Our Favorite Photobooks of 2022
MoMA’s annual celebration of photobooks returns with 10 standouts.
Mar 21, 2023
Over the course of this last year, MoMA’s photography curators and colleagues from the Archives, Library, and Research Collections met regularly to discuss new photobooks, sharing books by artists whose work we knew well, along with new discoveries we just happened to come across while browsing at book fairs. We found some because they were produced to accompany an exhibition, while others offered the only way for audiences to engage with the images reproduced in their pages. This list of 10 books is the result of those conversations: a compilation of publications drawn from near and far, from slim volumes to hefty, multipart boxed sets.
In late 2021, the Museum launched an annual celebration of the photobook with our inaugural list of favorites. This year, we’ve waited until March to share our selection, so we could consider titles published during the entire calendar year 2022. These books are now part of our Library collection, and are also available for purchase at the MoMA Design Store. Below—in no particular order—we tell you a bit about why each of these photobooks stood out to us.
Rhea Karam, PARALLEL PLANES
This volume, from Lebanese photographer Rhea Karam, is not a photobook in the classical sense. It includes photographic imagery of brick surfaces, wire fences, and cement walls that bring forth the forms, colors, and textures found in the architecture of New York, but the photos are combined with hand-cut, folded, and spray-painted passages of saturated, vivid color. Karam explores the concept of coexisting in this urban space, where people live alongside each other and in great density, yet their lives rarely intersect. In her book, Karam disrupts these planes with cut, angled pages, suggesting the possibility of new and unexpected interactions. Textured surfaces merge, overlap, and converge in a succession of layered compositions. Karam is interested in expanding the way we think about photobooks—PARALLEL PLANES is as much a sculptural object as a book.
—Michelle Elligott, Chief of Archives, Library, and Research Collections
Clifford Prince King, Orange Grove
The debut monograph by Los Angeles–based photographer and filmmaker Clifford Prince King, Orange Grove chronicles the period after he moved to an apartment on East Orange Grove Avenue with Malcolm Marquez, a longtime friend and collaborator. Orange Grove was a home and safe haven for King and his friends. We are reminded that sex and intimacy are fundamentally collaborations, and that bedrooms can also be places for dreaming and healing. As viewers, we are invited into their home, a domestic space redefined through tender and moving portraits of friends and lovers. The warm glow of the photographs invites us in. We are made to feel part of King’s narrative, safe within these walls of vulnerability, queer intimacy, and self exploration.
—Jillian Suarez, Head of Library Services, Archives, Library, and Research Collections
Justine Kurland, SCUMB Manifesto
“I, Justine Kurland, am scumb. I thrive in the stagnant waste of your self-congratulatory boring photography.” These are the first lines of text printed on the cover of Kurland’s SCUMB Manifesto, in homage to Valerie Solanas’s radical feminist “SCUM Manifesto” pamphlet from 1967. Where Solanas advocated a “society for cutting up men” (SCUM), Kurland champions cutting up their books. Taking an X-Acto knife to her personal collection of roughly 150 photobooks by white male photographers—Brassaï, Edward Weston, Phillip de Lorca, Lee Freidlander, Guy Bourdin, Robert Adams, and William Eggleston, to name only a few—Kurland transforms prized objects in a male-dominated photo-historical canon into a series of photocollages. Kurland’s iconoclastic gesture, in which the cut-up images reemerge as orgiastic tangles of body parts and landscapes full of fantastical detritus, is the latest contribution to a dynamic tradition of feminist uses of collage and montage that have demanded new modes of looking.
—Caitlin Ryan, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Photography
Shala Miller, Tender Noted
More than a photobook to look at, Shala Miller’s Tender Noted is a photobook to feel, starting with the tactility of the smooth paperback cover. A poignant meditation on mourning and desire, the book highlights several projects from the artist’s multidisciplinary practice. Combining photographs, film stills, journal entries, plays, and poetry, the book is organized by the principle of the echo, its themes reverberating from cover to cover.
Reflecting on the death of her father and the unspeakable violence against Black people in America, the artist notes, “There is simply not enough time afforded to Black grief. And most certainly not in the same way that time is not only afforded but overspent on Black death.” Through movement and pause, the book’s multiple voicings create an undulating rhythm, providing much needed space for grief—as well as joy and resilience. Vulnerability is the book’s refrain, as seen in works such as Echo, a grid of closely cropped film stills of the artist’s mouth peeling the delicate skin of a grape, or the red edges of the book’s spine, alluding to the mysterious scratches on the artist’s skin, a phenomenon Miller sets out to investigate. The process reveals a richly layered love song to the family, body, and memory, one worth listening to on repeat.
—Tasha Lutek, Collection Specialist, Department of Photography
Mame-Diarra Niang, The Citadel: a trilogy
Consisting of three crisply printed publications encased in an embossed slipcase, Mame-Diarra Niang’s The Citadel: a trilogy sprawls across psychic and physical space, harnessing vistas as a means of internal exploration. Through Niang’s perceptive compositions—often devoid of humans yet densely packed—we wander throughout the desolate outskirts of Dakar, tarry along the surfaces of the city proper, then dive headlong into the rush of urban life in Johannesburg.
These routes are not conventional photographic surveys of land, but rather serve as a meditation on what the photographer has called “the plasticity of territory”—a consideration of landscape that yields the articulation of the self. As Niang has said, “The citadel is a utopic place; it’s like a storage or library for my thoughts. My body is a place in which I am condemned to feel myself as a presence, it is to escape it that the citadel exists. It is a body without body.... I invite you into this empty space. How you see the landscape is how you see yourself—it's your form, your representation of yourself, like a mirror.”
—Oluremi C. Onabanjo, Associate Curator, Department of Photography
Moe Suzuki, SOKOHI
On the cover of Japanese-born Moe Suzuki’s photobook, there’s a subtle allusion to the nature of her project: an out-of-focus blue-and-gold image that begs for definition. Sokohi is a centuries-old Japanese term that translates as “shadow in the bottom,” a common description of glaucoma. Taking her father’s glaucoma diagnosis as a point of departure, Suzuki documents the parallels of their shared life: what she can see that escapes him, and what her father’s eyes might perceive that she cannot.
Published in a spiral-bound volume, the full-bleed photographs are diptychs of the quotidian: portraits, seascapes, domestic scenes. But it’s when Suzuki breaks this linear narrative by confronting us with an abstraction that the anguish of her project becomes palpable. These are not mere illustrations of lost eyesight, but Suzuki’s attempt at making us—and herself—see through her father’s deteriorating eyes.
—Alejandro Merizalde, Acquisitions Assistant, Archives, Library, and Research Collections
Kurt Tong, Dear Franklin
“I guess I’m almost making a film, but in photographic paper form,” explains Kurt Tong. Born in Hong Kong in 1977, he studied photography in England and returned to Hong Kong in 2012 to reconnect with his Chinese roots. Tong is known internationally for two highly acclaimed books: The Queen, the Chairman and I (2019) and Combing for Ice and Jade (2019). In Dear Franklin, a mixture of his photographs, texts, and archival materials (letters, magazines, objects, etc.), Tong chronicles the personal life of a fictional man named Franklin Lung who lived in China during the first half of the 20th century. “I like to take on epic moments in history through the singular experience,” explains Tong, “and I somehow chose photobooks to do it.”
—Clément Chéroux, Director, The Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation and former Joel and Anne Ehrenkranz Chief Curator, Department of Photography, MoMA
César Rodríguez, Montaña roja
In Montaña roja, the Mexican photographer César Rodríguez documents daily life in the neglected mountain region of Guerrero, Mexico, where growing poppy for heroin is one of few sources of paid work. Rodríguez offers sober black-and-white portraits of the region’s inhabitants, capturing moments of worship, children at play, and poppy cultivation, while the presence of guns intimates the violence brought by the drug trade. A 12-page insert contains poetry by Hubert Matiúwàa, who writes in Me’phaa (Tlapaneco), an Indigenous language of Guerrero, with Spanish and English translations. Montaña roja was published by the Peruvian photobook press KWY Ediciones in Lima, and produced in Mexico City, where each book in the run of 500 was folded and hand-bound, accordion-style, with poppy-red thread. According to editor Musuk Nolte, the book’s innovative design made the most of the available resources without sacrificing quality.
– Ruth Halvey, Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Bibliographer for Latin America, Archives, Library, and Research Collections
Zoe Leonard, Al río / To the River
Published in two volumes, Zoe Leonard’s epic Al río / To the River charts the 1,200-mile section of the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo river that demarcates the boundary between Mexico and the United States. Using a “half picture” vantage point to document a divided world, the artist follows the course of the water from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, on one side, and El Paso, Texas, on the other down the stream to the Gulf of Mexico.
The first volume contains Leonard’s exquisite photographs, selected by the artist and book designer Joseph Logan from over 500 gelatin silver prints and 50 chromogenic prints that comprise the full project. Edited by the poet Tim Johnson, the second volume features an anthology of essays by a remarkable group of artists, journalists, scholars, and poets. Softcover with flaps, fitted in a slipcase, this twofold publication forms a complex portrait of borderlands culture and the political reality of immigration.
—Roxana Marcoci, The David Dechman Senior Curator and Acting Chief Curator, Department of Photography
Jochen Lempert, Paare/Pairs
What qualities does the ideal photobook embody? Do the images on facing pages seem to speak to one another, as if in conversation? Does the entire sequence of images fit together like links in a chain? In his book Paare/Pairs, the Hamburg-based artist Jochen Lempert proposes a model in which he arranges old and new images from his oeuvre in a kind of ever-growing ecosystem. Lempert studied to be a biologist before turning to photography in the 1990s, and he continues to engage with the natural world—the plants and animals with whom we live on this planet—as the subject of his work. As curator Yasmil Raymond observes in the essay that closes this elegant volume, “Through the use of images, where the world is not a place to be captured but a terrain of correspondence, he makes visible encounters with nature and nonhuman beings where transmission and coexistence occurs.”
–Lucy Gallun, The Peter Schub Associate Curator, Department of Photography