TIME’s Best of 2012: The Photobooks We Loved

©Taschen—Wolfgang Tillmans
©Taschen—Wolfgang Tillmans
"Tillmans has developed a practice lucidly exploiting most facets of photography and his books have long been integral. Neue Welt is an apparently unassuming catalogue yet its design and structure are a brazen challenge to the reader. Folding in the arcane with the mundane and the sublime, it is one of those rare catalogues of photography which ensures that I will see the exhibition."

—Michael Mack, publisher of MACK

“I find it an amazing idea that a volume of photographs, even one from the distant past, can explode into life at any time, when stumbled upon by a sympathetic reader.”

Martin Parr, from his introduction to The Photobook: A History, Vol. 1 (Phaidon 2004)

The photobook long ago broke free of the confines of the coffee table, and has become not only an essential tool in tracking the history of photography, but one of countless means by which we see the medium continually pushed to (and beyond) its traditional limits. The art of the photobook in 2012 remained astonishingly vibrant, with new voices and visions brought to light by daring publishers and—even more encouragingly—by innumerable self-publishing ventures funded by the likes of Kickstarter and Emphas.is.

With peers and colleagues around the globe, we gladly lined up to discover new titles and new artists presented at events like the New York Art Book Fair, Offprint Paris and the International Photobook Festival, among countless other new fairs.

On LightBox we covered exciting projects across myriad genres, from the epic War/Photography catalog to more personalized, micro projects compiled by the Indie Photobook library. Here, in this gallery, we spotlight the best photobooks of the past year as chosen by photographers and photography experts from around the world … and, of course, by photo editors from TIME.

This year’s offerings range from enormous, luxe tomes like Taschen’s Her Majesty to smaller, more intimate works like J&L’s BABE. Overall the selection confirms — in a heartening way, for all of us — that even as unwieldy maelstroms of information emerge from all of our digital devices, many of us still enjoy being transfixed, or transported, by an encounter with a singular vision. After all, the pleasure and quiet thrill that one gets sitting down with a good book — especially one that pushes the boundaries of the format — simply can’t be reproduced in mere ones and zeroes. In that spirit of celebrating a still-vital art form, we humbly offer our take on the photobooks we loved most in 2012.

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