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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
Images from Gabriela’s library
This year’s 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 can’t 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 doesn’t 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 Shore’s 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!
I spent the first weekend of the month running a Photobook workshop in Casablanca, Morocco funded by Coventry University’s DMLL and with a great group of students. Some of these participants were photographers, some had studied at art schools, some were passionate amateurs but all were super engaged and I learned a lot…
Images by Daniel Donnelly
The desire to make is great
– while there is some critique of a maker culture which undervalues curation and debate in favour of production, it was clear that the transition from screen to paper and images into book brought about genuine excitement.
Sometimes sharing is separating
– Daniel Donnelly (with whom I ran the workshop) and I were keen to involve an online and social element to the project – to tweet particular moments, Facebook particular questions etc – a way to engage with communities beyond the room. It was apparent though that this took away from the intense experience of the session, removed participants and their attention – it was instead used as refference and record for the ‘real life’ experience. We didn’t push it, and I now notice how these spaces have become a great repository – extending the project longitudinally.
Competition isn’t healthy
– competition pushes us, it is a useful element of the learning process – I call bullshit – it was so refreshing to see people truly pleased for one another and their works. I want to find out how to inject some of this into an education system that constantly seeks to place people in competition – either by age, institution, or through high fees and low employment options.
These were exciting books
– it is hard to say without appearing patronising, getting giddy over the exotic or promoting the location-based photobook mining we have seen over the last ten years BUT these were exciting books. Techniques and structures were used without knowledge of their reference to previous works – they were used as they were appropriate. Images were treated as possibilities in the book and the book was treated as a possibility for the images.
These folks would love some books
– it isn’t easy to come by photobooks in Casablanca, in fact it is almost impossible, yet their is a community hungry to see new works and old. I have been sending books to Morocco for some time, and will continue to do so, but maybe think about the next time you send out X% of your edition to reviewers and collectors – send some to a library, community or school – it will likely be far more useful.
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.
The 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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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!