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The New York Times Magazine

The Best Photo Books of 2017

By Teju Cole

December 30, 2017

Sam Contis, “Deep Springs.” MACK, 155 pages, 99 images.

The young men in Sam Contis’s “Deep Springs” look like taciturn farmhands and cowboys in a Hollywood film. They are in fact undergraduates at Deep Springs College, a small degree-granting institution in rural eastern California, near the Nevada border. The students at Deep Springs (all male since the school’s founding in 1917, though that seems set to change soon) work on a ranch and a farm as part of the curriculum. Contis observes the boys with the same frank interest she takes in the landscape, horses and farm implements. Throughout the book is an unobtrusive tenderness, a submerged savagery and an elusive but insistent sensuality that one would call homoerotic were the photographer not a woman. Interspersed are archival photographs of the college and its terrain, made by early-20th-century Deep Springs students. They are sometimes hard to distinguish from Contis’s own photos. A seamless, pensive, masterly book.