How did photo-eye know how ill-prepared I was to consider the best books of 2011?
Having written for their year-end summary for two years, I thought I might be asked to contribute again. But as the year in books approached its close, I wondered about what I’d seen and been impressed by, new-book-wise, during the last twelve months. As I am most years I was deeply involved with books, including co-curating Threefold, a show of indie photobooks at the PRC, with Shane Lavalette and Larissa Leclair, and writing several essays for photographers’ monographs. But apparently I missed a few new titles.
Scanning the published lists (including photo-eye’s 26, which cite 157 books, and the astounding, labor-of-love compendium from Marc Feustel of eyecurious noting books that appeared on at least two of 52 lists he surveyed–he had to find some way to winnow down the 313 different titles that were highlighted), I realize that my friends in Santa Fe understood something, perhaps unconsciously, about my bandwidth as a reader/reviewer. It is, I am surprised to realize and admit, quite narrow.
Where have I been this year? Boston, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Portland; I’ve been around the photo circles, but still I saw only a small percentage of the books “everyone” is talking about (52 “best of” photobook lists? That’s a large bandwagon.). I have scarcely enough in-person experience of the “bests,” let alone the entire 2011 crop, to pass judgment. I have 22 of the listed items; some I bought, others I was given (thanks Alec, Jen, Ken, Lydia, Susan), and a few I reviewed. There are ten titles that I was interested in before they were lionized, including one very highly ranked one that I am awaiting for review (Talk about pressure! See the review here.). And there a few I have coveted, and in more flush years I might have purchased.
I am, in short, woefully incapable of passing judgment on the burgeoning trade in contemporary photobooks. Many of the books on people’s lists were completely unfamiliar to me. I should add that I am also comparably clueless when it comes to year-end rankings of popular movies, video games, music (I’m not always sure which is the name of the group and which is the music they produced), and local bars. I am decidedly not enmeshed in the “popular.” But at least in the realm of photography I consider myself more involved than most. Still, I am glad I didn’t have to rely on my fractional awareness of the year in publishing to make my own list. It is so hard to keep up these days.