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.”



Matt Johnston on The Future of Photobooks

Below is a talk I gave at University college London as part the London Design Festival 2011.

The panel included Dr Aquiles Alencar-Brayner of the British Library, Teresa Pereira of Blurb Books and Angus Phillips, Director of the Oxford International Centre for Publishing Studies at Oxford Brookes University.

We were asked the question ‘What is to become of photobooks?’. I attempted to answer in relation to:

  • The Photo Book Club
  • The book as an object
  • Community
  • Experience

– Matt