14 Books that Meant the Most to Me in 2017

14 Books covers.

Local Objects book cover.

Local Objects, Tim Carpenter, The Ice Plant, 2017.
Not a single soul fills any of the 74 photographs in “Local Objects,” but each one speaks from the soul of the photographer to the soul of the viewer. This is a beautiful song that could only be written by someone with his connection to place. And he’s one of the smartest folks writing about photography today.

Good Goddamn book cover.

Good Goddamn, Bryan Schutmaat, Trespasser Books, 2017.
I ordered this as soon as I saw it was a thing, and what a thing it is. This is a testament to the power of personal work, why it matters, and why it should live in book form. When I look at this work, sorrow whispers in my ear and reminds me that there is still hope in longing, in dreaming.

Along Some Rivers book cover.

Along Some Rivers, Robert Adams, Aperture, 2006.
Few photographers write as well as they make pictures and vice versa. Robert Adams does both so incredibly well that it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. He is to photographers what Wendell Berry is to writers and poets; a true steward.

Where the Land Gives Way book cover.

Where the Land Gives Way, Jake Reinhart, Deadbeat Club, 2017.
Place-based work always makes my heart skip a beat. Earlier this year, Pittsburgh made its way into my heart. You can see Reinhart’s heart for the city in this beautifully produced and edited zine. It shows a breadth and depth that only scratches the surface of a place, and the joy that comes from searching for it.

Drive Dark Dream Slow book cover.

Dive Dark Dream Slow, Melissa Catanese, The Ice Plant, 2012.
I am an (amateur) archivist at heart, and this magical collection of vernacular photographs has been assembled into a truly beautiful book. Catanese worked through Peter J. Cohen’s collection of more than 20,000 photographs to make this book and we’re all lucky she did.

Walk Till the Dogs Get Mean book cover.

Walk Till the Dogs Get Mean, Edited by Adrian Blevins and Karen Salyer McElmurray, Ohio University Press, 2015.
There is too much to cover here, so if you are the least bit interested in Appalachia, you need to own this book. I’ve laughed, cried, and hurt, while reading these stories. Leave it to Charles Dodd White to keep me coming back to it — “I am home now, still in the mountains. Like you, I still find plenty of ways to hurt, but I cannot be prized from where my feet fall. This is the permanent return, the family ground. Only a fool believes he is without a home country.”

Stinking Creek book cover.

Stinking Creek, John Fetterman, E.P. Dutton and Co. Inc., 1967.
You read that right — 1967. And it’s more relevant than you think today. “The hillbilly is a mountaineer without mountains, and the gullies of erosion in his spirit and soul are as evident as are the gaping wounds in the hills around him. The visible parallel of simultaneous destruction of hill and human being is shattering.”

American Purgatory book cover.

American Purgatory, Rebecca Gayle Howell, Eyewear Publishing, 2017.
Sometimes you read a piece of writing that stops you in your tracks, that speaks to you in a way you can’t shake. “Destroy All the Places” did exactly that to me. Still does. “I have work to do, but no more hope we make it out of here than living will let us die. That’s what it means to owe a thing. It means you are owned. And which are you, now, the owner or the owned.”

Only the Lonely book cover.

William Gedney: Only the Lonely, 1955-1984, Edited by Gilles Mora, Margaret Sartor, and Lisa McCarty, University of Texas Press, 2017.
Margaret Sartor once told me William Gedney’s work was quiet poetry. I can’t think of finer way to describe the work of my favorite photographer. She writes of Gedney, “People trusted him. Moreover they trusted how he saw them.” What a beautiful relationship to strive for and what a beautiful book to have as a reminder of its possibility.

Blind Spot book cover.

Blind Spot, Teju Cole, Random House, 2017.
Again, photographers who write well and writers who photograph well have my attention. Cole’s latest work, Blind Spot, is a journey of color, texture, and light. This is a smartly sequenced book that I keep returning to as an example of how words and images can exist together.

Dangerous Waters book cover.

Dangerous Waters, Micah Cash, University of Tennessee Press, 2017.
Photography is a limited and limiting medium, but it can stir questions that often go unasked and unanswered. Cash’s work in this project, both visual and written, remind us of the complexity of choices often made long ago, sometimes far away, but still leave us dealing with the consequences.

Small Town Inertia book cover.

Small Town Inertia, J.A. Mortram, Bluecoat Press, 2017.
Though Jim and I have never met, I’m convinced he’s one of the biggest hearted people I know. I care about work with heart and soul and he has poured his into this body of work. His eyes and heart, are on the less fortunate, the overlooked. He shows us community and invites us to see dignity, honor, and courage through his lens.

The Detour Book book cover.

The Detour Book, Moleskine, 2012.
At any given time, I am likely in arm’s reach of some sort of Moleskine notebook. Earlier this year on my first trip to Washington, D.C., we visited the Moleskine store and picked up a copy of The Detour Book. It’s filled with images of more than 250 notebooks and serves as an inspiration for many a blank page.

Test of Faith book cover.

Test of Faith, Lauren Pond, Duke University Press, 2017.
Photographers know that trust is key to getting access to the most intimate moments of folks’ lives. But what happens if that trust is broken? This is a rare and heartbreakingly beautiful story of loss, of grace, and of forgiveness. This work is challenging and thoughtful.

Contributing photographer Roger May (@walkyourcamera) is an Appalachian American photographer and writer based in Charleston, West Virginia. He was born in the Tug River Valley, located on the West Virginia and Kentucky state line, in the heart of Hatfield and McCoy country. His photographs, essays, and interviews have been published by The New York Times, The Guardian, The Atlantic, Al Jazeera America, National Geographic, The Oxford American, Le Monde diplomatique, Photo District News, and others. In February 2014, he started the crowdsourced   Looking at Appalachia   project.

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