The Guardian’s photography critic selects his top photobooks and exhibitions of 2019
For Toby A. Cox, one of our first Portrait of Humanity People’s Choice Winners, photography and travel are inseparable. Having grown up in the US, she only started taking pictures when she travelled as a student. Since then, she has come to use photography as a way of exploring different cultures. The Guardian editors picked her image, which captures two young children waving through a car window, as one of the best Portrait of Humanity entries so far. The picture, taken in Kyrgyzstan, captures a moment of joy. Cox has made it her mission to confront rising Islamophobia by documenting day-to-day life in Muslim-majority countries, tackling what she sees as an ‘us vs them’ mentality. Her photographs show that regardless of race or religion, we all experience the same emotions – making us far more similar than we might think. Can you tell me about your background as a photographer? How and when did you first get into photography? I took photos when I started travelling, but mostly of landscapes and things, not people. Until …
US-based photographer Anna Mia Davidson was voted as our People’s Choice Winner, after The Guardian editors picked her image as one of the best Portrait of Humanity entries so far. The image shows a farmer and her grandson harvesting flowers. Bright and rich with colour, the portrait celebrates its subjects. As with many of Davidson’s portraits, the image captures a bond – in this case, between grandmother and grandson. Family is where photography began for Davidson, whose father – a professional photographer – encouraged her interest in the medium from an early age. Davidson has published two photobooks, Cuba Black And White, an eight-year project focusing on life in Cuba during the United States’ embargo, and Human Nature: Sustainable Farming in the Pacific Northwest, a multi-year portrait project about the people behind the sustainable farming movement. Davidson’s chosen topics tend to be weighty and complex, but her photographs are optimistic, and the resounding message of her work is that crisis can be overcome by the power of community. Can you tell me about your background …
Born in 1993 in the Philippines, Ezra Acayan has won the 2018 Ian Parry Scholarship Award for Achievement for his series Duterte’s War On Drugs Is Not Over, which records the fall out from the war on drugs which President Rodrigo Duterte announced in 2016.
Threatening those connected to drug consumption and sales with the death penalty, Duterte urged members of the public to kill suspected criminals and drug addicts, and allowed the police to act with brutality. In the two years since, an estimated 20,000 people have been murdered and a state of emergency has been declared. The United Nations has appealed to the Philippine government to investigate extrajudicial killings and to prosecute the perpetrators, while the International Criminal Court has announced preliminary examinations into killings linked to the campaign.
Tough and hard-hitting, Acayan’s images aim to “illuminate the violent acts carried out in the Philippines as well as the questionable methods of Duterte and the police”.
Cindy Sherman has long been known for her love of dressing up. Inventing new characters became part of her photography early on in her 35-year career, and her most famous work remains Untitled Film Stills (1977 – 80), in which she posed as imaginary B-movie and film noir actresses.
Now 64, Sherman has her first solo show in London since 2011 at Sprüth Magers’ Mayfair gallery, with a body of work also inspired by the Hollywood machine. In a selection of large-scale colour portraits, Sherman is the subject of all the images – re-cast as various ‘grandes dames’ of 1920s Hollywood, in what appear to be publicity shots.
Interviewing Nigel Shafran is a circuitous, informal affair. Meeting him at his North London home, I immediately recognise Ruth, his partner and the subject of many of his photographs. I also meet his son Lev, who, though somewhat older, is also still easily discernible from his father’s pictures. The interview takes place in the kitchen familiar from Flowers for ____. Every now and then a friend calls round or phones, with plans made to throw a boomerang around in the park that afternoon, or play ping pong in the evening. Lev occasionally interjects from the living room with his take on the interview process, or on “nattering on about photography” as he puts it. “Sorry. Oh my God!” says Shafran, as the phone rings for the second time. “No worries,” I say. “You’re a busy man.” “A busy family man!” he replies. It doesn’t always make for an easy interview, but it feels appropriate for a photographer who focuses on the everyday, the domestic and the personal.
“It is an opportunity to meet people in the industry in a relaxed and enjoyable setting,” says Mimi Mollica, photographer and founder of Offspring Photomeet. “It’s easy to build contacts when you hang out for a couple of days with editors and publishers who share the same passion as you.” Offspring Photomeet will return to Space Studios in Hackney in June for its 5th annual portfolio review, offering one-on-one reviews with experts from Tate Modern, British Journal of Photography, The Guardian and more.
On 13 February, Çağdaş Erdoğan will stand trial in Istanbul accused of membership and support of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a separatist group classified as a terrorist organisation by the Turkish government. Erdoğan is of Kurdish descent, grew up in the region and, as an adult, embedded with affiliates of the PKK during the complex, multifactional conflict that has crossed the borders of Syria, Iraq and Turkey. But he did so, he claims, purely as a photojournalist intent on documenting an unseen conflict for the world’s media and without any alliance with or allegiance to any organisation. His only allegiance was to photography.
“The work represents my experience in recovering and understanding my parents, their life and their relationship towards myself,” says Marco Marzocchi of his series Oyster. “I never knew them well because they split when I was 6 years old, and they both died young.
“Drugs, addictions, jail, and dysfunctional environment, these were constant elements. This work is focused on dealing and replacing all the doubts and the fears that I had. Exorcising the pain and the searching for love.” A bold mix of colour, black-and-white, contemporary and archive images, presented with hand-written text, Marzocchi’s series has scooped first prize in the 2017 Gomma Grant. Marzocchi has worked on the project for a decade, honing down on the editing last year with distinguished photographers JH Engstrom and Margot Wallard at the celebrated Atelier Smedsby workshop.
Just three months after blacklisting the photographer Terry Richardson amid allegations of sexual misconduct with models, Condé Nast has dropped two more high-profile contributors after similar claims – Mario Testino and Bruce Weber. Anna Wintour, artistic director of Condé Nast and editor in chief of Vogue, has published a personal statement on 13 January in which she writes that: “Even as we stand with victims of abuse and misconduct, we must also hold a mirror up to ourselves—and ask if we are doing our utmost to protect those we work with so that unacceptable conduct never happens on our watch. Sometimes that means addressing the fact that such behavior can occur close to home. Today, allegations have been made against Bruce Weber and Mario Testino, stories that have been hard to hear and heartbreaking to confront. Both are personal friends of mine who have made extraordinary contributions to Vogue and many other titles at Condé Nast over the years, and both have issued objections or denials to what has emerged. I believe strongly in the value of remorse and forgiveness, but I take the allegations very seriously, and we at Condé Nast have decided to put our working relationship with both photographers on hold for the foreseeable future.”