Photography Books of the Year 2014

Every year a number of people pick their photography books of the year. In almost every case this means picture books. So here are the selections of photography books of the year by some writers, primarily of books full of words about photography. If anything it shows the diversity of photographic publishing, especially given that no two writers have picked out the same book. Plenty here to interest the inquisitive.

Geoffrey Batchen
Patrizia di Bello
David Campany
Justin Carville
Mary Warner Marien
Lucy Soutter
Bernd Stiegler


Elspeth H. Brown and Thy Phu eds., Feeling Photography

Tanya Sheehan ed., Photography, History, Difference

Paul G. Pickowicz, Kuiyi Shen and Yingjin Zhamg, Liangyou: Kaleidoscopic Modernity and the Shanghai Global Metropolis

Anne Ferran, Shadow Land texts by Susan Best, Anne Ferran and Thierry de Duve.

Batchen books

Any selection of favourite books is mediated by a combination of personal interest and happenstance. My selection also points to the current state of photography studies, with these books collectively representing a global perspective and a diverse range of voices and issues. I have chosen two anthologies of essays. Together they showcase a new generation of scholars, speaking from a variety of disciplines but bound by a common concern for the marginal and the displaced, whether that be the histories of photography in places like Ireland, Iran, Indonesia and Canada; the social stratifications of race, class, sex and gender; or simply the taboo issues of feeling and sentiment. Both are highly recommended. Liangyou offers an exhilarating glimpse into a new continent of photographic practices, focusing on an innovative magazine published in Shanghai from 1926 to 1945 and exploring the various ways it addressed itself to the burgeoning modernity of that city. In so doing it touches on everything from the appeal of patent medicines to the invention of a modern Chinese masculinity. Shadow Land acknowledges and surveys the career of Australia’s finest photographic artist of the past thirty years, examining how Anne Ferran has tenaciously given visual form to the experiences of women that would otherwise be lost to history. It is an exemplary case study of what an artist can contribute to the social life of the present.

Geoffrey Batchen teaches art history at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand.




Manuel Vason, Double Exposures - Performance as Photography / Photography as Performance, ed. by David Evans. For how it performs its book-ness, mainly.

Luke Fowler, Two-Frames Films (2006-2012), for how it makes us think about the double-page spread.

Joan Fontcuberta, Pandora's Camera, although not full of glossy pictures, it is a lovely tactile as well as visual object, and the essays are a delight to read. Not too expensive either, a deluxe stocking filler!

Patrizia di Bello is author of The Photobook: From Talbot to Ruscha and Beyond.



For me 2014 was the year of stodgy prose by intelligent but inarticulate academics. I waded through countless tomes that were too long in every sense, from the sentences to the paragraphs and the overall page count. Small but important arguments bloated and diffused in such a way that they could only ever preach to dogged converts. And me: all year I looked for needles of insight in haystacks of waffle. I shan’t name names. If photography academics wish to be read by more than their peers and their Phd students, they need to start crafting their words. With that off my chest, I can tell you about the books that have remained in my mind and on my desk. All explore the depiction of conflict.


Inge Henneman ed., Shooting Range: Photography and the Great War

The scholar and curator Inge Henneman led the team that researched and presented this extraordinary study of the various uses made of photography during the First World War. There is propaganda, soldiers’ ‘selfies’ and memento mori, morale-boosting exhibitions, postcards, images by military photographers, aerial reconnaissance photos and copious examples from the early days of reportage and photojournalism. This project was an enormous undertaking, but the research and choices of material are first rate and full of surprises.  I saw the multi-layered exhibition at FoMu in Antwerp. Now I’m reading the accompanying publication.  This book will last.

Simon Baker, ed., Conflict, Time, Photography

For me, curator Simon Baker’s show at Tate Modern was brave and inevitably flawed (but all I ever want from a thematic exhibition is that moment when ‘success’ tips thrillingly into failure). The attempt to organize photos of the last century’s major conflicts by the time – from seconds after events to a hundred years after – is clever and suggestive. However, ruins and traces tend to resemble each other. Such is the law of entropy. So I think the conceit works much better as a catalogue.  Here the sedately formal elegance of the show is compressed into a thick wad of same-size images. It allows you to see the mad, compulsive circularity in the picturing of war’s aftermaths and memories. It is, as they used to say in the 1920s, a ‘visual argument’. The accompanying essays are a great bonus.

Ernst Friedrich, War Against War (1924)

My 1924 copy of Ernst Friedrich’s book is falling apart, having been looked at by dozens of students over the years. The author was a pacifist anarchist who managed to round up a wide range of images from the First World War that had been suppressed, censored or were never for public consumption. Photos of war crimes, medical images of appalling injuries, documents of civilian deaths and more.  It was published with text in four languages and became an anti-war bestseller in the traumatized post-war years. It still resonates in today’s highly policed visual culture.  Moreover, Friedrich’s understanding of context and how images can be appropriated and re-functioned strikes me as perfectly contemporary.  This re-edition is most welcome.

David Campany is author of The Open Road: Photography & the American Road Trip.




Christopher Wrights 'The Echo of Things: The Lives of Photographs in the Solomon Islands' was officially published in December 2013 but did not hit the bookshelves until February 2014. Wright provides an ethnographic study of the social uses of photography by the peoples of the Roviana Lagoon, identifying the singular photographic image as connected to ancestral pasts, memory and history. Some of the best writing on the social uses of photography has emerged from cultural anthropology and 'The Echo of Things' is another reminder of how little I know about photography outside of Europe and North America.

Elizabeth Edwards and Sigrid Lien's edited volume 'Uncertain Images: Museums and the Work of Photographs' is an important addition to the study of photography's multiple histories. The contributors are academics and museum professionals and the essays provide interesting insights not only into the place of photographs in a broad range of museum settings but also how photographs are mobilised or suppressed in the visualisation of histories that are difficult to incorporate into agreed national narratives. Without singling out any specific contributors there are some wonderful insights into the role of museum photographs in the cultural politics of photography and representation.

John Roberts 'Photography and its Violations' is hot off the press. It arrived in the post in the morning and was so compelling I read it from cover to cover that day. This is not to say it is an easy read. It is very dense in its use of language but cuts through the details of many recent debates about photography and social relations with surgical precision, taking to task many of the field's leading theorists such as John Tagg and Ariella Azoulay. As with Roberts's other writing on photography, some of the most significant theories of the last 40 years are put under much needed dialectical analysis in a discussion of the social ontology of photography and realism. This is an important book and one that will have a lasting impact in debates about photography's emancipatory capacity to break with the stifling pressures of globalization, conflict and social surveillance.

Justin Carville is author of Photography and Ireland.



Carol Squiers, What is a Photograph?

Kristen Gresh, She Who Tells A Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World 

Lena Johannesson and Gunilla Knape (eds.) Women Photographers—European Experience


What is a Photograph? served as the catalog for the 2014 Museum of Modern Art exhibition of the same name. The texts transplant post-modern ideas into the larger category of conceptualism. But editor/curator Carol Squiers is not seduced by theory. She stresses that images generate ideas, not vice versa. She Who Tells a Story, which accompanies a currently circulating exhibition in the U.S., also insists on the complexity of visual expression and photograph-based documentation. New to me was Women Photographers—European Experience, a hefty 2004 book that accompanied a touring exhibit. It, too, eschews easy deductions and linear thinking. It is an overlooked gem.

Mary Warner Marien is author of Photography: A Cultural History.




Joshua Simon, Neomaterialism

Simon is an Isreali academic/curator who updates the Marxist critique of commodity for the digital era. He gave a fascinating talk at the ICA last week about selfies (I did not think there was anything fascinating left to say about them, but he managed it!). In an age of unfettered capital, it strikes me as burningly important – more than ever – that we maintain a sense of the historical and economic big picture, and Simon does this with flair. This book has a lot of important insights for contemporary photographers as artists and cultural producers.

Sarah Thornton, 33 Artists in 3 Acts

Do you want to be part of an exclusive photo tribe, or do you want to participate in the global art world? Would you like the conceptual tools to properly understand the difference? Sociologist Thornton interviews a range of international art world figures, asking them each the deceptively simple question “What is an artist?” Their answers range from the predictable to the gobsmacking. This book can provide even the hardened art world insider with new insights about what it means to be an artist now.

Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things

A political theorist Bennett provides a wealth of provocative examples of ways we might reconsider the world with inanimate matter at the centre rather than the periphery of our consciousness. If we want to slow the pace of ecological disaster, we should think about how and why things matter. Photographs are images, but they are also, of course, objects, and frequently depict objects. This book will transform the way you think about stuff.

Lucy Soutter is author of Why Art Photography?




Steffen Siegel ed., Neues Licht, Daguerre, Talbot und die Veröffentlichung der Fotografie im Jahr 1839

The book is a fantastic and comprehensive collection of documents coming from the mythical first year of the history of photography. Quite a lot of them haven't been published for more than 150 years. If you want to understand the historical context of photography's eve this book is a wonderful guide. It is going back to the historical roots in order to understand why photography has become what it is right now.

Tobias Zielony, Vele

Vele is a film and a photo-book at the same time. The German photographer Tobias Zielony was working in this notorious suburb of Naples nearly at the same time as Matteo Garrone was directing a film on the Camorra based on Saviano's book Gomorrah. Zielony's film 'Le Vele di Scampia' is made up of 7000 photos and he extracted about 300 for this book. It'a fantastic and fabulous ride until the end of the night in this strange place. I haven't seen such an impressive use of light in photography for a long time. You will admire the fireworks at the end of the book.

László Moholy-Nagy, Sehen in Bewegung

A classical book to be rediscovered! Moholy's last (and really exceptional) book on photography and vision, available for the very first time in German. It's a shame that the English edition is no longer in print. You will find everything you want to know about late modernism and the theory of perception right here.

Bernd Stiegler is professor of twentieth-century German literature and of literature and media at the University of Konstanz.

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Source-Cord Prize Judgement Day


Today we are announcing the 25 shortlisted photographers for the Source-Cord Prize. The winners will be announced next month when a special issue of Source is published. In September the judges met to talk over the submissions. As they arrived I spoke to them all to ask what they thought of the work they had seen and how easy they thought it would be to reach a consensus.

This is how the judging process worked. There were 926 submissions. The judges each had a month to look over these submissions online, from which they then made a shortlist of 25 that they ranked 1-25. From these a combined shortlist was made. This was the work that would be discussed by the judges in person on the day. I think we were all surprised how little overlap there was between the judges' individual selections which meant that a number of the pieces of work on the table were initially only strongly advocated by one judge.

The judges had print outs of the work and we talked over each portfolio by turn until these had been narrowed down to sets of pictures that at least three judges backed. We then stopped for lunch. I had to leave before the final selections were made but it was interesting to see the way the conversation took place in the morning. All the judges mentioned the diversity of styles and this could be read differently depending on the context. Stefanie picked out some documentary projects saying it was rare to see the approach in Germany while John and Kate agreed it was comparatively common in the UK.

There was some horse trading, 'If we are going to have a poetic project about growing up then it should be THIS one...' but in general having four views of each piece of work meant the strengths and weaknesses of each set of pictures were well examined. In most cases the judges could readily accept one another's point of view even if it didn't necessarily settle the matter for them. By lunchtime at least, they had arrived at a selection that could provide a winner that everyone would agree on.

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Media Space, Stranger than Fiction

The artist Joan Fontcuberta has accused the Science Museum of censoring his work to placate the Russian government. This is a story in the new issue of Source, out today.

Joan Fontcuberta is a distinguished artist and winner of the 2013 Hasselblad Award. His solo exhibition at the Media Space, 'Stranger than Fiction' opened at the end of July. Among his works is a series called 'Sputnik' that elaborately fabricates a Russian space mission crewed by someone resembling the artist himself. The Science Museum has a planned exhibition 'Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age' that depends on loans from Russia. Fontcuberta says that sensitivity about this planned exhibition led the Museum to censor his show: ‘I was told that because of delicate loan negotiations with the Russian government… the Media Museum direction decided not to include that project to avoid offending them. End of discussion.’ Fontcuberta was also told that ‘Yuri Gagarin’s daughter – an important officer at Hermitage Museum – disliked deeply my Sputnik series’ (she is in fact Director of the Kremlin Museum).

Asked for a response to the artist’s allegations the Media Space Press Officer Simon Thompson said, ‘I can’t comment on conversations between yourself and the artist… Greg [Greg Hobson the exhibition’s curator] wanted to present a handful of Fontcuberta’s works that are conceptually independent yet thematically complementary and decided to focus on those that dealt with the natural and spiritual worlds. While Sputnik didn't fit this narrative (moreover, a major exhibition on cosmonautics was already planned), it does still appear in Fontcuberta’s exhibition publication’.

This takes place against a backdrop of, on the one hand, increasing tension between the UK and Russian governments including mounting sanctions, and on the other, an ongoing UK-Russia year of culture that has seen a series of high profile exhibitions including a Malevich exhibition at the Tate Gallery and a James Bond exhibition in Moscow among many other events. Fontcuberta remarked that he had tried to negotiate with the Museum saying ‘with the Ukranian crisis, my fictional narrative piece about a lost Soviet cosmonaut was going to be a minor problem in those eventual negotiations’ but to no effect. Sardonically he remarks ‘Sputnik has accumulated quite a few funny anecdotes like this’.


Source Issue 79 - Who is the Photographer?

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Arles 2014 Day 3

The third day of Arles for us seemed to be dedicated to books. We started with Erik Kessels' Dutch photography show, a lot of which had originated in books, then we went on to Cosmos, a publishers showcase, then on to Marcus Shaden's presentation about his Photobook Museum project before ending up, where we had started on Monday, back at the Photobook Shop to speak to the Austrian publisher Fotohof.

Our conversations seemed to take in the entire span of book production from the new self publisher Nicolo Degiorgis through to the canonisation of books in a Museum or library (Fotohof have a photobook library with 12,500 titles). Alongside the conviviality we had experienced since we arrived we were also aware of the DIY ethic that many of our interviewees espoused. There was a sense that, notwithstanding its popularity, publishers had to create their own niche in the Festival by collaborating. Perhaps that's why it was one of the liveliest strands of the event.

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Arles 2014 Day 2

At the centre of the old part of Arles is a square called Place du Forum which is surrounded by cafes. They are not very nice cafes by French standards and, incongruously, groups of tourists on the trail of Vincent van Gogh occasionally assemble to look at them. But, like roundabouts, they are a sort of crossing point for people visiting the photo festival and at almost any time of night or day you will bump into someone you know there. In this way, while passing through the square we were introduced to Annette Booth who, it turned out, had installed the Chinese photobook exhibition that we had seen that morning. We went and had dinner together and she told us all about it.
2014 book-award display
We spent the afternoon in the Ateliers looking through the hundreds of books submitted for the 2014 book award. Seeing this number of books in one go can give rise to both positive and negative feelings! It is astonishing just how much is produced every year. The standard of production and the general quality is high. I saw a few books that I like and will now try and find copies of. Yes, there is some repetition but perhaps if you like pictures of mountains or sites-where-something-happened, or any of the other themes that recur, that's a good thing.

Also in the Atelier was the Discovery Awards show selected by Alexis Fabry (France), Bohnchang Koo (Korea), Wim Mélis (Netherlands), Azu Nwagbogu (Nigeria) and Quentin Bajac (the new chief curator at MoMA). If you were looking for clues as to what floats Quentin Bajac's boat then based on the two artists selected here he likes cluttered, academic, archive-y work. Stepping back from the choices of each of the curators I was surprised that the show reproduced the current global narrative that has China as the site of massive engineering projects while the US is about rural poverty and industrial decline, Africa a stage for playful fantasy and Europe home to abstraction and introspection. Maybe that's how it is but it didn't count as a discovery for me.

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Arles 2014 Day 1

I have just returned from my first visit to the photography festival in Arles. I was there with Adam O'Meara who has filmed many of the videos Source has made recently. So while we were there we conducted some short interviews with many of the people we met (those who could be coaxed into talking to me on camera) and filmed some of the venues. This wasn't planned, so who we spoke to was decided by chance. We also didn't know what the venues would be like or have an idea what to expect based on previous years' shows. As has been widely reported the Festival is in a transitional moment following the resignation of its Director. The consensus among seasoned visitors seems to be that this Les Rencontres d’Arles doesn't match previous editions. But from my point of view it was still the largest photography event I have attended and well worth the trip.

Happily, it wasn't as hot as I had expected. I did experience the standard frustrations of being in a hotel some distance from the main events, which I have heard described many times before. I assume these are rooms reserved primarily for first-time visitors. I also provided some nourishment for the local insect population which I would try to avoid in future. But these are minor quibbles, Arles was good fun and I hope this film (and the films of the second and third days which I will post up shortly) gives some impression what it is like to go there.

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Source-Cord Prize Judge Stefanie Grebe

The fourth film about the judges for the Source-Cord Prize. We have published interviews with the other judges Kate Bush, Mariko Takeuchi and John Duncan, the last film is with Stefanie Grebe, a curator at the Ruhr Museum in Essen. As well as working at a spectacular industrial site Stefanie has an interesting role working with both historical material and contemporary work, some of which is commissioned. To match this role she has a varied background that takes in some philosophy, history, photojournalism and art photography.

To find out more about the Source-Cord Prize and how to take part see here.

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Arts Council England Funding 2015-18


This morning the Arts Council of England have announced their funding for 'Portfolio Organisations' for the coming three years. For photography organisations in England the general picture is standstill funding or small cuts. The major victim is Photofusion who have lost all their funding. The outstanding beneficiaries are Focal Point Gallery with a 41% uplift in funding for the next three years and Autograph, who nearly double their funding.

A member of staff at Photofusion, who had just heard the news, said they were all 'completely gutted' at the cut in funding. The Arts Council grant makes up 25% of their income and its loss will have serious implications for the future of the organisation. Photofusion has been funded by the Arts Council since 1984.

Meanwhile, the contrasting fortunes of Focal Point Gallery could not be clearer to its Director Joe Hill (pictured) who was only confirmed to the position last week (having previously been deputy to the previous Director, Andrew Hunt). Focal Point has recently moved into a new gallery space as part of the library redevelopment and Hill believes that the funding increase 'recognizes the achievements of the organisation over the past five years'. This has included doubling their audience figures and putting on a programme of high-profile artists often showing new work made in Southend itself. Talking about his plans Hill says they intend to 'maintain their ambitious programme'.

Originally an out and out photography gallery since the tenure of the last Director Focal Point has been more 'lens-based' (ie. with an equal emphasis on video). Hill now says they represent a broad range of artistic practice. Photography now makes up a small part of their exhibitions, although they will show new work by Bridget Smith in the Spring of 2015. No one for Autograph was available to comment.

The Photographers' Gallery  £2,711,167 (2012/15),   £2,706,796 (2015/18)

Autograph ABP  £1,056,342 (2012/15),  £2,100,000 (2015/18)

Photoworks  £822,493 (2012/15),  £804,945 (2015/18)

Impressions Gallery  £604,224 (2012/15),  £606,843 (2015/18)

Open Eye Gallery  £575,017 (2012/15),  £576,903 (2015/18)

Focal Point Gallery £396,179 (2012/15),  £559,152 (2015/18)

Redeye, the Photography Network £261,271 (2012/15),  £263,763 (2015/18)


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Source-Cord Prize Judge John Duncan

There are four judges for the Source-Cord Prize. We have published interviews with Kate Bush and Mariko Takeuchi, the third interview is with John Duncan, one of the editors of Source. An important part of John's role in Source is finding and selecting work to be published in the portfolio pages of the magazine. As one of the judges for the Source-Cord Prize he will, along with the other judges, be looking through all the submissions to decide the eventual winners (and also seeing if he can spot work that could be published in future issues of Source).

To find out more about the Source-Cord Prize and how to take part see here.

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Source-Cord Prize Judge Mariko Takeuchi

Mariko Takeuchi, the second interview with a Source-Cord Prize judge. She is based in Kyoto and we spoke to her at her office at Kyoto University of Art and Design about what she hopes to see in a new piece of photographic work and her view of contemporary photography.

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