Once again for World Photobook Day Bonifacio Barrio Hijosa has created some fantastic artwork which celebrates and reimagines Anna Atkins cyanotypes. Here Boni describes the process and asks anyone who downloads the zine or poster to share what they make (#PhotobookDay).
Anna Atkins’ cyanotypes are so powerful images, it seemed clear from the very first moment we should do something with them to catch the attention of anyone, to celebrate this day with us. It had to be an homage to her work.
And now it’s impossible to avoid them. So it get hader and harder to think on a poster to announce this DIY world wide event. As I was stuck with the impossibility of doing something new (well, in that moment I thought that), I started to play with the last thing I made last year. I was asked to vectorize some of the seaweed to make the poster for our local activity in the Library of Fine Arts Faculty, and I vectorized forty three seaweed. They only used a dozen or so.
I gathered them altogether and as I pass the cursor over, the outlines started sparkling. There you have this black gif.
After this childish exercise, with the outlined seaweed on the screen, it came to me the idea of putting them altogether in a way someone could cut them to, I don’t know, decorate their room. And old Burda magazines came to mind very fast. Burda is still a magazine you can buy for making your clothes through patterns. And old DIY way to dress yourself and your kids.
I was used to see them at home, as my mother was very fond of them. If you ever see the central posters spread with all those different lines shaped with circles, triangles, etc, you will understand they are an image you are not going to forget so easily.
So I had the idea, spread all these forty three seaweed outlines on a big paper and make a zine with it. It will be one for anyone to download and print it, if you are able to find the place to plot an A1. Well, that was not the problem at that moment, but to find a burda magazine to copy all these different line shapes, as my mother didn’t keep them. Finally I dismiss this possibilty (I’m still can’t understand how they drew all those lines), and concentrate on making the poster to announce the day.
I don’t know how many of you will download it and try to print it, and how many of those will be able to trace any individual seaweed and what they could do with them… still wondering, so if any of you finish yourself drowned in paper seaweed, could be nice someone make a picture of it and share it on social media
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]
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.
This post will be featured in the open undergraduate photography class ‘#phonar‘ shortly but I thought it would also be of interest to readers here, especially when we consider the increasing interest in archive material within photographic publishing in all it’s guises.
Aaron Guy works at the North of England Institute of Mining where he has the daunting task of digitizing much of the institutes artefacts as well as transforming, categorizing and publishing them in new forms. Here Aaron takes us on a brief tour of the Institute and answers questions on the transformation of this great archive.
Below the photofilm/tour/interview you can see the stunning ‘Working, Void’, a piece produced by Aaron in response to much of the material he has been working with at the institute…
When I introduced the ‘Dr Strangepub’ project a few weeks back which features a series of conversations about the future of photographic publishing, I mentioned I would highlight those conversations over the coming weeks. This time it is the turn of Andreas Schmidt, who has been described as someone who ‘takes the concept of the book and shakes it like a rag doll…until its head comes off.’
Here, Schmidt talks about the rise of print on demand technology and what it has enabled a generation of artists to do as well as the role of the performance in photobook publishing.
Dr Strangepub or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the possibilities of 21st century publishing
Recently I sat down to chat with 4 individuals, all with their own different take on 21st century photographic publishing, it’s possibilities and perhaps a pitfall or two as well. These conversations were recorded and are now available to list/watch via the wee website linked here.
These chats are not an attempt to classify modern photographic publishing or even to generate answers but instead to pose questions on the current state and value of photographic publishing from the live experience and handmade book to multi-platform outputs and print on demand technology.
As well as being able to see all the conversations now, I will post them one by one over the next month and we start with Bas Vroege below . I have also included below a better worded version of the above should you wish to share it (and please do!)
Bas Vroege is the Director of Paradox pictures based in the Netherlands. Paradox is a not-for-profit organization exploring contemporary issues through documentary photography.
Here Bas talks about the multifaceted approach that Paradox employs for the work it publishes and how new possibilities in publishing have helped to create more dynamic storytelling.
‘Dr Strangepub’ is an online publication of converstaions between Matt Johnston and a selection of 21st century photography publishers, each with their own thoughts on what publishing can offer us today and whether or not we are currently exploiting it.
These conversations are not just based on the future of digital plublishing but also the roll of the physical object in the digital age and how the breakdown of traditional gatekeeprs has liberated our options as content producers. This project is a collaboration between Matt Johnston, The Photobook Club and Coventry University School of Art and Design.
My thanks to New Zealand based photographer Shelley Jacobson for sharing this reflection on Power’s ’26 Different Endings’. If you enjoy this text, please check out Shelley’s thesis on temporal landscapes which can be read online here.
26 Different Endings – or, A System of Edges, if one were to use the exhibition name – offers quiet vernacular views of London’s city limits, as defined by the London A-Z Street Atlas. The viewer is able to discern a system inherent in Power’s practice; made evident through the titling of his work, for example G 57 East, and through the inclusion of a site map. Notable in this work is the intent to depict ‘outside’ views; achieved by pointing the camera away from the map, beyond a known territory. One could argue that as a practice, topographic photography is intrinsically linked to cartography and that both are manifestations of cultural geography. Power’s photographic approach brings cartography to the fore, drawing out the social implications of mapping.
I first happened upon Mark Power’s work in a 2006 paper by Liz Wells entitled Landscape, Geography and Topographic Photography*. Wells argued that the authority of contemporary topographic photography relies on the methodology of the photographer, offering the concept of the ‘photographer as researcher’. At the time of reading, in 2008, I was working on my MFA thesis Temporal Landscapes**. I had been fixated upon concerns of research parameters and approach, and Wells’ concept is one that not only informed me then, but has stayed with me since.
Over the past several years in my own photographic work I have become increasingly intent on devising project-specific systems by which to produce work. Between my work and that of others favoring this approach, I dare say that Wells was on the mark, in her belief that systems offer rigor. In this regard, I would certainly cite Power as a pioneer of this trend. A recent example of a project that follows this trend is a book released here in New Zealand in 2011 by photographer David Cook, entitled River Road: Journeys through Ecology***. It would seem that for a number of contemporary topographic photographers, systematic methodology can offer an anchor point for their practice, informing both concept and content. Importantly, this can offer the viewer a key to the work in question.
This one is still available at a reasonable price and so this video is in no way a replacement for seeing the real thing, instead it is shown here to give a feel for the layout, design and sequencing of the book, for a selection of high quality images from this book, head over here.
Today I am pleased to announce the launch of a digital publication looking closely at Ken Schles’ photobook Invisible City. This publication is currently available as a direct download for the iPad but will be available on more platforms shortly. This publication takes on a magazine-style format, inside of which you will find not only the images and text featured in Invisible City, but a variety of personal reflections, commentary on the process of creating Invisible City from Ken Schles and even original notes from a lecture given at New York’s International Center of Photography in 1990.
If you have an iPad, you can download the publication free from the link given below via the iBook store.
The complete forward featured in the publication alongside screenshots is featured below this introductory video.
Forward I set up the Photobook Club in 2010 as a response to both my own fascination and frustration with photobooks. My fascination was born and nurtured as a student spending thousands of hours in the University library choosing books at random by the colour of their spine, or based on recommendations from my peers and tutors. My frustration was a little harder to pinpoint but essentially stemmed from my wanting to learn more about the classic photobooks, those revered and often rare books that held a sense of mystery between their two covers; everyone agreed they were classics but there was little discussion of why.
At the time there was, and still is, a huge interest in photobooks, but predominantly in the new, the self published and the handmade, and so together with partner-in-crime Wayne Ford, I decided to open out my thoughts and learning to a wider community – just as a traditional book club. As well as promoting and facilitating this shared experience online, I was keen to encourage the generative experience the photobook offers us both in spending time with a beautifully crafted artifact, and in sharing thoughts (as well as books) in person.
I certainly hope that (depending on your knowledge of Invisible City), this publication will either introduce you to, or help create a greater understanding of a hugely influential modern photobook. Inside you will find not only the images and text featured in Invisible City, but a variety of personal reflections, commentary on the process of creating Invisible City from Ken Schles and even original notes from a lecture given at New York’s International Center of Photography in 1990.
Regardless of your previous experience with this book, or whether you are a lecturer, photographer, student, book lover or just curious, I would really appreciate your comments via the email address below.
Finally, thanks must of course go primarily to Ken Schles, not only for allowing all to see his wonderful images but also for kindly lending me a copy of the book to work with, and for his enthusiasm towards this project. My thanks also to the contributors listed on the following page who offered their own, personal reflections on the book.