We bring you our annual tribute to the most remarkable photo book releases, featuring plush Polish palaces, Caspian riches and Japanese spirits.
Behind this book’s understated dusty pink cover is a world of plush bedchambers, elaborate spiral staircases, and gigantic bouquets photographed during Anna Orlowska’s tour of Poland’s magnificent palaces and castles. Once the property of the Polish nobility, after the Second World War these historical buildings were seized from their owners during nationalisation campaigns and transformed into schools, hospitals, and offices. The photo book isn’t all glitz and glamour: some of the elegant yet empty interiors featured in Futeral have been silent witnesses to the atrocities of the 20th century. The irony is in the pleasing interior details, such as the pink table cloths at the Płakowice Castle — in the book’s index we learn that this was where Nazis oversaw a “racial hygiene” extermination program. The building later functioned as a barrack for troops, an orphanage during the Korean War, and now houses the Elim Christian Center of the Baptist Church.
Homeland by Georgs Avetisjans
Georgs Avetisjans’s project began as a homage to a small Latvian fishing village, 100 km northwest of the capital Riga. This was where his Armenian-Greek father decided to settle in the Soviet period, and where the photographer had spent his childhood. The very title of the book, Homeland, reflects the way the photo story moves away from a nostalgic representation of a quiet town “between the forest and the sea” into a complex narrative on idenity, time, and place. The story is one of homecoming (the photographer had previously lived the UK and USA for seven years), yet the book is also part travelogue, part memoir, and part local history, presented through a combination of interviews, notes, and archival imagery. His first venture into self-publishing was a catalyst for his Milda Books outlet, with which Avetisjans aims to spotlight other New East photographers, artists, and poets.
Ice Fishers by Aleksey Kondratyev
Hunched over the river Ishim in temperatures as cold as -40C, Astana’s fishermen are something of a striking sight. From a distance, they would be hard to spot were it not for their makeshift shelters, made of discarded trash or recycled rice bags. Aleksey Kondratyev came across these fishermen completely by accident. His photos of these strange forms are simple yet strangely moving. The photo book, published by Loose Joints, is stripped back in its design. This is a delicate publication, much like the single sheet of plastic protecting these men from the harsh winter conditions around them.
Nearly Every Rose on the Barriers in Front of the Parliament by Rafal Milach
It wouldn’t be a photo book round-up without an offering from Warsaw’s Rafal Milach, who had a successful year, showing his work as part of the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize at London’s The Photographers’ Gallery and joining the roster of Magnum Photos. At the same time, Milach has been a regular at Poland’s protests against the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, the right-wing populists who swept to power in 2015. His latest photo book features photos taken during the July 2017 protests against judicial reforms which would have put Poland’s courts under political control. Rather than photograph the crowds, Milach turned his lens on the white roses stuck on crowd control barriers as a gesture of peaceful protest. The book was designed by Ania Nałęcka-Milach such that it can be unfolded and stand like the barrier it represents. Protest images usually capture moments of victory, or at the very least, promise that resistance is not futile; it is less common for protest photography to reproduce the very power structures which inhibit freedom. With this book Milach wanted to focus instead on Poland’s ongoing political turmoil.
Caspian: The Elements by Chloe Dewe Mathews
In 2010, British photographer Chloe Dewe Mathews spent ten months hitchhiking across Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Georgia with an analogue camera and a limited amount of film. That first trip inspired a five-year exploration of the landscape around the Caspian Sea, rich in natural resources which have played a big part in the region’s economic success. Her book Caspian: The Elements brings together surreal views: from oil rigs towering over a popular beach in Baku, to natural-gas flames spurting out of craters in Turkmenistan and Uzbek migrant workers building elaborate mausoleums for the new, oil-rich middle class. This is not a typical environmentally-focused project: we see that the impact of oil and gas is not wholly negative — at times, it can be mystical, religious, even therapeutic.
Dima Komarov was born in St Petersburg in 1997. Known for joyful portraits of his peers in Russia, in the space of a year the young photographer has exhibited his work in London — as part of the Post-Soviet Visions: image and identity in the new Eastern Europe show at Calvert 22 — and made it as a name-to-watch in Foam Magazine’s Talent issue. If you’re not already following his work on Instagram, this publication by Draw Down is a delightful introduction to Komarov and Russia’s open-minded and radical new generation.
#Draft by Dmitry Markov
Few books that originate from Instagram are socially-minded. Dmitry Markov’s debut #Draft is an exception. The Russian photographer grew up in the small industrial city Pushkino and experienced all the hardships that went along with this kind of environment. Before he started taking photos on his smartphone, he volunteered at orphanages for disabled children. In 2013, after moving to Pskov, he started capturing everyday life on Instagram: from tender moments, like kids messing around in playgrounds or an elderly woman feeding stray cats, to the tragic, like a man getting handcuffed by cops or another passed out on the street. Simple shots take on an almost sacred quality. Today, he has garnered over 220k followers, a testament to Markov’s unfiltered view of Russia, where nobody is excluded from the frame.
Subterranean River by Łukasz Rusznica
In Japanese folklore, yōkai are monsters, spirits, goblins, or demons. Before his first trip to Japan, Polish photographer Łukasz Rusznica was fascinated by the beautiful visuals associated with these folk figures. He recreated these images during his six weeks in Japan’s Kagawa province, by combining staged shoots and traveller’s impressions, all taken at night. Though eerie in subject matter, compared to the other photo books on this list Subterranean River offers a tantalising escape from the real world into the supernatural realm. Read the full interview with Rusznica photographer here.