Two posts I authored are on the College Book Art Association ‘Art Theory Blog’ found here. The first talks a little about the importance of remembering the multiple histories that the photograph and the page have, and the second introduces some thoughts around interactivity and the photobook. While they are only brief sections of much larger research and writing, they, like the other posts on the Art Theory Blog might well be of interest.
This survey intends to visualise and in a sense, flatten, the many events, competitions and workshops that are taking place around the photobook right now. In doing so, a lineage — or at least a chronology — can be established, demonstrating a growth of interest and increasing institutional support in the medium.
It has been put together with the view that it will act as a record not just of 2015 but the new age of the photobook (golden or otherwise). is research is concerned only with photobook speci c events and only covers the US and Europe. is is not because these geographical areas can be seen as the home of the photobook – not by any means, but because this is both the focus of my broader research project, and provides an opportunity, through networks, to realistically claim con dence in correctly recording and listing the vast majority of appropriate events. e choice to begin with the year 2015 is similarly bene cial. While of course many events have run in earlier years, or are starting up in 2016, the single year provides a baseline from which to work back in establishing the aforementioned chronology and origin.
Only photobook-speci c events have been recorded — a choice which, if aiming to build a picture of the variety of spaces in which the photobook is present, would be disastrous. Here, art book fairs and non-medium-speci c zine workshops for example, have been excluded. In doing so it is hoped that clarity is improved and subjectivity removed.
Fairs and festivals are subject to a further limitation in that they must be multi-day events. Once again a choice of clarity and con dence and not a suggestion that single day events are not a part of the photobook world. Many single day events have been arrived at during this research, the transient and o en independent nature of which have on many occasions presented quite di erent ideas on what the photobook, and what a photobook event should be.
A list of thanks can be found on the right hand side of this visualisation — these are people who have contributed to this survey and without whom many omissions would have been made. ere are likely still some errors or misses so please do get in touch if you have any: email@example.com. A scroll of this document will be produced in Autumn of 2016 on lightweight poster paper, if you are interested in having a copy, please email the above address.
Despite a relatively strict set of criteria for the events listed here, it was inevitable that I would miss over signi cant happen- ings. In sharing beta versions of this research I was grateful to receive help from a number of contributors. My sincere thanks to Tommy Arvidson, Bonifacio Barrio Hijosa, Ana Paula Estrada, Sarah Greene, Jose Félix Liébana, Hermann Lohss, Malcolm Raggett and Hannah Watson who all got in touch to share information. If you see absences and would like to aid the building of this resource, please get in touch – firstname.lastname@example.org.
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).
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!
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.
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]
In 2009, ‘traff’ of the Culture Republic blog said that:
It would be an interesting exercise to make the journey in current times and see what changes have been wrought. One would imagine there would be new freeways, big box retail and neon-lit ‘service centres’, yet still the same air of suburban angst and hopelessness faintly lingering.
Luckily Phil Coomes of the BBC’s ‘Viewfinder’ blog seemed to have the same interest and in September of 2009 embarked upon ‘The Great North Road Trip’.
The idea was to travel the road in search of stories on the recession, just like Graham, Coomes’ choice to follow the A1(M) meant a swift dissection of England from the wealthy city of London, through industrial and post-industrial towns of the midlands and on towards Scotland.
While Coomes’ refers to Graham’s work on a couple of occasions, it is not a complete retracing of locations or ‘After A1: The Great North Road’ style project. It is however a well thought out project in it’s own right and as an archive of a time period is very interesting. I have archived all the posts in the lists below.
- Setting off
- The Barbican
- The Comet
- Brampton Services
- Ex-Little Chef, Wansford
- Cross Leys Farm
- South Witham
- Markham Moor (South)
- Fairburn Ings
- Leeming Bar
- Scotch Corner
- Angel of the North
- Holy Island of Lindisfarne
- Scottish border
There is an audio slideshow created by Phil Coomes and Paula Dear that sums up the weeks travel, hearing direct from the public who have spoken to Coomes adds some weight to the piece and makes me wonder what Graham’s subjects would have spoken about, given the opportunity.
And if you haven’t seen the book yet…
I have been thinking a little about memory lately (I can partly blame Ken Schles’ talk here) and have enjoyed seeing posts regarding the Google ‘Visually Similar Images‘ search. I was also casting an eye over the Galata Bridge experiment over on LPV Magazine this past weekend and thought I would try a one-man band version, only with images solely from ‘Uncommon Places’, and no sequence in mind, and no commentary, so really nothing like it!
And so what follows below are Shore’s images that triggered a memory of another image, perhaps they are a little on the nose, and certainly informed by the latest books I have been looking at, but I find them interesting nonetheless. If you have your own memory-pairs in mind, send me a link and I will upload them.
‘Towards Los Angeles, California 1973’
‘Dad on Bed, 1985’
‘Office in a Small City, 1953’
‘River Wharfe, Skipton, North Yorkshire, 27 July 2008’
‘Camp One, Exercise Cage’ (From series ‘Guantanamo, If the Light Goes Out’)
‘Batting Cage 2007’
‘Kitchen Corner, Tenant Farmhouse, Hale County, Alabama, 1936’
‘Safeway, Corpus Christi, Texas’
Havn’t seen ‘Uncommon Places’ yet? Have a look…
While we have only been looking at ‘Invisible City’, Ken Schles’ other books are just as highly regarded, helping make Ken one of the most important photobook authors around.
Ken’s latest book ‘Oculus’ is listed below alongside an in-depth video from Ken, looking through the images and text contained within.
- The Geometry of Innocence, Hatje Cantz, 2001
- A New History of Photography: The World Outside and the Pictures In Our Heads, White Press, 2008
- Oculus, Noordelicht, 2011
Oculus by Ken Schles
A huge thank you to all who have dropped by and especially those who have contributed in the first month of the Photo Book Club, looking at Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’. We have compiled an archive of the posts below for future reference and will also be listed under the reading list page.
- Editions and History
- Links, comments and suggestions
- Personal reminiscence (Wayne Ford, Matt Johnston, Rich Beaubien, Niall McDiarmid)
- The Americans in context (John Edwin Mason)
- An American Journey incl review (Rich Beaubien)
Please continue to share any links and further chatter around Frank’s masterpiece as we will keep updating the blog to provide an even better archive of information for future reference.
In June, 1955, Robert Frank purchased a five year-old Ford Business Coupe in New York, this purchase would signal the start of a road trip, that would first see the Swiss-born photographer drive alone to Detroit, then in late Summer south to Savannah and Miami Beach, before heading to St. Petersburg, and New Orleans, an then on to Houston, for a rendezvous with his wife Mary, and their two children, Pablo and Andrea. Together, they would drive west arriving in Los Angeles shortly before Christmas. They remained on the Pacific coast until May 1956, when Mary and the children returned to New York, leaving Frank to continue his 10,000 mile trip alone. His route took him via Reno to Salt Lake City, before joining U.S. 91 to Butte, Montana, then through Wyoming, Nebraska, and Iowa, before arriving in Chicago, where he turned south, arriving back in New York in July.
In just over a year, Frank exposed more than 760 rolls of film, producing some 27,000 photographs, and on his return to New York, he began the mammoth task of editing his work. Over the next few months he selected and printed 1000 work prints, which he pinned to the wall of his Third Avenue apartment, or laid on the floor, slowly editing these prints to just 100, and then the 83 that would make up the final sequence of Les Américains (Robert Delpire, 1958).
Frank received an advance of $200 for The Americans (by the end of the year the was book out of print, and this sum had risen to $817), the road trip itself had been financed by a Guggenheim Fellowship. His application to the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation in the autumn of 1954 listed five supporters, including the legendary art director of Harper’s Bazaar, Alexey Brodovitch (1898-1971), who had hired Frank as an assistant photographer, when he first arrived in New York from Switzerland in 1947, and the great photographers Walker Evans (1903-1975) and Edward Steichen (1879-1973).
Frank’s application stated his aim was to record ‘what one naturalised American finds to see in the United States that signifies the kind of civilisation born here and spreading elsewhere.’ It is worth remember that at this point Frank was not yet a naturalised citizen of the United States (he was awarded US citizenship in 1963, to which he remarked ‘Ich bin ein Amerikaner’), and Evans had a hand a significant hand in drafting the written application.
Like many great works, the initial reaction to The Americans was scathing, with condemnation coming think and fast, ‘A Degradation of a Nation!’; ‘a sad poem for sick people,’ the editors of Popular Photography where so incensed they published no fewer than seven reviews in the May 1959 issue, with just one proving ‘unreservedly admiring,’ in short The Americans, was viewed as un-American. But this was short lived, with more editions and reprints of this book being published than possibly any other photobook, reflecting the significance and influence of Frank’s seminal work.
• Les Américains, Robert Delpire, 1958
• Gli Americani, Il Saggiatore, 1959 (Italian edition)
• The Americans, Grove, 1959 (Introduction by Jack Kerouac)
• The Americans, Aperture, 1968
• The Americans, Aperture, 1969
• The Americans, Aperture, 1978
• Les Américains, Robert Delpire, 1985 (French translation of Kerouac’s introduction)
• The Americans, Pantheon, 1986
• Die Amerikaner, Christian Verlag, 1986 (German edition)
• Amerikanzu: Robato Furanku shashinshu, Takara-jimasha, 1993 (Japanese edition)
• The Americans, Cornerhouse, 1993
• The Americans, Scalo, 1993
• The Americans, Scalo, 1998
• The Americans, Steidl, 2008 (50th anniversary edition)
• Die Amerikaner, Steidl, 2008 (German edition)
• The Americans, Steidl, 2008 (First Mandarin edition)
Other books by Robert Frank
Where possible, Amazon links have been provided
• Hold Still – Keep Going, Steidl, 2011
• Tal uf Tal Ab, Steidl, 2010
• Portfolio: 40 Photos 1941/1946, Steidl, 2009
• Frank Films: The Film and Video Work of Robert Frank, Steidl, 2009
• Seven Stories, Steidl, 2009
• Black White and Things, Steidl, 2009 (re-issue)
• Paris, Steidl, 2008
• Zero Mostel Reads a Book, Steidl, 2008
• Pull My Daisy, Steidl, 2008
• Peru, Steidl, 2008
• Me and My Brother, Steidl, 2007
• One Hour, Steidl, 2007
• Come Again, Steidl, 2006
• New York to Nova Scotia, Steidl, 2005
• Storylines, Steidl, 2004
• Frank Films: The Film and Video Work of Robert Frank, Scalo, 2004
• London/Wales, Scalo, 2003
• Hold Still – Keep Going, Scalo, 2001
• One Hour, Hanuman Books, 1998
• Flamingo, Scalo, 1997
• Thank You, Scalo, 1996
• Black White and Things, Scalo, 1995 (Facsimilie of 1952 edition)
• Robert Frank: Moving Out, Scalo, 1995
• The Lines of My Hand, Distributed Art Partners, 1995
• Black White and Things, 3Nishen Publishing, 1991
• The Lines of My Hand, Parkett/Der Alltag, 1989 (revised edition)
• The Lines of My Hand, Random House, 1989
• Flower is…, Yugensha, Kazuhiko Motomura (Tokyo, limited edition of 500)
• Thats Life, self-published, 1980
• The Lines of My Hand, Lustrum Press, 1972 (condensed edition)
• The Lines of My Hand, Yugensha, Kazuhiko Motomura, 1972 (Tokyo)
• Me and My Brother, a handmade/promotional book for film of same name, 1965
• Zero Mostel Reads a Book, New York Times, 1963
• Pull My Daisy, Grove Press, 1961