA Guggenheim Museum
  • House of Coates. BRAD ZELLAR & LESTER B. MORRISON Little Brown Mushroom
  • Kodachrome. LUIGI GHIRRI Mack (reprint)
  • Lange Liste 79 – 97. CHRISTIAN LANGE Spector Books
  • Life’s a Beach. MARTIN PARR Aperture
  • Lovesody. MOTOYUKI DAIFU Little Big Man Books
  • Margret:Chronik einer Affäre, Mai 1968. NICOLE DELMES Walther König
  • Mrs. Merryman’s Collection. ANNE SOPHIE MERRYMAN Mack
  • On the Mines. DAVID GOLDBLATT Steidl (reprint)
  • Pictures and Words. JUERGEN TELLER Steidl
  • Poppy: Trails of Afghan Heroin. ROBERT KNOTH & ANTOINETTE DE JONG Hatje Cantz
  • Project Prints. LUIGI GHIRRI JRP Ringier
  • Sailboats and swans. MICHAL CHELBIN Twin Palms
  • Strip-O-Gram. SEBASTIEN GIRARD Self Published
  • Sunburn. CHRIS MCCAW Candela Books
  • The Americans List. JASON ESKENAZI Red Hook Editions (Self Published)
  • The Netherlands. HANS VAN DER MEER YdocPublishing

12th Place (3 votes)

  • Anima. CHARLOTTE DUMAS Self Published
  • Bottrop Ebel 1976. MICHAEL WOLF Peperoni
  • Cette Montagne C’est Moi. WITHO WORMS FW books
  • Closed cities. GREGOR SAILER Kehrer
  • Companion. CHARLOTTE DUMAS Editions Filigranes
  • Face City. PINO MUSI, self-published.
  • Fushikaden ISSEI SUDA Aiko Nagasawa
  • Gary Briechle. GARY BRIECHLE Twin Palms Publishers
  • Handbook to the Stars. PETER PUKLUS Stokovec (Self Published)
  • Los Restos de la Revolucion. KEVIN KUNISHI Daylight
  • Metsästä. ANNE GOLAZ Kehrer Verlag
  • Murals & Portraits. RICHARD AVEDON Abrams
  • My Dakota. REBECCA NORRIS WEBB Radius Books
  • Nocturnes. AM PROJECTS dienacht Publishing
  • Nurture Studies. DIANA SCHERER van Zoetendaal Gallery
  • Ohio ALEC SOTH & BRAD ZELLAR Little Brown Mushroom
  • Rachel Monique. SOPHIE CALLE Siglio
  • She. LISE SAFARTI Twin Palms
  • Singular Beauty. CARA PHILLIPS Fw:
  • Summertime MARK STEINMETZ Nazraeli
  • Taking My Time. JOEL MEYEROWITZ Phaidon
  • The Actor. JOHN GOSSAGE Loosestrife
  • The Quest for the Man on the White Donkey. YAAKOV ISRAEL Schilt Publishing
  • The River Winter. JEM SOUTHAM Mack
  • Thinspiration (Must not Eat). LAIA ABRIL Self Published
  • Tim Walker: Story Teller. TIM WALKER Abrams

13th Place (2 votes)

  • 2013. JUSTIN JAMES REED Horses Think Press
  • 207 West 17th Street #20c NY NY 10011. MATTHIAS HERRMANN Fotohof
  • A Possible Life. Conversations with Gualbert BEN KREWINKEL f0.23 publishers
  • American Portraits. LEON BORENSZTEIN Nazraeli Press
  • Anarchy Photobook Mania. NOBUYOSHI ARAKI Izu Photo Museum
  • Anyway. ARI MARCOPOULOS Dashwood Books
  • Arbeit / Work. CHRIS KILLIP Steidl
  • Before Tomorrow. YANNIK WILLING Self Published
  • Behind the curtains of 21st Century Communism. TOMAS VAN HOUTRYVE Intervalles
  • Black Market. BROOMBERG & CHANARIN, Chopped Liver Press.
  • Brutal. MICHAL LUCZAK Michal Luczak
  • Call and Response. CEDRIC NUNN Hatje Cantz
  • Cardiff After Dark MACIEJ DAKOWICZ Thames & Hudson
  • Censorship Daily. JAN DIRK VAN DER BURG Self Published
  • Cindy Sherman. CINDY SHERMAN MOMA
  • Classroom Portraits. JULIAN GERMAIN Prestel
  • Documenting Science. BERENICE ABBOTT Steidl
  • Ed van der Elsken: Sweet Life: Books on Books No. 13
  • Este Seu Olhar. MAÍRA SOARES. Self Published
  • Fabrik. JAKOB TUGGENER Steidl (reprint)
  • From the Archives. DON HUDSON Éditions FP&CF
  • Furtivos. VICENTE PAREDES Fiesta Ediciones/RM
  • Harold Feinstein. HAROLD FEINSTEIN Nazraeli Press
  • Heavy Hand, Sunken Spirit. DAVID ROCHKIND Dewi Lewis
  • Imaginary Club. OLIVER SIEBER Bohm/Kobayashi
  • In Almost Every Picture 11. ERIK KESSELS KesselsKramer
  • Isolated Places KEIZO KITAJIMA Rat Hole Gallery
  • Jitka Hanzlová JITKA HANZLOVÁ Kehrer Verlag
  • Kazan. MAYUMI HOSOKURA Artbeat publishers
  • Keld Helmer-Petersen: 122 Colour Photographs: Books on Books No. 14
  • Kim Jong Il Looking at Things. JOÃO ROCHA Jean Boîte Editions
  • Kodama.KIMURA HAJIME Mado-sha
  • Krass Clement: Drum: Books on Books No. 16
  • Lewis Hine LEWIS HINE DAP
  • Labyrinth DAIDO MORIYAMA Aperture
  • Larry Sultan & Mike Mandel. LARRY SULTAN & MIKE MANDEL Distributed Art Publishers
  • Left Behind. JONATHAN HOLLINGSWORTH Dewi Lewis
  • Lenore. ERIK VAN DER WEIJDEN 4478zine
  • Malick Sidibe. Portrait of Mali MALIK SIDIBE Skira
  • Matatabi. KOJI ONAKA Super Labo
  • Michigan ALEC SOTH & BRAD ZELLAR Little Brown Mushroom
  • Modern Times. PATRICK TSAI Nanarokusha publishing
  • Moments before the flood. CARL DE KEYZER Lannoo
  • Nathan Lyons. JESSICA S. MCDONALD University Of Texas Press
  • Neue Welt. WOLFGANG TILLMANS Taschen
  • New Colour Guide. JOHN MACLEAN Hunter & James
  • Night and Day DAVID ARMSTRONG Morel
  • Nobuyoshi Araki: The Banquet: Books on Books No. 15
  • Nora. JUAN VALBUENA. phree
  • On borders. OSTKREUZ PHOTOGRAPHERS Hatje Cantz
  • Photo Express Tokyo KEIZO KITAJIMA (reprint)
  • Photography Changes Everything. MARVIN HEIFERMAN Aperture
  • Pieter Hugo. This Must Be The Place PIETER HUGO Prestel
  • Reading Ed Ruscha. ED RUSCHA Kunsthaus Bregenz
  • Red Thistle. DAVIDE MONTELEONE Dewi Lewis Publishing
  • Reprinting the City. STEPHAN KEPPEL FW:
  • Retinal shift. MIKHAEL SUBOTZKY Steidl
  • Revolutions. RÉMI OCHLIK Emphas.is
  • Rien. ANDRÉ CEPEDA Pierre von Kleist
  • Rosette, Mauricette et Roby. ZOÉ BEAUSIRE, Kominek.
  • Ruth on the Phone. NIGEL SHAFRAN Roma
  • Saluti da Pinetamare. SALVATORE SANTORO, self-published.
  • Somewhere. ANDRES GONZALES Self-published.
  • Stay Cool. RJ SHAUGHNESSY Self Published
  • Still. PATRICK HOGAN Self Published
  • Tales of Tono DAIDO MORIYAMA Tate (reprint)
  • The Children Living in Washington Heights 1959-1962. GASHO YAMAMURA Yagisha
  • The Collared Dove Sound. SABRINA RAGUCCI & GIORGIO FALCO self-published
  • The History of Photography in Pen and Ink. (Second Edition) CHARLES WOODARD A-Jump Books
  • The Lost Album DENNIS HOPPER Prestel
  • The Photograph as Contemporary Art. Melinda Gibson Self-published
  • The Table of Power 2. JACQUELINE HASSINK Hatje Cantz
  • There’s a Place in Hell for Me & My Friends. PIETER HUGO Oodee
  • This Folder May Contain Clippings and Other Ephemeral Material LIZ SALES Conveyor Arts
  • Upstate ALEC SOTH & BRAD ZELLAR Little Brown Mushroom
  • Vivian Maier Out of the Shadows VIVIAN MAIER CityFiles Press
  • Vanitas. JOEL-PETER WITKIN Arbor Vitae
  • Vol I. ADAM BROOMBERG Self Publish Be Happy book club
  • War/Photography: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath, ANNE TUCKER, WILL MICHELS, NATALIE ZELT Museum Fine Arts Houston/Yale University Press
  • Wegweiser zum Glück. Bilder einer Straße 1979-1981 WILHELM SCHÜRMANN Hatje Cantz
  • Welcome to Springfield. MICHAEL ABRAMS Loosestrife
  • Wolfgang Tillmans. WOLFGANG TILLMANS Taschen

14 th Place (1 vote)

  • 333 books not listed here

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