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Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Why make a book? Is that a horse's butt?

Over the summer I was talking with someone who wondered why people are so obsessed with making photobooks. What's the point of it all, was the overall sentiment? And I found myself agreeing with the sentiments - basically because what is the point of anything?

Why would you want to make a book of photographs that, if you're lucky, a few hundred people will look at? Why go to all that expense?

But then I thought about the alternative which is really either keeping all your pictures on your computer (or in a box under your bed if you're old school) or showing them in a gallery somewhere.

For which you could say exactly the same thing; why would anyone want to show their pictures in a gallery where they're only going to be seen by, if you're lucky, a few hundred people who are all whispering and putting on earnest faces because that's what you're supposed to do. It is all so phony. Why go to that expense?

But still, a big print on the wall might be the way to show the work, or a small print, or a simple book or a complex book. And whatever you choose, it doesn't have to be expensive if you don't want it to be. In the photobook world, there are enough people making affordable-but-classy books that you need a squillion dollars to publish a photobook is receding by the minute.

There aren't that many complex books about though, for all sorts of reasons. I think one of the key questions of photobookery is what is a photobook. It is surprising how conservative people are when it comes to photobooks. I've seen several posts questioning why people would even want to have a complex design?

Perhaps we should turn it around and ask why would you want to have a simple design (apart from the booksellers's view that they don't stack well on the shelves or sell well). Why make a book filled with pictures that is simply a copy of a book filled with words, where you turn the pages over and there's another image and you pretend that there's a sequential narrative when really there's not.

Why not mix things up a bit, why not make something where you can take things apart and order them and mix things up, something with loose leaves, or without a spine, or as playing cards. Or handmake them and add inserts and sell them for a bit more. Or photocopy them and sell them for a lot less. All this is happening already and I must say how easily I'm sold on something that looks a cool and has some thought put into it; something that helps tell a story and is a pleasure to look at and hold.

Gosh, it's interesting how imaginations run out when it comes to photography, how prescriptive it becomes. I suppose that's because photography is conservative in essence. It pretends not to be, but it is, and there is also that horrific presbyterian edge to it, that things should be simple and unadorned and cheap, that they shouldn't be dynamic and fun. Perhaps that's why so many photobooks have those dire, single voice essays at the front of them that often end up being dull, self-referential and uninformative. Where's the narrative there?

Anyway, the book above is by Anouk Kruithof and is called Untitled (I've taken too many pictures/I've never taken a picture). It's a book about how people choose pictures. It's not really a photobook in some ways, but the text makes you hunt out the pictures - which are not always that easy to see. It's interesting to read and the words give you a reason to look at the pictures but at the same time it's kind of annoying. But there's a story in there and isn't that what matters!

Here's my review of it for Photo Eye. 


eva said...

Being on the lucky side of making books I am also lucky enough to make them simple or complex, depending on what fits best with the work at hand. Of course imo.

And now I need to check out (and get) AK's book. :)

colin pantall said...

Thanks Eva. Absolutely - so based on a true story was pretty complex and Zun Lee's book, Father Figure, is less so. But the design in boats isn't a gimmick - it fits. And it's dynamic.