Photobooks 2011: And the winner is…

The constant stream of best books of 2011 lists that have appeared in the past couple of weeks got me wondering whether there are any books that are getting all the plaudits. I have pulled together 52 lists in total (the final update to this post was made on 29 December), including my own, (the sources are listed at the bottom of the post). Some contrarians like Blake Andrews included books that weren’t published this year, but for this statistical exercise I have only included books that were published in 2011. After compiling the results (I gave 1 ‘vote’ to any book that was on any of these lists) one book has risen to the top of the pile with 19 votes. And the winner is…

1st Place (19 votes)
- Redheaded Peckerwood, Christian Patterson (Mack)

2nd Place (14 votes)
- A Criminal Investigation, Yukichi Watabe (Xavier Barral/Le Bal)
- Illuminance, Rinko Kawauchi (Aperture)

3rd Place (10 votes)
- Paloma al aire, Ricardo Cases (Photovision)

4th Place (9 votes)
- Gomorrah Girl, Valerio Spada (Self-published)

5th Place (8 votes)
- A, Gregory Halpern (J&L Books)

6th Place (7 votes)
- Series, Enrique Metinides (Kominek Books)

7th Place (6 votes)
- Photographic Memory: The Album in the Age of Photography, Verna Posever Curtis (Aperture)
- A New Map of Italy, Guido Guidi (Loosestrife Editions)
- The Suffering of Light, Alex Webb (Aperture)

8th Place (5 votes)
- The Place we Live, Robert Adams (Yale University Press)
- Salt & Truth, Shelby Lee Adams (Candela Books)
- In the Shadow of Things, Léonie Hampton (Contrasto)
- The Brothers, Elin Høyland (Dewi Lewis)
- Permanent Error, Pieter Hugo (Prestel)
- Rwanda 2004: Vestiges of a Genocide, Pieter Hugo (Oodee)
- Magnum Contact Sheets, Kristen Lubben (Thames & Hudson)
- Animals that Saw Me, Ed Panar (The Ice Plant)
- Redwood Saw, Richard Rothman (Nazraeli Press)
- The New York Times Magazine Photographs, Kathy Ryan (ed.) (Aperture)
- First Pictures, Joel Sternfeld (Steidl)
- Is this Place Great or What, Brian Ulrich (Aperture)
- Visitor, Ofer Wolberger (Self-published)

9th Place (4 votes)
- C.E.N.S.U.R.A, Julián Barón (Editorial RM)
- Dirk Braeckman (Roma Publications)
- People in Trouble, Laughing, Pushing Each Other to the Ground, Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin (Mack)
- Fragile, Raphaël Dallaporta (Editions GwinZegal)
- The Unseen Eye, W. M. Hunt (Aperture)
- Pontiac, Gerry Johansson (Mack)
- Seacoal, Chris Killip (Steidl)
- Koudelka: Gypsies, Josef Koudelka (Aperture)
- Lang Zal Ze Levan, Anouk Kruithof (Self-published)
- Iraq / Perspectives, Ben Lowy (Duke University Press)
- History’s Shadow, David Maisel (Nazraeli Press)
- pretty girls wander, Raymond Meeks
- Believing is Seeing, Errol Morris (Penguin Press)
- Mom & Dad, Terry Richardson (Mörel Books)
- The Heath, Andy Sewell (Self-published)

10th place (3 votes)
- La Creciente, Alejandro Chaskielberg (Nazraeli Press)
- Abendsonne, Misha de Ridder (Schaden.com)
- Chromes, William Eggleston (Steidl)
- Films, Paul Graham (Mack)
- Mexico Roma, Graciela Iturbide (RM Editorial)
- Sunday, Paul Kooiker (van Zoetendaal)
- On Thin Ice, In a Blizzard, Paula McCartney (Self-published)
- You and I, Ryan McGinley (Twin Palms)
- One to Nothing, Irina Rozovsky (Kehrer)
- 83 Days of Darkness, Niels Stomps (Kominek Books)
- A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters, Taryn Simon (Steidl)
- The Bridge at Hoover Dam, James Stillings (Nazraeli Press)
- Les Amies de Place Blanche, Christer Strömholm (Dewi Lewis)
- Abstract Pictures, Wolfgang Tillmans (Hatje Cantz)
- Photographs, Penelope Umbrico (Aperture)
- Interrogations, Donald Weber (Schilt)
- Conductors of the Moving World, Brad Zellar (Little Brown Mushroom)

11th place (2 votes)
- Half Life, Michael Ackerman (Dewi Lewis)
- Unmarked Sites, Jessica Auer (Les Territoires)
- Candlestick Point, Lewis Baltz (Steidl)
- A Guide to Trees for Governors and Gardeners, Yto Barrada (Deutsche Guggenheim)
- One Day: Ten Photographers, Harvey Benge (Kehrer)
- Tibet: Culture on the Edge, Phil Borges (Rizzoli)
- War Primer 2, Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin (Mack)
- Eden is a Magic World, Miguel Calderón (Little Big Man)
- The King of Photography, Tiane Doan Na Champassak (Self-published)
- Double Life, Kelli Connell (Decode Books)
- A Falling Horizon, Heidi de Gier (Fw:)
- Subway, Bruce Davidson (Aperture)
- The Latin American Photobook, Horacio Fernández (Aperture)
- The Vanities, Larry Fink (Schirmer/Mosel)
- In the Picture: Self-Portraits 1958-2011, Lee Friedlander (Yale University Press)
- Color Correction, Ernst Haas (Steidl)
- Astronomical, Mishka Henner (Self-published)
- No Man’s Land, Mishka Henner (Self-published)
- Afterwards, Nathalie Herschdorfer (ed.) (Thames & Hudson)
- Celebrity, Kenji Hirasawa (Bemojake)
- Playground, Jeroen Hofman (Self-published)
- Safety First, Rob Hornstra (The Sochi Project)
- Sochi Singers, Rob Hornstra (The Sochi Project)
- In Almost Every Picture 9, Erik Kessels (Kesselskramer)
- A Head with Wings, Anouk Kruithof (Little Brown Mushroom)
- The Sea, Mark Laita (Abrams)
- Pilgrimage, Annie Liebovitz (Random House)
- Tooth for an Eye, Deborah Luster (Twin Palms)
- God Forgotten Face, Robin Maddock (Trolley)
- Street Photographer, Vivian Maier (Powerhouse)
- Carnal Knowledge, Malerie Marder (Violette Editions)
- 7 Rooms, Rafal Milach (Kehrer)
- Mark Morrisroe, Mark Morrisroe (JRP Ringier)
- Burke + Norfolk: Photographs from the War in Afghanistan by John Burke and Simon Norfolk, Simon Norfolk (Dewi Lewis)
- Hard Ground, Michael O’Brien (University of Texas Press)
- As Long as it Photographs, It Must be a Camera, Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs (Self-published)
- Core Curriculum: Writings on Photography, Tod Papageorge (Aperture)
- Swiss Photobooks from 1927 to the Present, Peter Pfrunder (ed.) (Prestel)
- Photographs 2001-2009, Ken Rosenthal (Self-published)
- Oculus, Ken Schles (Noorderlicht/Aurora Borealis)
- Hurricane Story, Jennifer Shaw (Broken Levee Books)
- Subscription Series 3, Mark Steinmetz (TBW Books)
- Summertime, Mark Steinmetz (Nazraeli Press)
- Dessau, Bill Sullivan (Kaugummi Books)
- Nomad, Jeroen Toirkens (Lannoo)
- Self Publish Be Naughty, Various (Self Publish Be Happy)
- Chinese Sentiment, Shen Wei (Charles Lane Press)
- Waikiki, Henry Wessel (Steidl)
- The Lost Photographs of Captain Scott, David M. Wilson (Little, Brown & Co.)

So there it is. The meta ‘best of’ list. A few points worth noting. I have only included books that got more than 1 vote. There were 313 books nominated in the 52 lists that I used to compile this meta-list. It’s fascinating to see that there is so little consensus on the ‘best’ books of the year and that there is such a broad playing field. There are books on here that were printed in editions of several thousand copies and books that were printed in editions of less than 100. Some artists even managed to get nominated for several books produced in the same year. I’d like to leave you with a final recommendation: remember, these rankings are totally subjective, meaningless and even nonsensical. It’s hard to resist looking at these lists (although if I see another list at this stage, I will probably have to take my own life), but remember that there are hundreds of other books that are just as good if not better than these.

Sources: Brainpickings, The 11 best photography books of 2011; Sean O’Hagan (The Guardian), Photography books of the year 2011; American Photo, The best photobooks of 2011; Alec Soth, Top 20 photobooks of 2011; Rémi Coignet & Maria-Karina Bojikian, Livres de photographie: notre sélection 2011; Le Monde, Ouvrages de fête à savourer (Photographie); Jörg Colberg, My favourite photobooks this year; Tom Claxton, 2011 photobook highlights; Corey Presha, Favorite Books of 2011; Bridget Coaker, Photography Books of the Year; Yannick Bouillis, Favorite photobooks; Bart Peters, 10 favourite photobooks of 2011; Claire de Rouen, Xmas Top Ten; BJP, The best photobooks of 2011; Blake Andrews, Photography Books; Conor Donlon, Favourite Books of 2011; Sebastian Hau, “books that engaged me the most”; Larissa Leclair, The Best Books of 2011 (self and indie published); Willem Van Zoetendaal, Favorite Books of 2011; Rob Hornstra, Top Photo Books 2011; Marcel Du, Best of 2011 photobooks; Photobookstore, Our favourite photobooks of 2011; Elizabeth Avedon and friends, 2011 best photography books; NY Times Photo Department, Our Top 10 Photo Books of 2011; Time, Best of 2011: The Photobooks We Loved; Photo-eye (26 contributors), The Best Books of 2011; Laurence Vecten, 7 livres photographiques du moment, à feuilleter au coin du feu; Me, Another best books of 2011 list.

Before I sign off this post, it is worth remembering that there is also another way to cut this ‘best photobook’ cake and that is sales. This is how the list ends up looking based on sales (according to this article by PDN):

1. Simply Beautiful Photographs (National Geographic)
2. The Great LIFE Photographers (Little, Brown & Co.)
3. The Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton (LIFE)
4. One Nation: America Remembers September 11, 2001, 10 Years Later (Little, Brown & Co.)
5. Portraits of Camelot: A Thousand Days in the Kennedy White House (Abrams)
6. In Focus: National Geographic Greatest Portraits (National Geographic)
7. The President’s Photographer: Fifty Years Inside the Oval Office (National Geographic)
8. Decade (Phaidon)
9. Edward S. Curtis: Visions of the First Americans (Chartwell)
10. Wonders of LIFE: A Fantastic Voyage Through Nature (LIFE)

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28 Comments

  1. Posted 20 December 2011 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    Hello Mark,
    Thanks for this job ! I think we can get to the same conclusion I arrived last year analyzing the Photo Eye’s list (http://deslivresetdesphotos.blog.lemonde.fr/2011/01/14/ledition-photographique-en-quelques-chiffres/) : There is no consensus between us so-called photobook’s “specialists”. Our tastes are very diverse but we can supposed that the books on the 3 or 4 first bars of the scale are important or at least reflect the taste of our time.

  2. Posted 20 December 2011 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    You’re welcome Rémi. I totally agree with your conclusion: I should have mentioned that there were about 170 books in total, which shows you just how little consensus there is.

  3. Posted 21 December 2011 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    You are right Marc, this is the most impressive : upon 170 books, the numbers one get only 7 votes.

  4. Posted 23 December 2011 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Fascinating figures. . the difference between what your poll revealed versus the PDN list points to the huge disparity between mainstream books and those that are distributed less widely and more modestly. Wouldn’t it also be fascinating to know the print run of all of the titles (~170) that got listed and which were internationally distributed? And to poll all the compilers of the 20 lists you consulted to see what books out of the total number of choices (170) they all had 1. known about /2. seen /and 3. That’s a lot more but perhaps worth it for someone whose interests dovetail with this area. . .

  5. Posted 23 December 2011 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    next to last line: omitted the word “considered”

    and 3. considered. That’s a lot. . .

  6. Posted 28 December 2011 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    Mary Ann. It would indeed be fascinating to see the difference. There is a lot more analysing that could be done on these results. However, this already took (and, due to updates, is still taking) a while to do, so I am going to have to be reasonable and leave it at this. I think the overriding message is that there are a lot of great photo books being made at the moment and that most of us are likely only seeing the tip of the iceberg.

  7. Anonymous
    Posted 29 December 2011 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

    Interesting list. With the Photo-eye lists i think some peoples opinion are more respected than others, subjective as you say(always has to be) and depending on whose opinion you respect. For instance I liked Parr’s selction and he picked out the Looters book which no one else did. It brings into question for the people who make lists, how many of the books do people actually get to see? Things to think about in future years. Agreed, I can think of some great books, collectors items that didn’t make it on any list which is nice!

  8. Blake
    Posted 30 December 2011 at 2:13 am | Permalink

    About the availability of the books listed, I make a pretty thorough sweep of the local bookstore (Powell’s) every month and they carry very few of the books on the Photo-Eye lists. This is the largest used/new bookstore in the world, so you can extrapolate to other situations in other cities. Ampersand Vintage in Portland stocks several titles, but that is a unique situation. There are not many stores like Ampersand around. The point is I don’t think many people except for critics and collectors have seen many of the book listed. These may be the glory days for photobooks but the discipline is increasingly splintered, and for most, relatively inaccessible.

  9. Costilhes Cyril
    Posted 30 December 2011 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    Mack publisher of the year!

    Just wondering how “You and I” by Ginley has 3 votes when the book isn’t out yet?!

  10. Posted 30 December 2011 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    Ricardo Cases (3rd Place with 10 votes) is a teacher of our photo school in Madrid! Congratulations Ricardo!

  11. Posted 30 December 2011 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for this job Mark. We use your blog as one of the biggest places for inspiration for our photo students.

    Thanks again.

  12. Posted 30 December 2011 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    I’m honored to be included in your compilation! You said it best “there are a lot of great photo books being made at the moment”

  13. Posted 30 December 2011 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    Cyril, “You and I” by McGinley came out in Autmn 2011 according to the publisher. The most astounding one for me was Raymond Meeks getting 4 votes for Pretty Girls Wander, a book which costs $325 and is in a limited edition of 40 copies.

  14. Posted 30 December 2011 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    Thanks to BlankPaper and Elizabeth for the kind words.

  15. Costilhes Cyril
    Posted 30 December 2011 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    I’m sorry but it doesn’t seems the Ryan Mc Ginley “You and I” been released yet…

  16. Posted 30 December 2011 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    If that is so, that is a bit ridiculous.

  17. Costilhes Cyril
    Posted 30 December 2011 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

    Yes and shouldn’t be on the list…

  18. Posted 30 December 2011 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

    I have a copy of the McGinley book. It’s available from photo-eye Books and Twin Palms.com (they just haven’t updated their website recently). It’s a thick book, beautifully designed.

  19. Posted 30 December 2011 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Elizabeth

  20. Costilhes Cyril
    Posted 30 December 2011 at 11:38 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, been looking forward that book!

  21. Posted 31 December 2011 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    This meta-list has started a few conversations on Facebook groups and there is one comment that I wanted to share with you. I posted the following as a result of some questions that commenters had about why we care so much about lists:

    “Here is Umberto Eco’s answer as to why we care so much about lists, ‘We Like Lists Because We Don’t Want to Die’. Check out this article for a little more context”.

  22. Posted 31 December 2011 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    In response to my above comment, I received the following from Ken Schles (whose book Oculus was included on a few of the best books of the year lists):

    “My commentary on Eco and his lists: “Umberto Eco says we make lists because we don’t want to die; because it is what we do to bring order and comprehension to a world that touches on the infinite. Eco says he likes lists “for the same reason other people like football or pedophilia.”
    To describe something is to make a list. Most early forms of writing—even from a diversity of unrelated cultures—are devoted to lists (see Inca rope records “Quipu,” or clay tablets inscribed with Early Greek Linear B, as well as the earliest Proto-Cuneiform: they were, nearly exclusively, lists). Libraries are lists of books that reflect the mind(s) of the compiler(s). Art and culture are derived from lists and are generative of lists. The Internet is a list itself further refined through searches and “sub” lists that define things to us like Facebook ‘friends’ or oil spills.
    Photography certainly is a form of list making. It says I was here, here and here. It gathers ideas and delimits those things from the surrounding infinite and it makes groupings through the order of things, which point us to ideas about something specific or ineffable. Series of images reinvest the singular list by repetition, further defining aspects of the list. Artists are known for series of topologies, which are basically just lists: the Bechers’s and their water towers; August Sander’s farmers; Blossfeldt’s flowers; photographs as arranged in Gerhard Richter’s Atlas (see the Atlas itself here: http://tinyurl.com/akp59d)—these are, perhaps, the most obvious examples.But every photographer lays claim to lists. Photographers can be defined either by genres or obsessions—from portraiture to landscape to fixations with genitalia or the sky at night. Diane Arbus had her outsiders and Garry Winogrand had his women and his streets, Robert Frank had America and its icons. Commercial photographers get hired because they can be trusted to make images that are extensions of lists they’ve already made: food; cars; lingerie; celebrities; corporate CEO’s; etc. Until they become defined by the lists they’ve made. We define ourselves by the kinds of images we keep or identify with. We use lists to recognize and differentiate things from an infinite number of possibilities that something is not. Until there are so many infinite possible lists and things to put on those lists that the lists themselves compete with the infinite. Until the list itself becomes so large and undifferentiated that the culture that the list originated in and depends upon drowns in it.”

  23. Posted 31 December 2011 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    I’ve read different lists before these final and very interesting statistics, and some looked more relevant than others. Anyway, among the diverse conclusions you can get from that compilation, I’d like to point out two things : I’m not chauvinistic at all, but I’m worried about the lack of french authors (except Dallaporta) and of french publishers. A question of visibility or a question of quality ?
    And second, except Mack for the first prize, the true winners for publishers are Aperture and Nazraeli press. Very fine books but somehow classical (above all Aperture) for the designs.

  24. Johan Brink
    Posted 1 January 2012 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for a great job and an interesting list. Some of own favourites among new interesting titles. Here is another top list, actually in swedish. http://fotografibloggen.se/

  25. Posted 2 January 2012 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    Here‘s a more precise link to Johan Brink’s list mentioned immediately above. And here‘s Saitō Atsushi’s list (from 14 December) in Japanese.

  26. Posted 4 January 2012 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    As promised, I will not be updating the mega-list above, but for the completists, here are a few more lists that I have stumbled across: Blake Andrews; Ofer Wolberger; Hester Keijser; Laurence Vecten and readers (sorry Laurence, but it is actually a list).

  27. Posted 5 January 2012 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    Great work and very nice resource. Thanx!

    Here is my list.

  28. Posted 8 December 2012 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    In case any of you were wondering (I’m looking at you Microcord), I’m not going to be doing this again this year (2012). It almost killed me last time around and this year the best of lists started in November and are still pouring in thick and fast. If someone else would like to take on the mantle, be my guest!

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