Photobooks, quickly, second edition

Responses to my previous post included a couple of ideas: Validation and forced growth.

Validation being the thing a photographer could achieve by having their work presented as a book, when otherwise uncomissioned and not selling work. To an extent I agree. There's nothing like seeing your work in print. However, to just order one copy, print on demand for example, is that one copy any use for anything? Even 20 copies. If buying 100 — 1000 copies, the risk and expense is great and to have 1000 books on the shelf doesn't validate anything, at least nothing positive. Even at just £1 / book for a cheap repro job, £1000 is a lot if not being commissioned and not selling.

Forced growth. The idea of putting work into a book to force the growth of a photographer, I disagree with. There are a lot of bad books, and they tend to be those that have just had pictures plonked in with no real consideration of the book or of sequence, narrative, even content. A book could expand an artist's or photographer's way of thinking / seeing their work, if carefully considered. There are certainly times when consideration of the body of work going into the book doesn't matter, and the concept is perhaps key. For example taking unseen / unknown images; making a new narrative through constructed pairings of otherwise unrelated images. This idea uses the simple function and form of 'the book', rather than the work itself being a coherent or cohesive body. A brief browse through Art Metropole or Printed Matter will uncover several.

A comment suggested using a photocopier to make zines to give away free. I'm all for free press, but again this has a context. Then there is the question of value, worth, "matter" as Francis Hodgson calls it. Is giving your work away free a positive move? Or is the zine not really your work and more of a business card? A zine instead of a business card is a great idea, but it has to work, doesn't it?

The questions shouldn't be read as obstacles. I encourage the breakdown of boundaries and genres. Equally though, restriction of some sort often generates the most interesting work. There's a lot to consider, and the first point of validation and cost leads onto funding issues. Funding is something else and needs something writing in the future.

Photobooks, quickly

There's been a lot written recently about photobooks and their ubiquity, the idea of there being 'too many', an oversaturated market controlled by few, whose opinions are over-respected and followed blindly.

Whose fault is it that a few people are followed so closely? Lewis Bush writes some interesting comments here; he believes there are not 'too many' photobooks. Followed by Harvey Benge, who believes there are, here. The idea that photobooks could have a relationship to "a deep rooted angst about the status of the photographic image, and by association the status of photography as whole, in contemporary society", I can see.

if there are too many I'm part of the problem. However, I don't think there are too many photobooks. I think there is too much of everything. Everything is excessive so it's only natural that photobooks follow suit. Photobooks aren't a new idea. Anna Atkins made her photobook not long after the invention of photography; 'the book' seems a natural resting place for the photographic image. Especially a photographic image that exists as part of a series or narrative. Narrative works well in books. Even the image that is stand alone, when placed next to another stand alone image, becomes something new. The reader of a book can not help but form a narrative in their mind. The images can not help but inform each other, whether the constructed narrative is true or not.

Often, the problem is laziness. Something that constantly amazes me / worries me / annoys me is when people say 'I'm a painter' before even considering whether paint is the best medium for 'the job'. Same with photography. Same with photobooks. The current growing popularity of the photobook, and so often fetishisation of the photobook leads to a common desire to have work published in a photobook. Often, little consideration is given to the form and function of the book, which really should be determined by the content, in a similar way an artist's book would be considered. Otherwise it's a picture book or at the other end of the spectrum, and over designed almost baroque publication. I think a lot of the time people are actually referring to picture books rather than photobooks. So there's a lazy 'stick it in a book, it'll look good' type of attitude.

There are very few photographic gallery exhibitions I've seen over the past five years that really stick in my mind. Parts of the Klein Moriyama show at Tate perhaps. Nick Hedges at the Media Space and Constructing Worlds at Barbican. Most often, galleries aren't the right place for photographs. They sit on the wall waiting for someone to come and stare, before leaving never to return. Books are more intimate, rewarding, and more likely to get a second visit. So books, as well as the lazy thing, are a valid alternative to the gallery, it's just that many books are so generic the work might as well be left in a gallery.

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...