The Photobook Ghetto – Surely an Ironic Post?

Yesterday Colin Pantall, on the Photobook Bristol blog, posted a sort of response to criticism that the photobook world is a ghetto, that it is a closed world, one which is hard to break into. It is an interesting position certainly and one which many may feel was a) not taken seriously (‘Next in the Photobook Repeated Circular Arguments’ followed this post) and b) only confirmed and solidified in Pantall’s response.

There is little need to deconstruct the argument, and a few commenters have already pointed out the flaws, but here is the gist of the piece which fails to consider that perhaps inclusion is not only about the (tiny percentage of) books making these lists. Fails to consider the irony in declaring openness prior to listing self-made criteria for ‘entry’. Fails to think even about the selection of practitioners to speak at the event this year – which is mostly made up of book list ‘success’ stories and established voices in the ghetto or village or whatever the self elected guardians of the photobook world are calling it.

Full post here

But the Photobook World is nether closed nor difficult to get out of. Look at the list of Best Books for 2015 and while there are old-er-hands in there like Alec Soth, or Boris Mikhailov, the top places are taken by photographers like Mariela Sancari, Dragana Jurisic, Daniel Mayrit, Laura El-Tantawy, Thomas Sauvin and Ivars Gravlejs…

So it’s not a closed world. If you want to be part of it, make a nice photobook that says something different. If it looks the same as every other photobook, if it doesn’t have an opinion or attitude, if it’s bland and tasteless, it won’t cut the mixed-metaphor mustard. It really is that simple – if you ignore all the other complicated things that we won’t talk about here.

So the photobook world is not closed to anybody. And if you don’t want to be part of it, then you can just walk away and not come in. Or if you’re a little bit interested or curious you can just drop in and stay for a little visit. You can leave any time. It’s really quite open,

Of course a lot of people wouldn’t want to be a part of this world anyway – maybe the fourth failure is in not recognizing that we can walk away and still be a part of the photobook and its significance.

The Shift?

It is silly to try and predict the turning point of the photobook – and of course there need not be one. But in cutting for sign we can surely see something is moving against the photobook – in a positive manner. I wrote about the photobook’s dull hierarchical conversations and the trend for contribution of content (and books) to a pointless cycle around the photobook for Code-X recently (a short chapter I hope to have online for free). It seems perhaps there was something in the water, or else everyone got fed up of hearing and seeing the same stuff again and again. A number of notable posts recently pick away at the veneer of the photobook scene as we see it represented by production, consumption, miss communication and poor thought.

These are some great starting points for a critical perspective…

Harvey Benge – Link
Craig Atkinson Pt I – Link
Craig Atkinson Pt II – Link
Lewis Bush – Link

In the spirit of thought over reaction, i’m not going to add much here for now but spend more time with these pieces. I will finish with this though…

Craig Atkinson comments that

The main problem to my mind is that so much photography is made with no intent. People don’t know what to do with their pictures. Naturally, they want people to see them, so they head for Blurb, or Lulu and often never speak to a printer, never consider paper stock, typography, sequence, size, fold, edit…

To which it might be worth adding that perhaps worse than those who don’t make well made books, are those who do – who speak to the printer and get on the latest trendy designer – the artist formally known as SYB? They get gorgeous paper and interactive elements, only to realise that the book costs £40, they don’t have an audience beyond family and friends, and the book says nothing other than that they value style over communication.

Oh, and if this is all a little negative. This will make you laugh…

The continuing presence of SPBH as an arbiter of the DIY spirit affirms Ceshel’s belief that self-publishing is an independent state of mind, an attitude as much as an aesthetic. “DIY culture,” he says, “is by its nature an ethic in opposition to society’s rules at large. It flourishes in environments of communitarian support, collaboration, and even informal barter economics. It is rooted in self-affirmation against a conformist and normative system … An army of young artists is undermining the greed-run system at its foundations, one page at a time.” Long may it flourish.

KayLynn Deveney – All You Can Lose is Your Heart

Transparency – I was sent a review copy by Kehrer Verlag

KayLynn Deveney’sAll You Can Lose is Your Heart’ looks at ranch-style dream homes in the American Southwest, built in the 50’s and 60’s. It is intended that the images inside, presented as a close-to-typological study is able to act as a metaphorical portrait for ‘those living inside’ that tells us about ‘a fading vision of the American Dream’. For some reason the press release seems keen to stress that this is the ‘first time these houses are the subject of a published photographic work’ – something that on its own should be nearly inconsequential.

©KayLynn Deveney – Bellehaven, Albuquerque, New Mexico

What is a well trodden path though is the visual and verbal discourse of the American Dream and its health – it’s dead, it’s alive, it’s dead, it’s alive. It’s dead. So, important then that Deveney brings something of value to the discussion. This is certainly the case for the images presented in the book, which, despite learning more about their production in the accompanying interview with architect (and marketeer) Jean Valjean Vandruff, are still charmingly sweet. The mix of straight-cut timber with ornate, curved detailing on acutely angled roofs is only made more compelling for the pick up trucks and light-up reindeer that now block the view. Here is the strength of the work (not the book) – in plainly evidencing the augmentation or destruction of an historical ‘ideal’.

©KayLynn Deveney – Vandruff Cinderella Home, Orange County, Southern California

As I tend to find with almost all photobooks from more established houses, there are too many images here, and some focus is lost in the edit – it is a struggle to really feel as though we are seeing much of the occupant’s lives in these photographs. We should also ask whether we gain any insight into the wellbeing of that elusive American Dream – to an extent perhaps but greatly aided by the interview and essay at the rear of the book.

©KayLynn Deveney – Princess Jeanne addition, Albuquerque, New Mexico

The sequence and edit of content (not only images) is my main issue with the reading – which feels somewhat cumbersome and in need of some rearranging. Using the essay and interviews as well as original marketing material and blueprint to break up sections of the photographs might simultaneously create a more sure delivery.

You can buy the book here from the publisher Kehrer Verlag

Paris (bound)

Looking forward to Paris next week – will be stopping by Paris Photo, Offprint, Le Photobook Fest and more. Would love to catch up with anyone else in town and also keen to see new works or just chat photobooks/projects. Pop me an email if you want to meet over coffee – mjohnstonmedia@gmail.com

Code-X; a new publication

I have a small chapter in a new publication looking at the book within a somewhat confusing digital (or rather post-digital) era. The piece is titled ‘The Photobook Club; a Pragmatic Response to Hierarchical Conversation and the Photobook as Capital’. The book features some great pieces from really insightful minds and positions, have a look at more info and a press release below…

A new bookRoom press publication edited by Danny Aldred and Emmanuelle Waeckerlé. With a foreword by Alessandro Ludovico and endnotes by John Warwicker.

Code X brings together a selection of personal histories of the current ‘transforming’ and ‘expanding’ of the book medium with the aim to challenge the very notion of what it could be(come) in today’s complex information era.

The design of Code—X within codex form represents a playful and daring twist of ink imitating pixel to render composition and design. The content is seen as a continuous scroll, cropped where screen meets paper edge. We celebrate both camps by highlighting dichotomies of edge to scroll, sequence to time and image to place.

Featuring essays, interviews and works by

Delphine Bedel, Simon Cutts, Sebastien Girard, Hans Gremmen, Andrew Haslam with Rose Gridneff & Alex Cooper, Alec Finlay with Ken Cockburn, Alessandro Ludovico, Silvio Lorusso, Katharine Meynell with Susan Johanknecht, Grégoire Pujade-Lauraine, AND Publishing, Colin Sackett, Jodie Silsby, Paul Soulellis, Stefan Szczelkun, John Warwicker (Tomato), Eric Watier, Maria White, Beth Williamson, David Lorente Zaragoza.

276 pages. RRP £20.00 – ISBN 978-0-9576828-3-2

available online

The book launched in October 2015  at Winchester School of Art.

This is followed by the Small Publishers Fair in London on the 7th of November, then Printed Matter in New York on the 12th of November. and more in 2016.  Details soon.

CODEX press release

Photobook day in Hondarribia

Over 2 million folks reached via the #WorldPhotobookDay tag on Twitter and Instagram is pretty awesome, but this report from Gabriela Cendoya (who has a great blog, here), a collector from Spain is so fantastic to hear about. One of the goals for this year’s event was to engage with non-photobook lovers and here Gabriela has certainly done that…

wpdh

Images from Gabriela’s library

This years photo book day has been special. For the second time, it was an open house day, for all the people to come and enjoy the books.

Two friends came in the morning, wanting to see some books, planning to publish a book themselves, and looking for ideas and cool tips. It was nice seeing them and talking about their project, as they seemed to enjoy lots of books. One of them is a teacher, and we agreed that she would come back with some of her students to see some books and discuss about them. I think it is a great idea, and I really cant wait to see it happen.

What happened in the afternoon was even greater for me. I live in a rather small town, a fishermen town. That doesnt mean there is not much cultural life around, there is a nice public library and some interesting art galleries. But not much on photobooks, despite the fact that we are near Donostia, where we have a Photobook Club, and a very nice photo book shop

Well, I invited some neighbors to come and see my house and books, explaining it was a day to celebrate. None of them knew exactly what was what we usually call a photobook. Some brought nice books with old pictures of Donostia, and other beautiful places, wondering if that was all right And of course, it was! But then I showed them some of Julión Barón books, and well, that was something else! Rinko Kawauchi was somehow easier to love, and Stephen Shores Uncommon Places a very good start for a very nice and rich conversation. Nami, by Syoin Kajii, was a beautiful way to feel in communion with each others.

In the end, it was a wonderful day, for me at last, and I hope, for all the people who came. Photobooks are a world within themselves, a world to share with everybody. Thanks, and see you next year!

Gabriela Cendoya