The 5 Best Photography Books of 2016
Photo: The Ramones, CBGB, 1977. ©Godlis, courtesy of agnès b. galerie, New York.
The beauty of photography is its ability to stop time, to bare witness from now til eternity so long as someone wishes to see the world through the photographer’s eyes. We are instantly transported into other realms, into private lives and public spheres of influence.
When collected as a book, the photograph takes on another role: it becomes evidence of the past and a message to the future. It becomes something we invite into our homes and set on our shelves, awaiting the moment we choose to pick it up and nestle it on our laps, absorbing each image page by page, in quiet contemplation of wisdom that speaks beyond words. Crave has selected five of the best photography books of 2016 that speak to who we are and where we’re been to help us understand where we’re going in 2017.
We have entered the Anthopocene Era, marked by the turning point when human activities began to make a significant global impact on the Earth’s geology and ecosystems. Many place the starting point with the Industrial Revolution, when mass production became the norm, and the machine rose to prominence as evidence of humankind’s ability to dominate nature—without thought or concern to the long term. Although we can feel the effects of climate change: the warmer temperatures in the fall, the flooding and droughts that have ravaged the lands, we tend to take these are individual, disconnected events to divorce ourselves from a problem that is almost inconceivable to behold.
This is where photography plays a vital role: it bears witness to the scope of the devastation in every corner around the world. For four decades, Edward Burtynsky has been documenting the ravages of industrialization on the earth. Now Edward Burtynsky: Essential Elements by William A. Ewing (Thames & Hudson), the first comprehensive monograph of his life’s work, takes us around the world in 148 photographs. Organized into five free-flowing sections, the book is drawn from 18 projects including Mines, Railcuts, Quarries, Oil, Saltworks, Shipbreaking, China, and Water interspersed with each other to spectacular effect. The photographs are beautiful, heartbreakingly so, for they function as the most severe warnings: the time to act is now. Check out the full review for more photographs and insights.
Fifty years ago, Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton founded the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense to protect the citizens of Oakland, CA, from abuses of the state. Under the protection of the Second Amendment, the created armed citizens’ patrols to monitor police officers and challenge police brutality. But self-defense was only the first stand against injustice the Black Panther Party took.
They went on to establish the Ten Point Platform and Program, and began to mobilize, setting up chapters in 68 cities around the city over the course of less than five years before being systematically targeted by COINTELPRO, the FBI’s illegal operation of surveillance, infiltration, perjury, police harassment, and ultimately murder to destabilize, discredit, criminalize and ultimately destroy the movement. Power to the People: The World of the Black Panthers by photographer Stephen Shames and Bobby Seale (Abrams Books) provides an incredible look at the history of the Party and the sacrifices they made for the cause. Check out the full review for more photographs and insights.
Legendary photographer Jamel Shabazz arrived on the scene with Back in he Days, his seminal monograph celebrating New York City street style during the 1980s. Over the course of the past 15 years, Shabazz has published six books, his latest, Pieces of a Man (Art Voices Art Books), his greatest work to date spanning four decades of work around the globe.
The title speaks to the way in which each of us are so many things in this life and on this earth, with each photograph capturing a facet of our infinite complexity. Pieces of a Man is a story of love and loss, of joy and pain, of life and death and rebirth—making it a classic volume you will revisit throughout your days here on earth. Check out the interview with Jamel Shabazz for more photographs and insights.
History is made by those willing to follow the credo of the revolutionary: Do It Yourself. No matter how long it may take to accomplish your goals, no one can do it better—or even come close. Photographer David Godlis understands this; after a forty-year wait, he has emerged victorious with the seminal New York punk book, History is Made at Night, which he self-published.
For a period of three years during the late 1970s, Godlis went to CBGB’s every night, photographing the small but vital scene that included Patti Smith, Richard Hell, the Ramones, Blondie, and the Talking Heads, among others. Like everyone else, he was in the moment but had an eye on the long view, with an understanding that history is made by those who know their medium inside and out. With Brassai’s 1933 classic, Paris at Night in mind, Godlis crafted a collection of work that has become the definitive image of downtown New York in the 1970s—creating a timeless volume of an ethos and an aesthetic that changed the world. Check out the interview with Godlis for more photographs and insights.
And finally: the light at the end of the tunnel. Back in the 1970s, the federal government had turned its back on New York City, leaving it for dead, unconcerned that one of the world’s capitals was in dire straits. The city was branded with a terrible reputation, as the policy of “benign neglect” left citizens to fend for themselves. The irony is that perhaps there was no time quite as creative, innovative, and original as New York had been—it was a city on the precipice of destruction yet its people were some of the greatest in history.
Swiss photographer Willy Spiller’s photographs are a testimony to this, showing the sheer heart of the people in the most mundane of activities: their daily commute. Collected together in Hell on Wheels: Photographs from the New York Underground (1977-1984) (Sturm & Drang), Spiller takes us on a wondrous ride through the city’s massive subway transit system, discovering the beauty of people from all walks of life going about their business. Hell on Wheels reminds us that, like steel, character is forged under high temperatures that force us to step up our game. Check out the full review for more photographs and insights.
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.