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Eyecurious founder Marc Feustel (on the left) is a Paris-based independent curator and writer with a background in Japanese photography. You can find out more about some of his projects here, follow him on Twitter here, and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In light of the many ways our concept of the photobook is changing — to include digital texts, print-on-demand, self-publishing, and online distribution — our first question needs to start at the very beginning: How do we now want to define what a photobook is? Radius Books co-founder Darius Himes asked us to step back to this foundational question in his contributor post, and we recommend it as a great starting point for this discussion.
In Darius’s opinion: “A pdf or a website or an ‘ebook’ are not books in the same way that a stone tablet or a scroll or a sheet of papyrus are also not examples of books. They are vehicles of recorded human language, true. But a pdf is a pdf. A website is a website. A stone tablet is a stone tablet. A set of pages with either written language or images on them (reproduced in any manner of methods), gathered and bound together in some fashion = a book.”
A fair point, but if it were that simple we’d have nothing to discuss ;) Marc points out several interesting examples that ask us to re-examine what a photobook is:
“What about something like Frederic Lezmi’s 11m long leporello From Vienna to Beirut? Or, going even further, the works produced by Toluca Editions. They are limited edition prints, not bound but mounted, and created through a collaboration between photographer, writer, and designer. I think fewer people would accept that this is a book, but in some ways, in terms of the way it is made, I think this is closer to what we traditionally think of as a book than some print-on-demand examples.”
Another way to define a photobook, and one that several contributing bloggers mentioned, is by its role in a photographer’s career or the photo industry in general. As Mike Johnston point out at The Online Photographer:
“Photo books [in the past] weren’t just a reflection of the culture of photographers…they were the culture. They were how you kept track, how you saw work, how you learned who was doing what, how you “saw” shows you missed. That’s all changed.
The internet is a junk heap. It’s every frame that comes back from the drugstore. It’s the contact sheet, the raw material, the unsorted mass. The first draft. In that context, what will rise in importance will be the opportunities and the occasions we have for selecting only the best of the best, for making extended visual arguments, for the creativity and inventiveness inherent in limits, for the formalized set of photographs that puts a photographer’s best foot forward, no fluff, no excuses. That’s the future of the photo book, in my opinion.”
Alan Rapp also touches on this in his post at Critical Terrain: “How will the author/photographer find projects worth publishing, balancing the effort it takes to make a good book under any model vs. the number of consumers ready for it on the other end?”
The definition of a photobook suggested by this question may seem circular — a photobook is a collection of images a photographer values enough to put the effort into publishing — but it highlights an important point in this discussion. No definition is “right” or “wrong,” but the decision to make a “book” instead of some other artform should be a conscious creative one. If you’ve published a book before, in any format, under any definition, how did you decide that that work should be a book specifically?
Another important choice that artists making books now have to consider is, “Will this be a collaboration or not?” While photobooks were once necessarily the product of many hands — artist, designer, printer, publisher — a photographer can now make every image, lay out the book pages on a computer, print the book with a service like Blurb, then sell the book through the Blurb Bookstore or market and distribute it themselves online.
In contrast to this option (or perhaps as a backlash against it), many Future of Photobooks bloggers mentioned growing opportunities and interest in collaborative photobook projects. You can see several examples under “Collaboration and Crowd-sourcing” in our earlier post; more general collaborative projects include FlakPhoto, Bryan Formhals’ La Pura Vida Gallery, the rotating gallery on Too Much Chocolate, collectives like Luceo and MJR, and distribution networks like the Artists’ Books Cooperative. How can artists make an informed decision about which steps to do on their own and how or with whom to collaborate on the rest?