The Natural Collection at the Monash Gallery of Art

I am really excited to announce that the Photobook Club’s ‘Natural Collection’ which now includes over 40 books, will be heading to the Monash Gallery of Art in Australia to be displayed as part of the ‘Light Reading’ exhibition and in conjunction with Photobook Melbourne.

nat_col_montage1The show, which celebrates the relationship between reading and photography will run until 1st March 2015. The Natural Collection will be available to see (and touch and read!) from mid January onwards but an exact date will be posted shortly.

Untitled-1

Thanks to all who have submitted work so far to the collection, to co-curator Lucy Johnson who I have worked on this project with and to Stephanie Richter of the Monash Gallery for the collection invitation.

Before more information is available, here are a few images from the collection…

natcoltab2

natcoltab1

Natural Collection: http://collection.photobookclub.org/ 

Light Reading Exhibition: http://www.mga.org.au/exhibition/view/exhibition/173 

Photobook Melbourne Festival: http://photobookmelbourne.org/ 

A ‘Report From the Field’ in Aperture’s PBR 007

I was asked recently to provide a report from the field for the Fall issue of Aperture’s ‘Photobook Review’. The report sits alongside the likes of Larissa Leclair, Markus Schaden and Rebecca Senf and talks mostly about the need to expand our community to greater benefit a wider audience.

PBR_007

The newspaper is available with a subscription to Aperture magazine but can also be found at a good number of bookshops and galleries and likely if you went to Paris – you already ave a copy. If you can’t get hold of a copy and would like to read the report, just drop me a mail. 

– Matt

World Photobook Day – October 14th

This coming October 14th World #PhotoBookDay will be celebrated! This date is a direct homage to the first known photobook: Photographs of British algae. Cyanotype impressions, by Anna Atkins. As the exact publishing date is unknown, we have taken the date that appears in the registry of the copy in British Library records.

sello_photobookday_2014_2.jpg

Feel free to organise other activities for this day. We’d love you to join us in this celebration and contribute to make this date a global event by organising an action related to photobooks in your own city. As soon as you program your activity, please e-mail it to us, and we’ll post it in this website: photobookday.org.

This is the second year of this global event, in 2013 there were a nice collection of activities spread over many different countries, check them out on photobookday.org.

We know there is not much time to organise large activities, but we can propose easy actions you can take to celebrate locally this global event:

  • Post a #PhotoBookDaySelfie on social media: an image with you and your current favourite photobook.

  • Donate a self-published photobook or photozine to your nearest public library or school library. Where we can we will publish a list of public libraries accepting donations this day.

  • Buy a photobook. Many bookshops and publishers will make special discounts for the day. We’ll publish a list of them.

  • Check our map and locate your nearest activities and participate!

 Organise! Participate! Celebrate!

The World Photobook Day has been set up as a collaboration between the organizers of Photobook Club Madrid and Matt Johnston.

Celebrating the photobook, born in 1843.

Best,

Matt Johnston
Juan Cires
Ricardo Garrido
Bonifacio Barrio Hijosa

Book Was There: A Conversation with Andrew Piper

The following is an interview with Andrew Piper, associate professor in the department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at McGill University who has recently written ‘Book Was There’ – A presentation and discussion of current debates surrounding the book both past and present. It is at the same time a nod to University Presses – an often overlooked publishing platform by many outside academia but one that can add to both our photobook shelves (with the likes of Eugene Smith’s ‘The Big Book’ and Rachel Sussman’s recent publication ‘The Oldest living Things in the World’) and our understanding of the book as medium (‘Various Small Books’, ‘The Pivot of the World’ etc).

The Oldest Living Things in the World

We started by discussing whether ‘books’ is in the first instance too large an area to understand with any certainty or to pass comment on, whether it prohibits valuable discourse as the word covers so many genres and sub-genres. Andrew pointed out the different roles that books play in our lives – and that the children’s book, or the photobook together with their place in the 21st century, should be understood separately independently.

Discussion regarding the photobook as a prospering genre led to the qualities of the corporeal bookwork…

[AP] There is a lot of effort to pinpoint what is special about the physical book as apposed to the digital book and so a lot of publishers are experimenting with design and material. It is no longer enough to separate your book from the other books in the store but now also important to separate ‘the book’ from it’s digital counterpart. Publishers are putting a big amount of thought into artisanal qualities, they often draw from historical styles and tropes to emphasise the tactility, permanence of these things. [AP]

This is something we can quite easily see in current photobook trends. Just as books on birds, fauna and a Walden-esque life with subtle cloth covers and embossed spines now pop up on tables in Waterstones and Borders, so to the photobook store is decorated with wooden slipcases, exposed bindings and textured wraps.

So is this a hankering for the nostalgic? For the books we used to own or the books our parents used to own? We hear about the digital native, or at least of a generation growing up with screens in place of paper – what do they have to be nostalgic about – where is their reference? Is this a craving without full understanding?

[AP] Yes I think that’s exactly it, I have yet to meet a large cross section who is just completely spent with print, I know it must exist! For a while there was the myth of the digital native and at some point that might happen but for the most part the majority of my students have a clear idea of bifurcation. They know how to read online (and they do) but they also have really strong and often sentimental attachments to book reading. I just taught a ‘history and future of the book’ class and from 60 students I couldn’t find any who were completely done with the book, and in fact most of the class was more interested in the past of the book rather than the future. I think the harder sell is the future; computation and electronic texts. [AP]

Again here we can relate to the photobook – which is experiencing a surge in interest – interest in the physical, corporeal work rather than digital possibilities. There have been interesting experiments with digital works (Via PanAm is a reliable example) but for the most part it has been pushed to the side with few champions of the medium (a notable exception being Matin Brink’s blog which burned bright but short). We can also see that the community of photobook makers and consumers is a variably aged one – my students of 18-25 are as passionate about the codex as my academic peers, or perhaps more so!

Carol Golemboski’s ‘Psychometry’: a hybrid book

We turn quickly towards a frustration with the narrow romantic or eulogistic discourses surrounding the book. Andrew comments on his dislike of this binary argument and his response…

[AP] … this is what led to me writing the Book was There, the debate was so ‘either or’, there were these really polarised camps and it didn’t reflect my own interests and experiences or that of my students. It also didn’t reflect well the world we inhabit which for the time being is hybrid. It seems silly to fetishise one thing at the expense of another or to worship the new at the expense of the old so I was trying to put the two in conversation with each other (which is hard as people do seem to fall into these two camps). I am a curious historian by nature, I am interested in where things come from and how they live on. For me you can’t understand computation and electronic texts without understanding books. [AP]

One of the key aspects of ‘Book was There’ was thinking of reading and the book as different things. We understand that the book does not translate well to the screen – but does reading? (I went off on a bit of a tangent here about how photography’s second paradigm shift has led us to think of the image and the photograph as different things – the image as communication [mms/instagram/snapchat] and the photograph as a more traditional medium of expression)

[AP] That’s a really interesting distinction. I wanted in ‘Book was There’ to disaggregate reading from books, the history of the book and the history of reading bleed into one another but they have separate histories and uses also. [AP]

Here I wonder whether the unbound electronic text is changing the way that physical bookworks are produced and read, whether we are seeing more experimentation?

[AP] Its a good question because there is a lot of experimenting but it always remains very experimental. If you think of commercial presses they are still working with a fairly coherent and unchanging notion of what a book is even though they are very happy to sell electronic books. I don’t know when or if that will change, I don’t see signs of publishers really experimenting (beyond the likes of the Kindle ‘single’). When people write books today they are still writing things that look like books of old. They may be sold in different formats but the concept hasn’t changed in the mainstream.

It may be that it is a really important anthropological constant, it’s been a very powerful media for a long time so it is naive to think it might disappear overnight. Yet on the other hand I feel like if people spent enough time in their lives clicking through the web to find things, you are going to have readers who feel less comfortable with the book in it’s traditional format. maybe all that clicking makes you want the book more! [AP]

Perhaps this is where the photobook comes into its own as it has often, if not always, been an experimental medium. Its status as a luxury/art-object/cult/underground means of presentation has given us the accordion of Ed Ruscha, the hidden secrets of Ben Krewinkel and the anti-linearity of Paul Graham.

Conversations with Gaulbert

I was keen to hear Andrew’s opinion on the lack of a digital incarnation of the book, whether we could even expect one…

[AP] I think that the timescales we are looking at are Darwinian, more than the human framework can really understand. We can’t see that evolution in action, in realtime. For me a lot of it is going to have to come from social pressures, the book has always responded to social needs – to address beliefs about how information and society works. A lot has to change before the book is not a good thing to serve social needs. Imagine education or entertainment – books are still very good at meeting broad audiences in broad ways. [AP]

And a last thought on University presses…

[AP] They are really where intellectual avant grade still happens, there is a lot of mundane stuff gets published with them but they are a test bed for new ideas that commercial presses wouldn’t publish. So they, like some of the smaller indie presses, are really key. [AP]

 

Understanding Stanley

I have been thinking a lot lately about the readership of photobooks which is, in most cases, limited. Limited in quantity, breadth and diversity*. This is little concern for self referential and egotistical works but what about the bookworks that contain questions, answers and thoughts that a wider readership could benefit from.

One such project is ‘Understanding Stanley, Looking Through Autism‘ by Rosie Barnes, a “beautiful new photo book that gives a unique and powerful visual insight into life on the autism spectrum.” In the Kickstarter video featured below, Rosie mentions that she ideally wants this book to be seen by the person standing next to Stanley at a bus shelter who through reading the book may better understand and be more inclined to find out more about autism – what a powerful idea. The book is affordable, a digital edition would make it more so, perhaps this is a photobook that will really break the photobook bubble, find it’s way into school’s curriculums even?

Anyway, you can find out more and fund the project here. 

*Lately newspaper works have sought to fill this need but they are few and far between in relation to good photobooks and could be said to ignore people under 20/25 for whom the medium is un-relateable and cumbersome.

Midwest Dirt by Nathan Pearce

Now it’s just after harvest time, my favorite time of year. The fields are almost cleared and I’m barefoot on my porch with a beer in my hand. I can see for miles.

For over a year now I have been working with Nathan to bring this fantastic project into corporeal existence and with the aid of Akina Factory who who created the book concept and design, the result is beautiful.

One of the toughest elements of editing this work is something Nathan has pointed out in a recent interview with Darwin Magazine – how the projects needed to move away from cliched depictions of the rural midwest but at the same time not disown culture and environment. While the geographical location rooted in the midwest, this project for me has always been about home, about home as a constant for good and bad. For this reason I hope it appeals to many.

If you are interested in buying the book you can head here.

To see more from the series, head here.

Midwest Dirt
Nathan Pearce

Edited by Matt Johnston
Book project by Akina Books Factory
Edition of 135
Hand sewn binding

The Natural Collection – Website and Event

The Natural Collection call only went up around 2 weeks ago but already the books that have arrived are in demand and will be travelling with me to a book club event at the University of Hertfordshire. Students there are currently undertaking a book module and a project centred around nature so it seems a perfect fit! All the books that have arrived before I leave on Tuesday 18th will come along for the ride and I will make sure I get some pictures to be posted here soon…

In the meantime, consider checking out the website in it’s infancy…

The Natural Collection

There are some fantastic photobook collections the world over – collections that focus on indie or handmade books, collections that are driven by rarity and monetary value, collections based on location and many based on specific events or happenings. The Photobook Club has never been and never had a collection, occasionally kind folks have sent books through to me and I have sought wherever possible to take them with me to Photobook Club events and talks but no more.

Paul Gaffney – We Make the Path by Walking

Now, I find more and more I have been asked to bring collections of books to events, Universities and so on – I respond by bringing my own collection but it is a young and sparse collection lacking curation and coherence. At the same time I have been thinking a great deal recently about a thematic collection, a collection that, while not seeking to be exhaustive, does seek to provide both broad and deep reading. A collection that can be visited in my home, a collection that will be viewable online and a collection that can travel in whole, or in parts, to different locations.

Lucas Foglia – A Natural Order

I figured such a theme would need to be narrow enough that it could near a completion of sorts but in reality this will never happen. I have chosen instead to openly begin a collection with a broad headline, which can then be shaped both by works submitted and interest in it’s contents. The theme chosen I believe speaks not only about photography and it’s history but also relates to the indie photobook movement, the interest in the generative artefact and a quest for a less hectic way of life.

The Natural Collection
– Photobooks, zines and papers that explore our relationship with nature and the natural landscape.

As mentioned above, this is broad, but will be shaped in time. As a set of books to offer a well known guide, I would consider the likes of John Gossage’s ‘The Pond‘, Lucas Foglia’s ‘A Natural Order‘, Ricardo Cases ‘Palomo al Aire‘, Ron Jude’s ‘Lick Creek line‘ and Oscar Tuazon’s ‘Leave me be‘.

The call

I would be grateful to anyone, established or otherwise (incl publishers) who would be willing to send works through to the collection, these works will be featured on the Photobook Club website, will be taken to various book club events and will be open to anyone willing to pop by for a cupa! The condition of the works is not of paramount importance so any misprints at publishing would be welcomed with open arms!

The Natural Collection
The Photobook Club
10 Granby Avenue
Harpenden
Hertfordshire
AL5 5QR
ENGLAND

Matt
matt@photobookclub.org

 

The Photobook Club and Generative Pedagogy

I am very pleased to have been working with the great folks at the ‘Hybrid Pedagogy Journal‘ recently on a piece I have written about the Photobook Club and it’s holistic approach to hybridity. My hope is that this piece solidifies some of the disparate themes I have talked about in presentations over the last few years and poses some questions for other people.

Whenever I speak of the Photobook Club project I am acutely aware that I speak, in part, on behalf of an entire community and so I would really love to hear any thoughts from those of you who run Photobook Clubs or attend them – whether you think the piece is fair to your awesome work.

The piece can be found in full right here.

– Matt