Irvine Welsh: ‘I thought Trainspotting would be a cult book, but not generation-defining’

The Scottish author on 25 years of his landmark novel, Brexit as a catalyst for democratic change and the exhilarating effects of boxing

Trainspotting is 25 years old. Did you have any idea when you were writing it that it would become such a phenomenon, culturally and commercially?
Not really. The initial buzz it generated was among a certain section of the London cultural cognoscenti, the ex-punk crowd. They got it immediately. Because of the subject matter, which involved hard drugs, I thought it would become a cult book but not generation-defining, which is what other people have called it since. It’s strange, but it has taken on such a life of its own that when I see it on a shelf in a bookshop, it almost feels like someone else wrote it.

You’ve since written four novels with those same characters, including this year’s Dead Men’s Trousers, ...

Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors and the Drug Company that Addicted America – review

Beth Macy’s complex, moving account of America’s battle with opioid addiction rips along with the pace of a thriller

In February 2001, Ed Bisch, a middle-aged American IT worker, received a frantic call from his daughter. She had just found her 18-year-old brother, Eddie, unconscious and turning blue in the bathroom of their house in suburban Philadelphia. By the time Bisch made it home, paramedics had given up the fight to save his son’s life. When a bewildered Bisch asked what had happened, one of them replied, “Oxy” – shorthand for OxyContin, the opioid-based painkiller that Eddie had overdosed on. “The first time Ed Bisch heard the word ‘OxyContin’,” writes Beth Macy, “his son was dead from it.”

Dopesick is threaded through with similar stories of loss and bewilderment: sad stories told by grieving parents and siblings, angry stories told by activists, and stoical stories told by police officers ...

Viv Albertine: ‘I just want to blow a hole in it all’

Viv Albertine’s new memoir is a chronicle of outsiderness that goes beyond her years in the Slits to explore class and gender, her parents and sibling rivalry, and why she’s done with men

On 4 April 1966, when Viv Albertine was 11 years old, her father, Lucien, wrote the following entry in his diary: “When Viviane went out this afternoon with a friend she dolled herself up with scent and lipstick… I said she was much too young. She was shocked when I tried to advise her and adopted a rude attitude.” The following February, he made note of an embarrassing encounter with a neighbour, who reported seeing Viviane with “a bad lot” in the local Wimpy: “The way your daughter dresses in miniskirts and fancy socks and the rest of it, she’ll end up on drugs or in trouble.”

Her father’s diary, which Albertine discovered after his ...

Viv Albertine: ‘I just want to blow a hole in it all’

Viv Albertine’s new memoir is a chronicle of outsiderness that goes beyond her years in the Slits to explore class and gender, her parents and sibling rivalry, and why she’s done with men

On 4 April 1966, when Viv Albertine was 11 years old, her father, Lucien, wrote the following entry in his diary: “When Viviane went out this afternoon with a friend she dolled herself up with scent and lipstick… I said she was much too young. She was shocked when I tried to advise her and adopted a rude attitude.” The following February, he made note of an embarrassing encounter with a neighbour, who reported seeing Viviane with “a bad lot” in the local Wimpy: “The way your daughter dresses in miniskirts and fancy socks and the rest of it, she’ll end up on drugs or in trouble.”

Her father’s diary, which Albertine discovered after his ...

The Street Philosophy of Garry Winogrand by Geoff Dyer review – supremo of the 60s sidewalk

A series of discursive essays, inspired by 100 Winogrand images, make for a playful and astute tribute to a hugely influential street photographer

Garry Winogrand was an obsessive New Yorker with attitude who, in the 1960s, defined street photography to such a degree that nearly every example of the genre since looks like imitation. For all the apparent spontaneity of his images, Winogrand was acutely attuned to the ways in which a photo altered what it captured, often imposing a formal, and thus transformative, symmetry on the unruly drama of the everyday. “Photography is not about the thing photographed,” he once said. “It is about how that thing looks photographed.”

In many ways, Winogrand’s work is the perfect conceptual starting point for a series of short essays by Geoff Dyer, whose nonfiction writing merges discursive scholarship with personal flights of fancy. The Street Philosophy of Garry Winogrand takes its cue not ...

The Pixels of Paul Cézanne by Wim Wenders review – director as (generous) critic…

The film-maker’s short essays on the artists who have inspired him are overly reverential but not without insight

“It’s only when I write that I can see things through to their conclusion,” Wim Wenders states in I Write, Therefore I Think, the opening essay in The Pixels of Paul Cézanne. For him, as with many of us, writing things down is a way of seeing clearly, but it is also somehow related to “being reliant on seeing and having sharpened this sense more than any other”.

As a film director, Wenders’s way of seeing tends towards the poetically enigmatic, often imbuing the quotidian with a luminous beauty, as evinced by his most famous film, Paris, Texas. On the page, he is more matter-of-fact, employing a low-key, almost conversational style which moves from the anecdotal to the often keenly descriptive, but always with Wenders’s own, often singular thoughts on the subject foregrounded. Thus, in Getting to ...

OUT: LGBTQ Poland by Maciek Nabrdalik review – Poles apart

A book of portraits and testimonies from Poland’s LGBTQ community speaks volumes about entrenched rightwing zealotry and intolerance

In 2015, the newly elected president of Poland, Andrzej Duda, immediately announced that he was against marriage equality and, when asked if he would employ gay people in his office, replied: “I can’t imagine half-naked people parading around the chancellery.” His father, Professor Jan Tadeusz Duda, has said he views homosexuality as an acquired affliction that the state should do all it can to prevent.

In his illuminating introduction to OUT: LGBTQ Poland, journalist Robert Rient provides the cultural and historical context for these kinds of views. “The concentrated contempt for non-heterosexual people in Poland,” he writes, “is the product of a medieval, patriarchal culture reinforced by the state and the powerful Catholic church, to which the vast majority of Poles belong. It is a culture where chauvinism and misogyny, ...

Why Dylan Matters by Richard F Thomas review – Virgil, Homer, Ovid… Dylan?

An academic’s attempt to shoehorn Dylan into the pantheon of literary greats misunderstands the singer’s appeal

In June 1970, a reluctant Bob Dylan turned up at Princeton University to receive an honorary degree. He had been persuaded to attend by his then-wife, Sara, and his friend and fellow musician David Crosby, but the ceremony so rattled him that he referred to it subsequently in a scathing song called Day of the Locusts. It included the line, “sure was glad to get out of there alive”.

What annoyed Dylan most was the introductory speech in which he was referred to as “the disturbed and concerned conscience of young America”. Over three decades later, as the following passage from his 2004 memoir, Chronicles Volume One, illustrates, that description still rankled. “Oh sweet Jesus! It was like a jolt. I shuddered and trembled but remained expressionless. The disturbed conscience of young America. ...

Sean O’Hagan’s best photography books of 2017

Studies of social tensions in the UK and US, rural Sweden by night and mafia countryside in Sicily were among the most striking collections of the year

If America increasingly seems like a nation riven beyond repair politically, Peter van Agtmael’s Buzzing at the Sill (Kehrer Verlag £32) evokes that ominous sense of disunity in darkly poetic images and impressionistic prose. Over the past few years he travelled extensively across the country, spending time in a rehabilitation centre for traumatised soldiers, on a Native American reservation, with Ku Klux Klan members at a flag burning and in a black-owned Louisiana bar, where an all-white audience were attending a themed “white night”. An unsettling book for these uneasy times.

Likewise, in an altogether different way, Mathieu Asselin’s Monsanto: A Photographic Investigation (Verlag Kettler $55), an exhaustive look at the ways in which a multinational agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation impacts on ...

The Story of Looking by Mark Cousins review – the world through someone else’s eyes

The film-maker’s history of the human gaze is illuminating, but has little to say about today’s image overload

In December 2013, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the then Danish prime minister, briefly became an internet sensation when she was photographed at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela taking a selfie with Barack Obama and David Cameron. In March 2016, a 26-year-old British man, Ben Innes, a passenger on an EgyptAir flight, managed to persuade the plane’s hijacker, Seif Eldin Mustafa, to pose with him for a selfie. In the photo, Mustafa is wearing what appears to be an explosives vest (though it was later found to be fake).

If the internet has radically altered the way we think, the smartphone is simultaneously altering the way we look – and are looked at – in ways that would have seemed unimaginable a few decades ago. As both these examples illustrate, our behaviour ...

Ravens by Masahisa Fukase review – a must for any serious photobook buff

This rare but celebrated book, 10 years in the making, reveals the late photographer’s affinity with birds In 1975, on a journey from Tokyo to Hokkaido, his hometown, Masahisa Fukase began to photograph the ravens he saw from the train window. Alighting at stations along the way, he captured the birds in motion or perched on poles, telegraph wires, chimneys and fences. He photographed them in flocks landing on trees or darkening the already slate grey sky and in grainy close-up, their silhouettes suggesting something solitary and elemental. So began an obsessive creative journey that would last more than 10 years and conclude with the publication of the first edition of Ravens in 1986. Continue reading...

Pictures from Home by Larry Sultan review – when Mom and Dad lived the dream

Sultan’s 80s portraits of his parents are both artful and authentic First published in 1992, Larry Sultan’s Pictures from Home is an intriguing visual memoir that is also an exploration of the all-American family, both as a reality and a construct. Sultan began the project when Ronald Reagan was president and “the institution of the family was being used as an inspirational symbol by resurgent conservatives. I wanted to puncture this mythology of the family and to show what happens when we are driven by images of success. And I was willing to use my family to prove a point.” Although that may have been the original motivation, the book is too personal and self-questioning to be anything other than a tortured labour of love, a way of seeing his parents – and himself – anew. Throughout, Sultan used family snapshots and stills from home movies alongside his own ...

Two Blue Buckets by Peter Fraser review – everyday revelations

From deflated balloons to the mysterious blue buckets, Peter Fraser’s photographs illuminate the ordinaryThe contemplation of the apparently mundane has long been a preoccupation of photographers. In the work of William Eggleston, for instance, the vernacular interiors and ordinary landscapes of Tennessee and Mississippi are rendered luminous by the eye of an American master of intense colour and skewed composition. In the work of Wolfgang Tillmans, the banal and the overlooked – weeds, an aeroplane – are presented deadpan, as if any artistic transformation would be a betrayal of their everydayness. There is a feeling of vague foreboding about many of Fraser's domestic interiors Continue reading...

Buzzing at the Sill by Peter van Agtmael review – dire states of America

Van Agtmael’s startling images of America – and his reflections on his work – reveal a country that is riven beyond repairIn 2014, Peter van Agtmael published Disco Night Sept 11, a thoughtful photobook about war and its fallout. Van Agtmael, a Magnum photographer based in New York, had covered the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, his images often bearing witness to the kind of horrors that do not tend to make it into the mainstream press. In its merging of photographs from the conflict zones with shots of the more sombre, confused America that emerged in the aftermath of 9/11, Disco Nights Sept 11 marked a shift in tone towards a kind of retrospective reflection. Buzzing at the Sill sustains and deepens that mood, but here, Van Agtmael concentrates solely on America. It is a book filled with darkly poetic images that suggest the peculiar tensions of ...

Terra Nostra by Mimi Mollica – review

A Sicilian expat captures the enduring presence of the mafia in this book of unsettling everyday photographs Any photographer approaching the subject of the mafia’s impact on Sicilian society must necessarily work in the shadow of Letizia Battaglia, whose huge archive of often violent images, made between 1974 and 1992, amount to what she called “an archive of blood”. Battaglia worked on the frontline of the mafia’s war on the island’s civic society and its often fierce internal battles for power, chronicling the murders of judges, policemen, feuding mob bosses and ordinary citizens. Continue reading...

Italia by Martin Bogren review – an interrogation of street photography

The Swede’s ghostly images of four Italian cities capture the mystery of unfamiliar streetsIn the past, Swedish photographer Martin Bogren has made understated books full of quietly observed moments shot in grainy black and white. He is a master of the everyday sublime. For Ocean, published in 2008, he captured a group of young Indian men from a landlocked state enjoying their first encounter with the sea. For Tractor Boys (2013), he immersed himself in the enclosed world of a group of adolescent boys from rural Sweden who customise and race old cars for fun. With Italia, his vision has broadened and deepened. Shot in Naples, Palermo, Bologna and Turin, Italia is Bogren’s take on street photography, a genre now so ubiquitous – and often so cliched – as to be a challenge in itself. If the subject matter is not so defined as before, the atmosphere ...

Diane Arbus: Portrait of a Photographer review – a disturbing study

Arthur Lubow’s life of the controversial US photographer is sometimes eye-opening, but casts no new light on her troubled genius

“My favourite thing,” Diane Arbus once said, “is to go where I’ve never been.” As Arthur Lubow’s deeply researched, sometimes prurient, new biography of the artist attests, she was not just speaking about her photography. The book is punctuated by revelations about her private life, including the claim, based on her psychoanalyst’s notes, that she had a fitful but prolonged incestuous relationship with her beloved older brother, Howard, up until a few months before her death.

References to what Lubow calls Arbus’s “multivalent” sex life are scattered throughout Diane Arbus: Portrait of a Photographer, somewhat belying the book’s matter-of-fact title. We know from previous biographers – the scholarly Patricia Bosworth and the psychoanalytical William Todd Schultz – that Arbus’s transgressive art and life were intertwined to a complex ...

Tulip by Celine Marchbank review – a daughter’s floral tribute

Celine Marchbank’s photographic journal of her mother’s terminal illness is rich in symbol and telling, everyday detailBritish photographer Celine Marchbank has described her new book as a “delicate” project. The word is well chosen. Marchbank is a quiet observer of the everyday and here she applies her steadfastly low-key, almost diaristic approach to an immensely difficult subject: the last year of her mother’s life. The camera allowed me just a couple of split seconds a day to record the things that would go on to mean so much Continue reading...

One Second of Light by Giles Duley review – moments of hard truth

Giles Duley captures the emotion on the faces of his traumatised subjects with an empathy few others can muster

Giles Duley is a humanist photographer of the old school. He believes that his photographs can change the lives of the people in them and maybe even the people who look at them. “Whilst some document the differences between us,” he writes, “I am fascinated by what makes us the same. Humanity is universal and wherever I travel, I see the same hopes and dreams, the same intimacies and values.”

While many contemporary photographers question the once sacred notion of the photographer as witness, and indeed any idea of photographic truth, Duley has kept faith with that belief at a considerable cost. The images gathered here were taken between 2005 and 2015 in Angola, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Jordan and Ukraine, that is before and after he was almost killed by ...