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January 5th, 2010

Future of Photobooks Discussion: How should photobook CREATION evolve in this decade?

Posted by liveBooks

Welcome to the first of three moderated discussion posts, part of our Future of Photobooks project, in conjunction with FlakPhoto. It will be moderated by Marc Feustel, who has also helped shape this post. As we’ve said, the future is ours to shape, so please help the community by adding your comments and sharing this post on Twitter, Facebook, etc. (You can also receive email updates of future comments by clicking “subscribe.”) To find out more about the Future of Photobooks project, read previous posts, and view the more than 45 blogs that have participated, check out our growing resource page.

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


First, Let’s Step Back Just a Little

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.”

Picking Through The Trash Heap

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?

Being An Auteur Isn’t Everything

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?


  1. January 5th, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    Gordon McGregor

    My thoughts on the future of photobooks, in 3 parts, firstly on what a durable mutation of the idea of a photobook might be:

    Then some more on what a photobook suited to computer or network display might be:

    and some parting thoughts

  2. January 6th, 2010 at 2:28 am


    Some very interesting thoughts Gordon and its great to see that you have already got a healthy debate going over at your blog. I was particularly interested in your thoughts on breaking away from the constraints of the 2 sheets of paper. Why do you think it is that so much online publishing seems to be made to look like a printed book?

    Are there any photographers who have experimented with both printed books and some kind of online publication that could share their thoughts on the differences and advantages of the 2 mediums?

  3. January 5th, 2010 at 6:08 pm

    john hildebrand

    this is full of great information and i thank you. I am currently working on a book project called Faces of Malibu htttp://
    I have never publish a book and trying to figure out all the best steps. I think people still want to see very high end printed books where they can touch and feel them.

    thanks again

  4. January 5th, 2010 at 6:41 pm

    Miki Johnson

    Hi John! Great to hear that this information is helpful to you. I hope you've checked out our resource page and our earlier posts too.

    Your Faces of Malibu project looks great. Can't wait to see the book and congratulations for taking the leap. If you have any specific questions you're trying to figure out, ask away and we'll see what we can do to find some answers :)

  5. January 6th, 2010 at 2:22 am


    Thanks John. Great to hear that you're going to be entering the fray of self-publishing. I'd be interested to hear more about what the considerations are for you and what you think makes a book special.

    It would be great to hear from more photographers such as yourself who are thinking of making a book.

  6. January 5th, 2010 at 10:24 am

    uberVU - social comments

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by eyecurious: How should PHOTOBOOK CREATION evolve in 10 years? Moderated by yours truly… looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

  7. January 5th, 2010 at 8:50 pm


    When Photobooks are gone they will not be called photobooks again.

  8. January 6th, 2010 at 6:03 am


    Pet theory here: The codex format of books, which has been around for ages, has really grandfathered its way into human consciousness. It is the archetype. When I do workshops I would call books "machines," which seemed to confuse people, but that is just because I want people to consciously think about the object in question. Their functions and forms are so sympathetic to our perception that we no longer see them as fairly advanced technologies–even, ironically, as they might be eclipsed.
    We are having a hard time finding new ways to organize and present content that has conventionally gone into books because we cannot unthink the book. We can't reach back to a consciousness that never knew the ease that codex technology afforded us. We try to adapt this content to pseudobook conventions: the web "page," obviously, but also some online magazines that still employ a page-turning graphic framing for no good reason.
    All this to say the book is such an optimum technology for its kind of content delivery that any predictions to the form's demise belies its indispensability. It seems expendable only because its ubiquity insures we don't tend to consciously assess its value.
    On another note, Marc, in your experience with Japanese publishing, do you see more exploration of bindings and formats? Are there a lot more physical/production alternatives to what we tend to see in most Western visual publishing?

  9. January 6th, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    Gordon McGregor

    a thought on this – prior to books we had scrolls. A continuous, non-interrupted moving view onto a long sheet of paper. A photobook that rolled out like that would present images in a different way than is possible in a photobook. One continuous, evolving story in perhaps a long, uninterrupted panoramic image (something like a tapestry I suppose)

    Something like that would be easy to do electronically.

    As a trivial example, this is the sort of thing that McLuhan is talking about with questions like :: What does the medium retrieve that had been obsolesced earlier?

  10. January 8th, 2010 at 12:05 pm


    This is an interesting discussion. And while it's officially about photobooks, it has interesting overlaps with the presentation of photos in electronic media.

    While designing my new website, I looked at dozens of photographer's sites. And yes, what struck me is that many of them are structured like a 'book' with a series of images you 'flick' through. But I agree with Gordon – the joy of electronic presentation (be it an ebook, website, PDF, app…) is the freedom to escape the layout 'constraints' of traditional, printed books.

    The 'scroll' reference is interesting. And fits with where my design led. I aimed to recreate a gallery 'wall' with my layout, rather than a phototography 'book'. So my webpage is very wide (4000 pixels) and viewed by scrolling left to right, rather than up and down. This allows multiple images to play off one another, as they might on a gallery wall, and gives more space for visual narratives to develop. It also helped me avoid the familiar thumbnail and slideshow techniques.

    I had planned on an even wider site, but the application I used to make it is limited to this width – but actually that had the (beneficial) side effect of tightening my edits.

    It's at if you'd like to see what I'm talking about.

  11. January 6th, 2010 at 2:30 pm


    In terms of Japanese photography, as Lesley Martin of Aperture wrote in < ahref="">her post a little while back, I would say there was a golden age in the 1960s and 1970s. It is by no means unique to Japan but the photographic explosion that occurred during those years took place without a single photography gallery to show prints in (the first opened in Tokyo in 1978). So books and magazines were the only outlets for showing work and a huge amount of effort went into making them. Collaboration was also crucial and designers had a big role to in making the great books of this period great. Interestingly speaking to photographers now about these books that are now considered seminal and highly collectable, they often don't feel complete ownership over the project. They even sometimes feel that it is not so much their book as that of the designer.

    It would be great to get the thoughts of any photographers on this. Would you feel comfortable giving a designer a lot of freedom with your images in terms of cropping, full bleeds, juxtapositions and sequencing if you thought it could create a beautiful book?

    I think Japanese photography remains pretty close to the pile in terms of production quality and design, but I think it has, naturally, become much more business driven, as everywhere else. In the 60s and 70s experimentation still had the upper hand.

  12. January 8th, 2010 at 3:51 pm


    I recently purchased 'Japanese Photobooks of the 60s and 70s' by Ryuichi Kaneko and Ivan Vartanian – a recommended read for this topic. The photography from Japan in these decades seems to have an edginess to it which seems intergrated into the culture of the time. There is a 'non-precious' feel to many of these books which is refreshing – you definately get the idea that there was an overriding spirit of experimentation with book designs.

    In terms of allowing the freedom of design to 'designers': Personally I would not really like to offer a designer the freedom to interfere with any work I am producing. I think that alot of photographers who develop a substantial body of work worthy of a book-format need to have control over all aspects of the production of the work. However, one can get too enveloped in their own ideas sometimes and dialogue with designers, other artists…anyone really is absolutely necessary from time to time.

  13. January 13th, 2010 at 7:48 am


    Martin, thanks for mentioning Kaneko and Vartanian's recent book, something that anyone interested in the history of the photobook should definitely not miss. It's interesting to read your thoughts on collaborating with designers. One of Japan's most prolific photographers of the twentieth century, Daido Moriyama has made so many photobooks that you could pretty much have an entire library devoted only to his photobook production. His approach is interesting because he hands his work completely over to the designer and editor and has pretty much nothing to do with the book process except for providing the images to work from. Another Japanese photographer, Hiroshi Hamaya, who is also featured in Kaneko & Vartanian, was known for maintaining a lot of control over the process of making a photobook. For example in Mite Kita Chugoku (China as I Saw It) he not only chose the images, designed the book and the cover, wrote the text, drew a map of China featuring his own calligraphy and actually had the paper made to order on which it was printed. Doesn't get much more hands on than that!

    Any other examples that anyone knows of in terms of how photographers work with books?

  14. January 13th, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    Brian Oglesbee

    Marc, the best example I know would have to be Keith Smith, who has been making amazing one-of-a-kind books using photography (often along with other media) since the 1960's. In addition, he now produces books about making books:

  15. January 15th, 2010 at 4:55 pm

    martin cregg

    Hans Peter Feldmans 'Bild' or 'Bilder' book series (late 60s – early 70s) are interesting examples to investigate in terms of its production – very underatated, simple, almost primitive method of book-making. But, perfect for his style and approach to photography. You can see a 'foldout' example in 'The Photobook: A History Volume 2 by Martin Parr and Gerry Badger (Phaidon Books).

  16. January 6th, 2010 at 2:06 pm


    From my experience, people will always want art books. In fact, as publishing moves more towards being in favour of online-only editions (magazines, self-published novels, "legitimate" stuff for the Kindle, etc.) niche publishers will only benefit from this transition. The publishing of highly specialized subjects, like fine art, may flourish as books become fetishized by seeing most content move online/become digitized. A similar parallel would be how Classical music and Jazz continues to flourish (or at least holds its own) on CD while pop/contemporary music is slowly becoming obsolete on CD – niche consumers are not often affected by larger consumer trends.

    To me, the interesting debate is whether artists should control all aspects of their own publishing projects. Surely, there are some artists (and other professionals) who would be very capable putting their own publishing projects together but they would be a minority. But then there are the considerations of marketing, distribution, inventory control, etc., that a self-publisher will face…

  17. January 6th, 2010 at 2:41 pm


    Interesting analogy, I used a similar one recently but instead of musical styles I went for vinyl vs CD. I tend to agree with you that niche publishers can in fact benefit from the drive towards e-books, as photobooks become even more highly collectible and desirable as objects.

  18. January 6th, 2010 at 4:48 pm

    Gordon McGregor

    Marc, I think online books look like printed books, because people haven't come to grips with what changed. That's what McCloud is talking about in his search for a 'durable mutation' and what McLuhan discusses in general in all of his work on how technology changes media.

    Electronic books aren't the same as printed books. They are better at some things, worse for others. The answers as to how things should change probably lie in the consideration of McLuhan's tetrad of media effects… If you could work out what's changed, then you could use those features to a better advantage.

    Put another way, the constraints have changed for ebooks, but I haven't really seen much evidence of people grasping that, yet. As an example of this, consider what this means for a photobook, if pages become optional, not just the only solution. I hadn't really given much thought to how the pair-wise sequencing of images has a significant effect until I laid out a couple of books. Images on facing pages need to work together, more so than images on either side of a page, so that page by page, odd/even structure is significant in a book – not so on an ebook where you aren't constrained in the same way.… McCloud's infinite canvas idea is interesting when you consider photobooks too – a layout via that treats the screen as a window onto a larger canvas, rather than a page at a time full screen view. There are approaches that could be taken there to break away from tradational books.

    I think when I tried to talk about this in the past, some confused what I was getting at, with ideas about hypertext, or mixing in audio and video. While that's possible, I'm trying to talk about something more fundamental. Pages and relationships between still, 2-D, non-moving images have the potential to change and change how you look at what a 'book' is.

  19. January 8th, 2010 at 12:14 pm


    Yes Gordon! The constraint of pleasingly paired images has always been my bugbear with 'traditional' photography books as so often its the relationships between wider series of images that create a compelling narrative. (Weirdly, I often find the "visual indexes" at the back of books a better way to see the strength of a body of work – though obviously the images are at a greatly reduced size.)

    Would love to see examples of "new media" opportunities that address and perhaps overcome this traditional presentation technique.

  20. January 6th, 2010 at 11:17 pm


    Just discovered a very timely initiative in the realm of independent photobooks called The Independent Photo Book run by two of the most interesting photo-blogs out there Conscientious (Jörg Colberg) and <a href=">Mrs Deane (Hester Keijser) In Jörg's words "The idea behind The Independent Photo Book is simple: You email us the information about your independent photo book or zine – following the guide lines outlined on the blog – and we'll create a post with the information about it. No selection – we post whatever we get, as long as it's an independent photo book or magazine." Jörg and Hester are most probably sacrificing their inboxes with this project, but for the rest of us, it will provide a terrific opportunity to discover photo publications that we just wouldn't otherwise.

  21. January 7th, 2010 at 11:03 pm


    Hi Marc, I want to mention something that I think its very important and haven't found in these pages as yet: the future is going to look more and more under the Open Source software's silent revolution. I know this will sound like a swearing to many fine artists, photo profs, and gallerists, but there it is: a lot of reliable software is being produced, such as Scribus, Gimp, OpenOffice…I have made my first photobook all with Open Source software, ending a 15 years Mac/Adobe addiction, and it worked pretty well! available for viewing and downloading (under CC 3.0 License) at

  22. January 8th, 2010 at 1:28 am


    Thanks Paolo this is another very interesting issue in terms of photobook creation and Mac addiction (which I suffer from acutely). Did you work with a designer at all on the book Paolo or is this an entirely DIY project?

    Are there other examples out there of books being put together with alternative software to the Adobe monopoly?

  23. January 8th, 2010 at 11:05 am


    Hi, yes it was an entirely home-brewed photobook, and this gave me a true sense of achievement. On the other hand, I know that this also mean that the possibilities of improvement are endless, which also is quite intruding as it means that the work is always in progress.
    On the other question, I have to say that the first thing I did was to google for other examples of Open Source photobooks (or templates for Scribus, or established workflows), and I sadly have to admit that there is very little out there. One guy in particular inspired me, his blog is full of tips for Gimp and Latext (an application included in Scribus, to my understanding):
    I think it is important to send out a message that YES, it is possible to move away from Adobe!

  24. January 8th, 2010 at 1:33 am


    Picking up on Alan's earlier question about trends in Japanese photobooks, I just spent several hours yesterday in Tokyo photobook stores and was delighted to see how many interesting examples there are in terms of experimentation with the book form. There is far more diversity on show than I would see in the photobook stores I know in Paris.

    Are there any bloggers out there who could give us a feel for trends in photobook creation in other parts of the world? The Netherlands seems to often get praised for interesting experimental photobooks. Any other regions that are doing particularly interesting things that we should know about?

  25. January 9th, 2010 at 5:11 am

    Derek Abbiw Jackson

    Future photobook consumption will devolve and evolve based on a market that is developed to be receptive to the innovative technology inherent in photobooks. The ability of artists portraying and exhibiting their work in photobooks to be attentive to their target audience is key. The usersof this new medium for multimedia presentations and artistry will be responsive to the modes and methods of marketing and business development utilized by the individual artist and the enternainment/artistic/creative community. By ensuring the satisfaction of those target audiences with the work product and deliverables presented by the photographer, musician or any other individual who uses photobooks to reach an audience, the consumption of photobooks will be guided by the effect of the the product itself on consumers. The evolution of the free market's consumption will be attached to the vagaries of the variables affecting the free market as established in post-Industrial societies, geographic locales and cultures.

  26. January 10th, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    Brian Oglesbee

    "It would be great to get the thoughts of any photographers on this. Would you feel comfortable giving a designer a lot of freedom with your images in terms of cropping, full bleeds, juxtapositions and sequencing if you thought it could create a beautiful book?"

    A great question. My perspective was totally changed by the opportunity to work on a book of my photographs.

    I had been working on a group of studio-based, large-format pictures involving water and the human figure for 12 years when I was approached by Insight Editions about doing a book of my Water Series photographs. At the time I felt strongly that the artist should control all aspects of such a project. My default conception basically amounted to a 'stack' of pictures; one per two-page spread with a caption on an otherwise blank left page, and a full-frame image on the right printed as big as the page would allow (with a small border). Each photograph would be reproduced at the same size. After all, I felt the magic is inherent in the image and the book format should interfere as little as possible, only presenting the pictures in their best possible light.

    In my mind the easy parts were the definite notions I had about the layout which included no cropping, no full bleeds, no crossing the gutter, no varying of the sizes of the images, etc. The hard part had to do with sequencing. My work is a series of stand-alone visual statements, with no intended narrative, how should they be presented? I had been struggling with this question when I asked the designer to take a first crack at sequencing the images. Before doing this however, we negotiated the layout 'taboos' that I had. After intense discussions we ended up varying the sizes of some of the pictures, and although we stuck with 'no cropping' and 'no crossing the gutter', we even bled a few. Working with the designer I was reminded that a visual book should be considered a work of art in and of itself. It has requirements and dynamics unique to its special format. A visual book needs pacing, rhythm and 'flow'. He was right.

    He then sent me a set of proofs with the instructions that I should feel free to rip into them, cut them up and re-work any and all aspects of the sequencing. It took two or three back-and-forth generations, with my wife and I spreading all the pages on the floor and rearranging them to arrive at the final layout.

    In the end "AQUATIQUE: Photographs by Brian Oglesbee" won the Gold Medal in Photography from ForeWord Magazine's Book of the Year Awards, and the Independent Publisher Book Awards Silver Medal in Photography. It was also picked as one of the Top Ten Coffee-table Photography Books by Entertainment Weekly Magazine. (See more at

  27. January 12th, 2010 at 2:45 pm


    Brian, many thanks for your response. This is a really valuable insight into the process of making a photobook from the artist's perspective, something which it is often hard to come by. I think it is also a great illustration of how important the collaborative process can be in shaping a photobook. I assume from your description that this experience maybe changed the way that you think about the process of creating a photobook?

  28. January 12th, 2010 at 8:09 pm

    Brian Oglesbee

    Thank you, Marc. You're right, working on this book project has changed my mind about the process.

    Going in I felt leery of how Graphic Design might denigrate the Image and treat it merely as a rectangle in a series of two-page spreads with blocks of text as equal elements (to be arranged in a way pleasing to the designer). I had taken great pains in designing each photograph and surely I knew best how they should be treated on the printed page. That is, to simply let the images speak for themselves. I wanted the printing process to reproduce as faithfully as possible what was in the original print and to have the book format interfere as little as possible with the viewer's experience of each image. But in working with a gifted designer who had a lot of experience with visual books I had my eyes opened, I guess you could say.

    For instance, surprisingly he advocated having hardly any text accompanying the pictures: no titles or captions. Aquatique has some text in the front: a short foreword and artist's statement, and in the back there is an annotated, illustrated index; but practically no text in the picture section, just a very discreet page number every once in a while. This freed the book to have a visual dynamic of its own with each turn of the page leading into a new type of experience, and it works very differently than a stack of pictures with titles and captions would. It didn't take me long to become enthusiastic about this approach and change my long-held conceptions about what a book of my work should look like.

  29. January 11th, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    Brian Oglesbee

    Paolo, I was only addressing Marc's question from this blog discussion which I included at the top of my previous post. Here it is again: "It would be great to get the thoughts of any photographers on this. Would you feel comfortable giving a designer a lot of freedom with your images in terms of cropping, full bleeds, juxtapositions and sequencing if you thought it could create a beautiful book?"

    Although my book exists as a printed physical object you can see examples of the pictures on my website in Water Series galleries. Sorry about any confusion.

  30. January 12th, 2010 at 7:50 pm

    Continuing discussion: Future of PhotoBooks « The PhotoBook

    […] Next, Eyecurious founder Marc Feustel, a Paris-based independent curator and writer with a background in Japanese photography, recently weighed in on How should photobook CREATION evolve in this decade? found here. […]

  31. January 13th, 2010 at 8:07 am


    Interesting little timeline I came across that shows the evolution of the book over the last few millenia.

  32. February 16th, 2010 at 10:34 am

    The Future of Photobooks « APA San Francisco

    […] You can see the results in these three discussion posts, each moderated by a contributing blogger. How should photobook CREATION evolve in next decade? Mediated by Marc Feustel, creator of eyecurious How should photobook CONSUMPTION evolve in next […]

  33. December 9th, 2010 at 5:08 pm

    Semana do Livro – Futuro do livro de fotografia | abitpixel

    […] – How should photobook CREATION evolve in next decade? […]

  34. August 26th, 2012 at 8:00 pm


    Meeshell stunning water dropelt pix they look like intricate beads so beautiful! I need you to do a portfolio of Tai to set him up for his acting career!!! Can you come to the Cook Islands???? Lotsa Love from TEINA and TRIBE

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