The Washington Post picture editor picks out his top five of 2017 – including Peter DiCampo and Austin Merrill’s Everyday Africa photobook
Jessica Backhaus’ A Trilogy was born out of intuition. After 2015’s Six Degrees of Freedom, a project that saw the Berlin-based artist confronting personal topics of “identity, family, origin and memory” she craved something new; something rooted in minimalism and abstraction that would be wholly artistic and natural. Published now by Kehrer Verlag, the resulting book is a triptych of sorts, in which Backhaus takes her experimental sensibilities to a place of lucid colour, playful collage, and radical reduction. “I felt a cycle was finishing,” she says. “After Six Degrees of Freedom I felt empty, but not in a negative way. It was liberating. That notion of emptiness and void made me listen to how I was feeling.”
“These pictures were originally intended as a sort of ‘Fuck you’ to the Bush administration,” says Sean Hemmerle. “I never thought after he was gone we would eventually end up with someone that made him look good. They’re a ‘Fuck you’ to someone else now.” On the morning of September 11 2001, former sergeant turned photographer Sean Hemmerle was travelling past the World Trade Centre, on his way to The New Yorker to drop off a portfolio of pictures. “Then some massive calamity interrupted my morning,” he says, wryly. “I photographed the towers as they fell, the people at the sight, ground zero. Somehow I got in there. I guess some of those pictures ended up becoming sort of ‘iconic’, and from them I made what, to me, at that time was a tonne of money.” The success of those photographs brought internal conflict and a sense of moral duty, says Hemmerle, as he struggled with the idea that he was profiting from the “smouldering hole in the centre of my community”. He decided that …
When an earthquake and tsunami struck the northeast coast of Japan on 11 March 2011, thousands lost their lives and many more were left homeless. Worse still, the quake triggered a devastating accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, forcing 80,000 more people to flee their homes. People have slowly returned but, despite huge efforts to make it safe, radiation persists. Many former residents have decided to stay away, and those who came back are still adjusting to life in the shadow of a still very present past. Photographers Guillaume Bression and Carlos Ayesta spent six months covering the immediate aftermath of the disaster for the French media, and decided to work on a much longer project together.
Congenital achromatopsia is a hereditary condition in which the eye cannot detect colour – the cones in the retina do not function, leaving the vision to the rods alone, which only detect shades of grey. In most places the disease is rare, occuring in less than one in 30,000 people. But on the Micronesian island of Pingelap it’s much more common, present in more than 5% of the population. It’s an extraordinary phenomenon – and one that immediately gripped Belgian photographer Sanne De Wilde when she heard about it back in 2015
Born in Washington DC in 1981, Peter van Agtmael studied history at Yale before moving into documentary photography. Largely focusing on America, his work considers issues such as power, race and class; he also works on the Israel/Palestine conflict and throughout the Middle East. He has won the W.Eugene Smith Grant, the ICP Infinity Award for Young Photographers and many more, and joined Magnum Photos in 2008. His book Disco Night Sept 11, a study of the USA post-9/11, was published in 2014 and named a Book of the Year by titles such as The New York Times Magazine and Time Magazine. His latest photobook Buzzing at the Sill is the sequel.
Examining the cultural, religious, and ceremonial practices passed down through generations of African descendants in Cuba, Lo Calzo highlights the variety of identities within the country, and the ways in which they complement one another. Cohabiting “within a personal culture of exchange”, he says, they “borrow each other’s visions, customs and narratives”. He points to the “precarious balancing act” between the familiar Cuba, largely defined by the communist revolution and the society born out of it, and the diverse communities that actually make up the country.