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Indie Photo Books of the Year: Part 1

By Larissa Leclair



As part of our look at “Notable Photo Books of 2012,” we asked Larissa Leclair, founder of Indie Photobook Library, an archive of photo books by self- and independent publishers, to select a list of ten notable indie photo books published this year. Below are five of her selections. Check back later this month for her five remaining picks.

Before Tomorrow by Yannik Willing
60 pages; 31 photos
Self-published; $24

Before Tomorrow by Yannik WillingWhile newsprint is an archivist’s nightmare, this paper choice is being embraced by many photographers, from emerging to established, who are self-publishing books including Harry Watts, Yann Gross, Alec Soth and John Gossage. Yannik Willing’s Before Tomorrow, which considers the rapid rise in Sri Lanka’s tourism over the past three years, makes my list this year as a beautifully designed, oversize, newsprint “book.” An informal tourist industry has always existed in Sri Lanka. The Galle Face Hotel in Colombo opened on the Indian Ocean coastline in 1864; it’s a landmark of Victorian architecture built by British entrepreneurs for noble and wealthy visitors. Certain beachfront towns have also been popular destinations for surfers. But in 2009, at the end of the almost 30-year civil war between the Tamils and the Sinhalese government, the country saw a boom in visitors. Sri Lanka began actively promoting tourism but with uncertain success, as Willing’s poignant photographs depict. Empty beachside shacks, half-built luxury hotels, security personnel, regional tourists and locals all seem to be waiting for the boom to reach them.


Cathedral Cars by Thomas Mailaender
36 pages; 12 photos
RVB Books; $55

Cathedral Cars by Thomas MailaenderCathedral Cars by French photographer Thomas Mailaender is a contemporary, typological study of vehicles packed and waiting to make the trip from the port of Marseille to points in North Africa. The photographs are a testament to how much one can cram into, on, around and sticking out of a car—boxes, chairs, suitcases, bags, tarps, tires, bikes, even a kitchen sink. Some cars are organized. Others look like last-minute packing jobs. Most vehicles are weighed down by it all, encumbered like a pack animal on its last legs. The cover is clever. Readers have a choice of red and green, or red and blue plaid covers, reminiscent of the large, nylon, plaid shopping bags that are cheap catch-alls for anything you would want to pack, carry or transport, and that are ubiquitous in many parts of the world. While the oversize book, with its board cover, was designed in reference to a young child’s picture book, these images of packed vessels carry serious weight: Readers can see people’s lives, histories and futures in these cars, and perhaps recognize that their drivers might be making the journey, not by choice, but for reasons of necessity.


Concresco by David Galjaard
168 pages; 62 photos
Self-published; $59

Concresco by David Galjaard
Concresco, by Dutch photographer David Galjaard and designed by Katie McGonigal, is a visually, intellectually and tactilely stimulating look at the legacy of communism in Albania. Galjaard has photographed the immense system of bunkers installed during dictator Enver Hoxha’s rule. The front red cover is textured with a bumpy, Braille-like, raised imprint in the shape of Albania, a metaphorical reference to the bunker-filled landscape. This three-year project by Galjaard “started as a fascination for a country covered in bunkers,” he says, but “became a deep interest in the history and development of Albania.” While political ideology changes as country leadership changes, these concrete structures have remained. For some they are a constant reminder of the past, while for others they are so ubiquitous as to be overlooked. And still others have embraced them in a contemporary way—as cultural iconography—repurposing the spaces and manufacturing miniature tourist trinkets, as shown in the closing photograph of the book. The images, interspersed with short interviews, share a fascinating look into a country where opinions differ about this permanent legacy.


The Afronauts by Cristina De Middel
88 pages
Self-published; Sold out

The Afronauts by Cristina de MiddelAs the United States ended its manned space program and the space shuttles were ceremoniously transported across the country to become museum pieces, Cristina De Middel revisited the ambitious dream one science teacher in Zambia, South Africa, had almost 50 years ago to enter the space race along with the Americans and Russians. Using this story as a starting point, De Middel reconstructs the tale of the proposed Zambian space program and explores the fantasy and mystery of space exploration. She creates her narrative through muted color photographs, letters, foldouts and diagrams. Designed by Ramón Pez and edited by Laia Abril, The Afronauts takes us on a playful and creative journey that challenges our understanding of, and bias about, what is possible. The Afronauts is the Redheaded Peckerwood of this year.


Summer Weather by Michael Jang
74 pages; 68 photos
Owl & Tiger Books; $35

Summer Weather by Michael JangSummer Weather’s foreboding black cover, with blind-emboss, gives no clues to what awaits readers inside. It’s a disguise, wrapped around this small, 8.5 x 5.5-inch photo book, and it contradicts the images that likely come to mind when you read the title. What you’ll find inside are black-and-white studio portraits of vivacious, smiling people dressed in 1980s fashion, willfully looking back at the viewer as if performing for a casting judge. In 1983, Michael Jang photographed nearly 100 wannabe weathermen responding to a contest sponsored by a local TV station in San Francisco. While revisiting his photographic archive, he came across these images that, in the end, were never used. After 40 years working in the industry as a portrait photographer, Jang’s work is being reconsidered in a new context—SFMOMA recently acquired some of his early prints. Produced in collaboration with indie publisher Owl & Tiger Books, Summer Weather is an instant classic.


Related Articles:
Indie Photo Books of the Year: Part 2
Notable Photo Books of 2012: Part 1
Breakout Book of the Year: Christian Patterson's Redheaded Peckerwood

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