New year, new photography books. For most, 2020 has been a period of upheaval but thankfully photographers and publishers have still been able to come good with a bunch of landscape-based works that we can all get excited about. Here are our top picks so far of books that show how our environments shape us and vice versa.
Words by Eleanor Scott
Robbie Lawrence – Blackwater River
In November 2017, photographer Robbie Lawrence and writer Sala Elise Patterson travelled to Savannah for two weeks to experience and document a distinct American community fraught with political tensions and gun violence in the first year of Trump’s presidency. Instead, they found that the landscape of the Ogeechee River became the story.
Winding past the city, the waterway draws everything together – unchecked development, climate change and social inequality all converging along the banks. Lawrence’s images invite us into the area as an onlooker alongside him as he documents the riverside residents and their slowly deteriorating surroundings. Blackwater River is sold out in most online bookstores, but you can still order an Artist Edition with a signed 10×8 print from Kominek.
Elena Cremona – Postcards from the Past
“In relativity to human experience, landscapes are static things – their changes are slow, their ecosystems cyclical, and any given day is likely to unfold within them much the same as the one prior; it is us that moves through landscapes, [shaping and colouring] them with our emotions”, says Elena Cremona regarding her book ‘Postcards from the Past’.
The series of 20 black-and-white images were captured in 2018 during a road trip through the Mojave Desert taken just as her relationship was ending. Presented in a unique format as individual postcard prints rather than a traditional book, the images of lone or entangled trees and splintering cracks in the surfaces of rocks reflect her state of mind. Elena shares a story she imprinted on the land from her own experience rather than one that was already there.
Txema Salvans – Perfect Day
Spanish photographer Txema Salvans has spent two decades documenting how people overlook the wider issues of their environment. In Perfect Day, he aims his lens towards Spain’s coastal towns. Txema notably turns his back on the country’s long stretches of glistening water and instead casts an eye towards the rapid development that punctuates the shoreline. The cultural context of soulless resort towns is explored through images of sun-weathered holidaymakers juxtaposed by dilapidated industrial settings.
Salvans’ commentary is clear, along the Mediterranean coastline, self-interest is destroying the natural beauty that brings people there in the first place. Perfect Day is available to purchase through Mack Books.
Mark Mahaney’s – Polar Night
For 65 days of each year the northernmost town of Alaska, which is accessible only by plane, experiences a polar night – a natural phenomenon in which the sun is obscured below the horizon, never rising. Mark Mahaney explores the prolonged darkness that descends on the area around Utqiagvik in his first book, highlighting themes of survival and isolation in a place mostly known to the general public as ground zero for climate change.
The ghostly, snow-covered photographs hint at the harsh aspects of living in a place so dominated by nature and its erosion. The only vibrant portrait in the book is an incredible stylistic choice, pitting the town’s star athlete set in a ‘warriors pose’ against the lonely imagery found throughout the rest of the work. The only other signs of life are the few pictures of sled dogs, which are an ominous nod towards both the animal’s endurance and the working title of the series: ‘Three-Dog Night’ – a jarring slang referring to the kind of cold temperatures that require you to have at least three dogs in your tent to keep you from freezing to death overnight.
Teju Cole – Fernweh
Novelist and art historian Teju Cole spent six years photographing the landscapes and scenes that have cemented Switzerland in many people’s minds as beautiful but banal. Entitled Fernweh, which translates literally to “far sickness” – a longing to be far away, his series captures the country’s expected sense of serenity alongside a surprising feeling of melancholy. And while the photographs are predominantly free of people, they are rich in the traces people leave behind.