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 help…

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.

3 replies on “The Shift?”

I am the only one to see the irony of the SPBH manifesto being publish by Aperture?

It seem the photo book is going through its punk phase–loud, crudely produced work as an anti-establishment statement. And just like 70s British punk that was “new,” it ignores those that came be for them. Now the fad is fading and we are no longer as amused by the work. What looked and felt different does not seem to be sustaining in any intellectual or aesthetic sense. We are by the shape of the bottle, but don’t care that much about the beer. It is interesting to note that many of those punk bands that had a long career, did learn the craft of the musician and various styles of music.

I think this photo book culture is rather small, unified by a certain socioeconomic background and taste in art. Unless you want to build a career within the Western art world and can afford to subsidize your art, I am not sure this movement will be more than a fad.

But for me, the big shift in technology that has allowed people to publish has also given the chance for photography to develop a literature for itself. The photo book is the equivalent of the novel to the writer or the feature film to the filmmaker. This is still the most effective medium to create complex narratives for the photographer. However, unlike the novel, which is just streamed text where things like page breaks are irrelevant, the photo book needs a great level of craft like the film. Photographers working in the book will need to learn design (or have the designers name on the cover along side the photographers), just as film makers learn about different skills than cinematography. If we can get passed the desire for novelty, I think we could develop the photo book as a significant medium beyond the confines of a small group.


I think a great summary of many of the challenges facing the medium. I certainly see the irony in the SPBH and Aperture collaboration but I guess the counter point would be to consider the distribution structure of an institution like Aperture.

There are so many parallels with the current ‘scene’ and previous movements in different mediums like punk music that you point out. These sorts of conversations are really important and are quietly growing in the side streets of photobookland – my hope is that in the next year they hit the high street – not only as opposition but as an important critical companion, mirror and frame which we might acknowledge as a way to discuss photobooks.


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