Photobooks and Narrative

The photobook is beautiful.

But the photobook is flawed and constrained.

These constraints and limitations lead to imaginative solutions on behalf of both the maker and reader, it is surely much of the reason we enjoy it.

It is also the reason I believe that in so many cases the photobook’s simplicity, and it’s ability to transport us through narratives without becoming a distraction is where many digital photobooks fall at the first hurdle in needless gimmicks and ‘medium over message’ solutions.

That being said, if we are to find a future for the photobook both in analogue and digital form, we should embrace any and all experiments with new forms. Seeing as today marks the launch of #phonar 2013 (A free undergraduate photography programme which explores storytelling in the 21st Century), I thought I would share my favourite piece of digital storytelling to date.

Welcome to Pine Point‘ is an online and interactive documentary, though it’s interactive techno-wizardry soon pales into insignificance aside the narrative we witness. Paul Shoebridge and Michael Simons tell the story of Pine Point, a purpose built town that in their own words was ‘left standing just long enough for a single generation to run through it’. It would be foolish to try and describe the project when it is such a great experience to travel through it yourself and watch the fireworks with reminiscent ‘Pine Pointers’. Not all of the content and characters will resonate, but those that do, will stick with you.

And this is what it is all about for me. The academic or conceptual work coming from the likes of Broomberg and Chanarin et al is interesting, it is thought provoking but it does not move me. I would rather my heart and mind are moved for 10 minutes than my intelligence is challenged for an hour.

Stories. Stories. Stories

Or, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said:

“If a man is inflamed and carried away by his thought, to that degree that he forgets the authors and the public, and heeds only this one dream, which holds him like an insanity, let me read his paper, and you may have all the arguments and histories and criticism.”



Narrative Structures, a Photobook Club Event in Birmingham, UK (Next Tuesday)

In connection with the new Library of Birmingham, curator and photobook enthusiast Claire Reece has installed an exhibition of book works exploring narrative structures. The exhibition includes works by Broomberg and Chanarin, Stephen Gill, Melinda Gibson, Mishka Henner and many more – those in the area can still check it out until the 11th September.

As part of the exhibition Claire has organized a Photobook Club meetup in order to further delve into the books chosen and explore some of the themes they raise and connections between them. It is a great way to better understand the choices made in curation and a really valuable learning experience for those interested in taking part.

If you do want to pop along, the event will take place Tuesday the 10th of September 6 – 7:30pm and If you could kindly email Claire on to confirm attendance (or get more information) that would be greatly appreciated.

A few of the books to be explored:

Mishka Henner Рless Am̩ricains

Mishka Henner

Melinda Gibson – The Photograph as Contemporary Art

Melinda Gibson

‘nobody in particular’ – The Stars

‘nobody in particular’

Tereza Zelenkova – Index of Time

Tereza Zelenkova

Who’s in Barcelona for a Photo Book Club meet-up?!

Chuffed to hear that Jon Uriarte has set up the ‘Photo Book Club, Barcelona‘ who aim to meet once a month and ‘which seeks to unite lovers of photography books to look at, analyze, critique, share and enjoy together’.

The first meeting takes place at No. 29 Mozart Street in the neighborhood of Gracia, and they will be looking at Lee Friedlander’s ‘Self Portrait’. There will also be a discussion posed by the chair of the session on narrative within photobooks.

Those who are interested in attending should visit the Photo Book Club, Barcelona Facebook page for more information.

– Matt