Friday, 22 January 2016

Very few photobooks would be missed if they weren't made.


     image by Tony Gentile and the War: A Sicilian Story - the most visually coherent photobook of 2015


So at the same time as doing this blog I am also guest-editing the Photobook Bristol Blog.

This is a post from earlier in the week about the design-thoughts of Ania Nałęcka, one of the speakers at Photobook Bristol 2016.

The bold is what Ania said, so clearly and delightfully, at a lecture I saw her give. The not-bold is a less polite version based on some of the photobooks I've seen over the last year, and some of the frustrations we all sometimes have with photobooks. But it's still polite.


Why Make a Photobook? It's not always the right thing!

Less politely, the vast majority of photobooks should not be made. People make them for all sorts of reasons - but the main one nowadays seems to be to finish a body of work. And just make a book. 

But really? Does it have to be made? Almost certainly not. Very few photobooks would be missed if they weren't made. 


The Relationship between form and content - and getting that right.

Mariela Sancari's Moises is not the best book of 2016, but it does get the form, the content and the way of viewing right. It's just so right to handle.

Similarly, Thomas Sauvin's cigarette book, Till Death do Us Part, is not that great a  book really, is it? 

It's a gift shop book, a novelty book. But I love gift shops, especially when they have great gifts in, and Till Death do Us Part is a great gift. It gets it right and hits all those tactile spots in a way that ties in to the book's theme. Above all a book is something to handle, and if you can handle it nicely, that's better than a book that doesn't, especially if the handling ties so neatly into the idea of what the book is about.

The Importance of People understanding what you are trying to say in your photobook. You have to make them understand. It doesn't happen by accident!

It is the job of the bookmaker, designer, writer, photographer to tell a story. I shouldn't rely on the genius of my pictures to tell the story. Pictures don't tell stories on their own. I shouldn't pretend they do. 


The Book is something that you Construct! It's not an accident of pages that fall together. You have to make it happen.

Cover, binding, paper, smell, touch, editing, sequencing, text, interaction, plot, origami, tone... Basically everything that goes into the construction of a film, a novel, a children's book, can go into a photobook.

So if I'm going to make a photobook, I should be lazy touting my dummy pictures up on Instagram, but I should really think about the possibilities open to me. And then probably reject them all anyway, because I shouldn't be making a photobook in the first place.

How you can work with a Limited Budget. Being Poor forces you to be creative! Maybe?


Expensively printed books can be brilliant, but there might be a better way. And it might be cheaper. With fewer copies. Even if you do have the budget.


The Problem of Repeating yourself. Visually, verbally, in every possible way. Don't do it.

Just because I'm stroking my chin and being philosophical 
doesn't mean I'm not repeating myself. 

Just because I have use massively complex process doesn't mean I'm not repeating myself. 

Just because my pictures are old doesn't mean I'm not repeating myself.

Repetition comes in many forms. 

The Problem of Being Enigmatic. Clarity and simplicity make for ease of communication. Unless you don't want people to understand you.

There have been alot of metaphysical examinations of the world around us in recent years, and some of them are very good. 


But perhaps the time has come to draw a line under photographic rock, paper, scissors, clouds. 

And the hands holding them. 

Just because it's obscure doesn't make it poetry.

The Problem of Avoiding the Obvious. Communication is about directness and making yourself understood; avoiding the obvious does not help that. At worst it might make you enigmatic or (the close cousin of enigma) incoherent.

Sequencing is not the same as narrative. Sequencing doesn't tell a story. All that happens when picture A has a bird in it and so does picture B, is you have two pictures with birds in. A story is not necessarily told. The best books from last year had clear visual and narrative content. They were about something in other words. They had a narrative in the real sense of telling a story.  Tell a story. An interesting ones.

The Danger of 'Design'. 

Don't get carried away. Don't do the pop-ups unless the pop-ups are required.


Photography Always Comes First! That's why it's a Photobook!

It's not an essay, or a dissertation, or a paper. It's a photobook. It's visual. It's pictures. Because pictures are easy. It shouldn't be a struggle. 

The pictures comes first. 

Except for the times when people decide otherwise. There's always room for the arbitrary. Like I said, it's not that serious. 

5 comments:

Stan B. said...

These days, you not only have to have great photographs, but a great and original book concept. In fact, when it comes to a photo book- the photos can take second place, as long as they support a unique and original presentation. The book itself is the work of art, the photographs but supporting players.

I have nothing against that, enjoy them as much as the next guy. But for many of us who are limited in: budget, resources and let's face it, the art and mechanics of DIY publishing- the possibilities are significantly more limited.

Yeah, I'd love to have some kind of unique presentation, but without the budget, access or background- it's on to a more plebeian, Blurblike existence. No, it's not the ultimate in book art, more a dummy for the book we'd really like to have. Unfortunately, work presented in a such a straightforward, easily accessible manner is at a distinct disadvantage these days without the extra added bells and whistles.

redpen said...

i agree there are very few good photobooks - the one point i would question is repetition - most artists have been repeating themselves for years - martin parr for instance has been making the same three or four pictures since the early eighties - lee friedlander is of course another and lets not forget the bechers - im very aware that i have myself been making the same pictures for years and personally see it as a strength - it is fundamental to the pattern im looking for - i could of course go on and on - the art of repetition is an infinite subject in itself - thanks

Bill said...

I make small handmade books from personal projects I have worked on. Short 1 page story and 6-12 images. I've sold them to friends, friends of friends, given some away, and just left some in the local coffee house. A simple way to get my work seen and very inexpensive.

Dominic Kilroe said...

Less politely, most popular music is not very good. Musicians should give up.

And come to think of it, most restaurants are mediocre, they should close down immediately.

And while I'm at it, most footballers are never going to play in the Premier League. Don't waste your Sunday mornings boys (and girls), stay at home. Watch TV and grow fat.

In fact, girls shouldn't play football at all because they're rubbish.

Good grief. A counsel of dispair.

PROCESS. We make photos. We make books and zines. We are not afraid to fail. Only by failing do we make progress, so that next time we fail better.

colin pantall said...

Well of course - http://colinpantall.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/live-mediocre-love-mediocre-be-mediocre.html

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