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In conjunction with our ongoing Future of Photobooks project with FlakPhoto, photographer-writers Harlan Erskine and Todd Walker are hosting a Tweetchat about the Future of Photobooks this evening (Tuesday, Dec. 15) from 9 to 10 pm Eastern (6 to 7 pm Pacific). This will also kick off their weekly Tuesday Photo Art Chats, which you can find by doing a Twitter search for #photoartchat.
To be part of the discussion, make sure your tweets include #photoartchat and a @reply if you’re responding to a specific person. For an even simpler way to take part, you can go to TweetChat, enter this hashtag, and interact as you would in an IM chat screen. You can also see the chat in the column below, which will update in real time with any tweets that include #photoartchat.
*UPDATE: Here are a few highlights from last night’s TweetChat about The Future of Photobooks on #photoartchat.
How often are photobooks purchased from print-on-demand storefronts like Blurb? Are they mostly photographers printing their own portfolios? People agreed they are more likely to buy books when they can touch them. If they’re buying them online, they need to be more of a “known quantity,” either a photographer or publisher they know, like, and trust to put out a quality product.
joostdeleij: Would be interesting if quality Blurb (etc) books, that sold over 100 copies, could for example be sold through Amazon
consumptive: i’ve sold about 30 books through the blurb bookstore. not bad, considering i’m not a name brand. purchasers are pleased.
harlanerskine: Steven Shore talks about his iPhoto experiments here: http://www.popphoto.com/Galleries/A-Conversation-with-Stephen-Shore
harlanerskine: I have really enjoyed Paul Graham’s “a shimmer of possibilities” (not that I can afford it)
tom_leininger: Most recent purchase Travelog by Charles Harbutt from the 1970s, great pictures and essay. Newest is Wessel 5 Books (Steidl).
OcularOctopus: @harlanerskine I’ve lined up Burtynsky’s “OIL” as one to get soon
joostdeleij: I love buying photography books. One of the most affordable ones and interesting ‘Terryworld‘ by Terry Richardson
OcularOctopus: Also on my want list: “Joel Sternfeld: Oxbow Archive” http://www.joelsternfeld.com/Oxbow.html
joostdeleij: My last purchase was PhotoArt ‘the new world of photography’. Very nice! and affordable.
harlanerskine: I have also been revisiting Robert Frank’s “The Americans“ …
tom_leininger: Winteriesse by Luc Delahaye, Most of Thomas Roma‘s books. The Silence by Gilles Peress.
dariushimes: hmmm @ocularoctopus that’s a tough one. Anything Gerry Badger writes excites my intellect, & I’m in love w/ Violet Isle (from @RadiusBooks)
tom_leininger: My kids liked going through Dog Dogs by Erwitt, it was small and inexpensive so I did not mind the man handling of it.
harlanerskine: @OcularOctopus but I really like Alex Soth’s Niagara. Paul Graham’s Shimmer of possibilities…
harlanerskine: @OcularOctopus Taryn Simon’s “An American Index of the Hidden…” and Row Ethridge’s “Rockaway, NY”
OcularOctopus: @harlanerskine Sleeping By The Mississippi might be the most influential book of the decade.
tom_leininger: How about Jason Eskenazi’s Wonderland? I have not seen it in person. I would say Wintereise is up there too for the decade.
tom_leininger: @consumptive I like the size. I am becoming more of a fan of smaller sized books.
tom_leininger: Smaller sized would be 8.5×11 and smaller. It is an intimate portable. Larger books is like an event.
harlanerskine: @tom_leininger it seems like some books are made with the wrong size. some times too big sometimes too small.
OcularOctopus: @harlanerskine Many retrospective books are too small. fitting pictures to a standard size for a series of books. detail lost
harlanerskine: @OcularOctopus I agree-some photography is difficult to put into a book. sometimes its like fitting a square peg into a…
On Tuesday we started a cross-blog conversation about the Future of Photobooks, the first wave in a multi-week, crowd-sourced project to see if we can collectively figure out what of the more difficult questions facing our industry: “What will photobooks look like in 2019?”
In the course of that conversation, J. Wesley Brown at We Can Shoot Too came up with the great idea of putting together a list of all the best printers if you’re looking to self-publish a high-quality photobook.
J. Wesley says: “I suggested http://diyausa.com/ on my post because they printed R.J. Shaughnessy’s book, “Your Golden Opportunity Is Comeing Very Soon” and I think the quality is great for the price (at least in B&W – I’d have to see a sample of their color work before deciding on a color book).”
Dalton says: “I have heard good things about this place, which has a much more hands-on process on and is tighter with the QC. http://editiononebooks.com And the prices are very good, especially once you start looking at 10+ copies.”
@JSandifer says: “OR you could decide to buy a Vandercook and do it all by hand! http://www.themainemag.com/workshop/1167-david-wo… David Wolfe prints books, portfolios, and stationery by hand.”
Marc Feustel says: “I have been collaborating with a Kyoto-based printing company, Benrido, that has combined nineteenth century colotype printing techniques with digital technology to produce a series of portfolios with truly exquisite results.”
That’s just a very short list to get us started. Please leave other printers you know about or have worked with in the comments and let us know if you have experience with any of the ones above. We’ll include these results in our final Photobook Resource page :)
What do you think photobooks will look like in 10 years? Will they be digital or physical? Open-source or proprietary? Will they be read on a Kindle or an iPhone? And what aesthetic innovations will have transformed them?
I know I’m not alone in pondering these questions. Joerg Colberg echoed these thoughts just last week in a post on Conscientious. Then I talked to Andy Adams at Flak Photo about his weekly features highlighting the winners of Blurb‘s 2009 Photography.Book.Now contest (left), and something clicked.
For a while now, it’s been our goal (at RESOLVE and liveBooks) to find and share new business models that will move photography and the creative industries forward in a positive way. But we’re also eager to conduct our own experiments. And what better place to start than the incredibly flexible blogging format?
Andy and I initially wondered how we could use our blogs in a new way to further illuminate the question, “What will photobooks be like in the year 2019?” We’re not psychic, but we do have a lot of faith in collective intelligence. And with all the talk these days about “crowd-sourcing,” we thought, why can’t we crowd-source a blog post?
Discussions in the blogosphere generally lead readers along trajectories of information, but all those useful ideas rarely get tied back up into a single useful post. We plan to centralize the discussion around this specific topic — photobooks — so that anyone searching for related posts can find them easily and understand the context around them.
So how does this Future of Photobooks thing work? Andy and I have contacted fellow bloggers and asked them to post about the most prescient innovations they’ve seen in the photobook and publishing industries. We’ll add links to those blogs within this post as they go live, so over the next few days you’ll be able to see the “research” for our final post developing in real time.
But please don’t wait for us to contact you to start contributing. If you have something you want to say about photobooks, write a post on your own blog, linking to this post, by Sunday, Dec. 13 (we’ve had so much great interest, we’ll continue to accept posts on an ongoing basis). Then ping Andy or I with the link on Facebook or Twitter, and we’ll add you into the list. (Andy: FB & Twitter. Miki: FB & Twitter.) Don’t have a blog or don’t have time to post? Simply leave your thoughts in the comments. If you want to be notified when other people share their great ideas, be sure to use the “subscribe” drop-down to received email updates.
And this is just the beginning. At the end of this week, Andy and I will choose the standout ideas and highlight them (with links to whoever suggested them) in another post. That post will be all about real-time discussion. We’ll organize the big ideas — it will be up to you to tell us what you think about them. Delve into the details, throw out some pros and cons, tell us we’re off base if you must. We’re just excited to host a healthy discussion.
Finally we’ll sift through all the great ideas and heated debate and pull it together in one final post, which we hope will live a long online life as a resource for anyone trying to understand where the photobook industry is headed. And your name, links, and/or blog will be an indispensable part of it. You’re helping us explain where photobook publishing is headed, and we’re helping people find you and your brilliant ideas. Everyone wins. Just the way we like it :)
Miki Johnson: Tell me about the book you just released with Ruthann Richter, Face to Face: Children of the AIDS Crisis in Africa. What was the impetus of this project and what were you hoping to achieve with it?
Karen Ande: This book represents the culmination of seven years of work. The project began in 2002 when I was traveling in Kenya with my husband and friends. Our tour guide asked me if I’d like to visit an orphanage she had opened in the town of Naivasha and photograph the children, whose parents had died of AIDS.
I agreed to do it, thinking it would be a one-time visit that might result in a few shots she could use for fundraising. I did not realize that the children would charm me and that their survival hung in such a delicate balance. The orphanage ran out of rice the day I was there.
We left them with some money for food and I eventually went home and began to print the photographs. When I saw the images emerge in the developing tray I realized that I had an opportunity and a decision to make. I could choose to become involved in this issue or not. I chose to get involved, to reach out to nonprofits who were already supporting projects, to make multiple trips to document this issue. It has taken an enormous amount of time and personal finances, but I have never looked back.
I am driven by this issue — 12 million children have been orphaned by AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. There is little infrastructure to care for the children, but many local people whom I have met through NGO’s have creative viable projects that make a difference in these children’s lives. I hope this book will convince people to take a close look at the children I’ve met and begin to care enough to try to help them.
MJ: You’ve said that when you started photographing it was important to you to focus on the positive, things are getting better and people who are making a difference. Why was this so important to you?
KA: People do not hang around to be depressed. The media overexposes us to images of suffering I think, consistently giving us two messages: 1) there is really nothing one person can do to affect these overwhelming problems, and 2) money donated to Africa will be diverted by corrupt governments and aid agencies and never get to the people who need it.
In fact there is a great deal one person can do if they know how. If you donate to organizations working with in-country activists who know and understand their communities’ needs, the money is not wasted. In fact it is often the best way to help, as these projects are generally successful and sustainable. We list many NGO’s in our book that support these types of projects. More »
MIKI JOHNSON: What initially drew you both to Cuba? It has been photographed so much already…did you try to approach it in a new way that you hadn’t seen before?
ALEX WEBB: Like many projects, this one began somewhat serendipitously. We certainly did not plan it. I first went in to Cuba 1993 for Life magazine, and Rebecca traveled there around the same time separately. We were both intrigued by the island, but somehow didn’t manage to return until 2000, when we visited together to teach a workshop.
Returning to the country inspired both of us, and we embarked on two separate projects: my exploration of the streets of Cuba and Rebecca’s discovery of unique and sometimes mysterious collections of animals there –– from tiny zoos and pigeon societies to hand-painted natural history displays and quirky personal menageries. It was only eight years later, in 2008, that we hit upon the notion of putting our two very distinct bodies of work together to create a multi-layered portrait of Cuba.
MJ: How many trips to Cuba did you take while making photos for this book, and what places and parts of the culture were you specifically trying to capture?
AW: We made 11 trips to Cuba. Besides our first trips that we took separately, we made six trips together from 2000 to 2005 and then four long trips in 2007 and 2008, when I was fortunate enough to have a Guggenheim Fellowship to continue photographing the island. I initially called my project Esperando because in Spanish the term means both “waiting” and “hoping,” a title that starts to get at my impression of the streets of Cuba.
REBECCA NORRIS WEBB: I originally called my project Three Rooms after the following quote by a Habanero whom I met, a gentle and soft-spoken man who raises cockatiels, love birds, and parakeets: “I have three rooms in my house –– two are for my birds, and one is for my wife and me.”
For the past decade, I’ve been exploring the complicated relationship between people and the natural world. In the 25 cities I visited for my first book The Glass Between Us, I never witnessed anything quite like what I’ve seen on “the violet isle,” a little known nickname for Cuba inspired by the rich color of its soil. Nearly 700 miles across, Cuba is easily the largest island in the Caribbean and has its own endemic species, including the world’s smallest bat and the world’s smallest bird. Alex and I traveled nearly the entire length of the island in pursuit of our separate obsessions.
MJ: Why did it appeal to you to combine your two bodies of work into one book about Cuba? How are the images grouped in the book? More »
Miki Johnson: Why is this such an exciting time for photo books?
Darius Himes: Books are amazing vehicles that have been with humans for millennia and have a fascinating history as objects of beauty, as well as conveyors of ideas. Books are also physical objects with a rich history of scripts, fonts, inks, papers, bindings and photographic reproduction techniques. For centuries, however, these skills and literacy itself was held by “the few.” Only in the last century have we seen a marked increase in the amount of printed material available. And when it comes to photography books, the print-on-demand phenomenon has truly transformed the landscape. Literally anyone has the capacity and the access to publish a book of images.
MJ: Now that anyone can make a book, it seems even more important for a photographer to establish their goals for a book before they begin assembling it.
DH: Setting out with a clear purpose is crucial to any endeavor. Photographers are creating books for a wide range of uses, from leave-behind portfolio pieces intended solely to garner assignments, all the way to conceiving and creating mass market books on any number of subjects.
MJ: Is this why the Photography.Book.Now contest has three separate categories?
DH: Yes. The three categories of this years’ contest are designed to let photographers approach the idea of a “photography book” from three different angles. The fine-art category is extremely broad and the most subjective. Photographers and photo-based artists can do whatever they want to produce their book. Often, these books are made by practicing artists and have little regard for communicating a specific narrative to a large audience.
Editorial photography, the second category, is a different animal. But let me state something at the outset: I’m not interested in, or trying to stoke the debate about, what constitutes “art” photography. Anything done well is done artfully. If it serves the goals that one sets out with, then “art” has been employed. I don’t want anyone to think that any of the three categories don’t somehow employ art or doesn’t constitute artfully done work.
Editorial and commercial photographers often serve patrons other than themselves; this the a big distinction. So, an editorial photographer assigned to cover a story may find themselves with a much larger body of work than will ever get published in a magazine. Likewise, a commercial shooter might have photographic skills that can be translated into a “commercial” book project; publishers also conceive of book projects in-house and then commission commercial photographers for the book.
Perhaps some concrete examples would help. This new book from Princeton Architectural Press—Bamboo Fences, by Isao Yoshikawa and Osamu Suzuki — is a great example of a commercial book project. It’s about a very specific subject — bamboo fence building in Japan — and the photographs by Suzuki perfectly illustrate the work. It’s primarily a photobook, but is supplemented by the text. Here’s another example: Bird, by Andrew Zuckerman. It has a specific subject matter artfully photographed by a commercial photographer. The publisher, Chronicle Books, probably hopes the audience for this book — and by that I mean ultimate sales for the book — will be upwards of 50,000+.
Two examples of books that have a broad “trade” appeal, but which are not “commercial” books like the ones above, are Jonah Frank’s Right, Portraits from the Evangelical Ivy League (Chronicle Books), and Articles of Faith by Dave Jordano (Center for American Places). In my mind, both of these books probably stemmed from assignments that blossomed into the book-length projects we see in the stores. Both have more of a storytelling quality to them than either Bamboo Fences or Bird. In that sense, they come out of a “documentary” tradition, but are presented in an appealing way to as broad an audience as possible.
MJ: What uses does a self-published book lend itself to? Do photographers use them to collect images that didn’t warrant prints? Or as an alternative for a portfolio? Or a leave-behind? Or a family gift?
DH: All of the things you mention, I’ve seen. I’ve also seen photographers use the self-publishing, print-on-demand technology to create “limited run” books. Photographer Andrew Phelps took a small body of work called Baghdad Suite and issued a self-published, print-on-demand book of only 100 copies, which sold out rather quickly. It’s a great idea to use this technology to disseminate a body of work that is either small, in terms of number of images, or limited, in terms of it’s appeal or audience.
MJ: In your eyes, what makes a photo book great?
DH: From John Gossage, as quoted in The Photobook: A History, Volume 1 (Phaidon, 2004): “Firstly, it should contain great work. Secondly, it should make that work function as a concise world within the book itself. Thirdly, it should have a design that complements what is being dealt with. And finally, it should deal with content that sustains an ongoing interest.”
When you’re making a book for a broader audience, think like a publisher. Visit publisher websites, read the catalog copy, and craft your book the way they craft their books. Every publisher approaches things differently. If you consistently like books from one publisher, really study how they put together a book. A book from Princeton Architectural Press is quite different from a book by Radius Books. In other words, learn from those already in the field.
Often photographers, naturally so, get wrapped up in the individual images and either lose sight of the overall picture and purpose of the book, or they simply never arrive at an overall picture, and the book lacks focus.
And don’t forget that a book is not just a bunch of CMYK printed images sandwiched between two boards. Text and titles, fonts and captions, of course editing and sequencing, as well as how the image sits on the page-spread and what it is placed next to — all of these little elements can make or break a book.
MJ: Do you have an example of a self-published book that has been very successful?
DH: The most famous example is Alec Soth. In 2003, Alec came to Review Santa Fe, an annual portfolio review event, looking for exposure and a publisher for a body of work titled Sleeping by the Mississippi. What we all know is that, after the exposure he received there — he won the Santa Fe Prize that year — his small print-on-demand book made it into the hands of Steidl, where it has now entered it’s third printing. Alec received huge recognition for his work in the intervening years and is now part of the prestigious Magnum agency. Martin Parr and Gerry Badger included Alec’s handmade book in Volume 2 of their seminal survey of photography books, The Photobook: A History (Phaidon).