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Curated selection: Holly Roussell’s top photography books

Posted on 12 May 2023

Curator and museologist Holly Roussell shares her top photography picks for Photo London 2023, including vibrant visual surveys, and a celebration of British documentary photography.

1. Another Country

This volume, from the esteemed writer and curator Gerry Badger, is a must-have reference for any photography library. Including the work of more than 170 photographers active between 1945 and 2010, Badger looks to ‘create a new definition of (British) documentary photography… about attitudes, as opposed to being a kind of form.’ Oscillating between contextual chapter introductions – for example, ‘Photographic Revival: The Swinging Sixties’, and ‘Going Global: A Color Revolution’ – and focused studies of single photographs, some from artists not associated directly with the documentary style, the book is a major contribution to the history of British photography. Highly recommended!

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2. Civilization

At the risk of (a little!) self-promotion, I would like to recommend my own title, Civilization: The Way We Live Now, co-authored with William A. Ewing. This book expands on our international travelling exhibition of the same name, which opens in June 2023 at the Saatchi Gallery, London. The core of the project explores how photography has captured a portrait of our 21st-century planetary civilization. It focuses on the cumulative human endeavour in an expansive and collective form, which has given rise to the most complex and interconnected human society the world has ever seen. Uniting art and documentary photography, photojournalism and commercial image-making, Civilization is organized across eight themes with close to 500 images. The project looks from the present into the future, asking us to consider from the perspective of contemporary photographers, where we live, how we consume, how we travel, learn, explore, and control our environments. Statements from more than 100 artists on their photographic practice in relation to this expansive topic are a rich resource (not to be overlooked!) at the end of the publication.

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3. Flora Photographica

This contemporary reboot of Ewing’s 1991 seminal publication, Flora Photographica is co-authored with the dynamic curator Danae Panchaud. A generous and accessible survey, it looks at one of photography’s richest and most innovative fields: flower imagery as seen by 130 of the world’s leading practitioners. Although perhaps sometimes overlooked in favour of flashier subject matter, Panchaud and Ewing present an alternative perspective on flower photography, bringing together works often presented in disparate contexts to demonstrate the ways in which artists engage with the flower as inspiration, subject, but also as semiotic tool. A visual feast, the selection is vivid and unexpected.

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From Holly Roussell


The Way We Live Now William A Ewing, Holly Roussell