TIME Picks the Best Photobooks of 2013

RM Verlag & Phree
RM Verlag & Phree
The Pigs by Carlos Spottorno, published by RM Verlag & Phree, selected by Olivier Laurent, deputy editor, British Journal of Photography.

“A photobook is an autonomous art form, comparable with a piece of sculpture, a play, or a film. The photographs lose their own photographic character as things ‘in themselves’ and become parts, translated into printing ink, of a dramatic event called a book.”
—Ralph Prins, photo historian

As we reach an increasingly digital age, the fate of the print media leaves little to the imagination. But yet, in 2013, the art of the photobook continues to thrive, breaking through the traditional boundaries to support and push the limits of the photographic medium. This year also reinforced the notion that self-publishing is here to stay, using crowd-funding platforms like Kickstarter to set new records for support and encouraging artists to re-consider the photobook as a primary medium to share their message.

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 emerging fairs.

On LightBox we covered exciting projects across myriad genres, from Jimmy Nelson’s epic Before They Pass Away catalog to more personalized, self-published projects like Carolyn Drake’s Two Rivers. 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 Garry Winogrand to smaller, more intimate works like The Pigs. 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 2013.


Books photographed by Carolyn Griffin for TIME.


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