2009 was a good year for photo books, if not much else (except a positive change of regime in the U.S.). I choose ten books (three of which I've reviewed for photo-eye) on the simple basis of what came to mind at first thought. Frank's Looking is technically a Dec. 2008 publication, but I'll pick it as an '09 book anyway. My list could be expanded, so apologies to many other fine books, smart editors, and photographers. The weakest book--qua bookmaking-- on my list is American Power. I have not looked at it closely enough to figure out why it does not sufficiently communicate what is an extraordinary body of work. I've enjoyed Epstein's work for years, but in this project, he achieves a level of mature mastery; pictures of intelligence and importance. This is a book that I think will last, will become better as time passes. On the subject of time passing, something as intrinsic to photography as voyeurism, let me note Nicholas Nixon's compelling saga of the Brown Sisters. I own the earlier book and recently looked at the current longer version which ends with a photograph from 2008.
As I looked through the book, giving more attention to the photographs made since 1999, I turned a page and missed 2003. Without any hesitation, I carefully turned back to look at 2003. Every picture counts as does the the implied interval from one to the next.
Let me add the photo book equivalent of the Oscar's Jean Hersholt award or any of those we owe it to ourselves kind of awards. My winner is Elliot Erwitt. He never shows up on these lists, but year in, year out, I will open one of his books to just look at for nothing more than the pleasure of looking at subtly seen pictures of not much suffused with wit, intelligence, and the best kind of non-sentimental heart. For years I've been telling students that with a reasonable command of craft, one can fake a Weston or an Adams, but never Cartier- Bresson or Helen Levitt. Let me add Mr. Erwitt to that list.
Richard Gordon is a photographer who lives in California. His photographs and artist's books are in museum and library special collections from sea to shining see. Photographs from Gordon''s American Surveillance (available from photo-eye) were in the recent, Exposed exhibition at The Tate Modern, and SFMoma.