Book Review: American Photography 33
Every year AI-AP opens a call for submissions for their competition for best images from within the past year. The competition, open to photographers, magazines, agencies, publishers and schools is judged by a selected jury of leading industry professionals. American Photography 33 is the concatenation of the tumultuous year of 2016 in 312 images. The photographs of 2016 are nestled astride mirror profiles of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, shot by Will Mebane during the 2016 presidential campaign. And much like the presidential campaign, the images of Trump and Clinton are in a dialogue with one another as they attempt to stake their claim to the cover real estate, leaving an umbrella theme under which the rest of the year subsisted.
Thematically stochastic, the book thwarts us across the world through politics, poverty, celebrities, fashion, landscapes, and everything in between. It is a smartly curated visual nostalgia that will have you on an emotional pendulum refuting the laws of physics. The profundity of American Photography 33, and the whole idea behind the collection, is due in large part to the diversity of contributors.
AI-AP has created a platform for reflection that invites in every perspective, from established photographers to students. The jury, which for this edition consisted of, Kate Bubacz, Jeff Campagna, Bailey Franklin, Amy Kellner, Christopher Martinez, Michele Outland, and Patrick Witty judge all submissions on an equal basis. It is a collection that at once elevates and celebrates the photographers and delivers a well-rounded and striking snapshot of our past year.
The book designed by Michele Outland, the creative director of Gather Journal, is a printed hardcover, jacketed in a red transparent vinyl that creates a visual artifice around Mebane’s presidential election images and incorporates a clever inclusion of Russian characters, implying an on-going collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Design-wise the cover and binding are the only overtly political choice. The selected images in the book are arranged in alphabetical order by the photographer’s last name, which is credited directly below or adjacent to the photographs as they appear. The book also hosts an index that includes full credits and captions for each image, as well as a creative index acknowledging all creative contributors to the production of the published print book.
American Photography 33 and the team at AI-AP have succeeded in creating a collection of work from an inclusive pool of artists that is brilliant in its exclusivity of greatness. Art is inherently exclusive; it is what makes it attractive and vivifying. However, AI-AP’s devotion to producing an equitable space for artists to share their work is the biggest inspiration I took away. 2016 was a wild, turbulent, and provocative year as AI-AP and the contributing photographers have shown us, but somehow this collective of artistry and its continuing platform left an insoluble wake of hope.