Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Photobook, Re-Mix / Re-Think

Joerg Colberg recently made an interesting and thought provoking post on his blog Conscientious about how in his view photobook layout and presentation since the 50's has become stale. You can read the full post HERE. Joerg comments, the world of contemporary fine-art photography has proven to be solidly conservative... blank-page-picture-blank-page-picture layout is still the most commonly employed mode to lay out photobooks. I agree. As a buyer and collector of photobooks how often have I looked through the photobooks in a book store and found there is nothing I want to take home with me. It's all bull, boring.
But what is at the heart of the problem? I suspect not primarily the book layout. Tarting up the layout of a book full of average photographs is not going to make the book better, that's a bit like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. First the pictures have to work. Is the idea strong enough? Have they substance, the right balance of form and content, is there an element of mystery and surprise? Do the pictures work as a series? Are there average pictures lurking in the edit that pulls the whole work down? Where is the authenticity? Are there pictures included we've all seen before, made better by someone else?
A painter friend of mine talks about the need for a stone in the shoe in a work, an element that niggles. Something not quite right. Risk taking in fact. Isaac Stern the maestro violinist did this and used off notes and slides in his playing that added a jarring element. Let's see more risk taking in photography! Having said that let's make sure that risk doesn't equal clever. Not a good look.

All this is currently top-of-mind for me. I've been working on a new book work, TRUTH AND VARIOUS DECEPTIONS, with 52 photographs over 52 pages. Self published under my inprint FAQEDITIONS. All the points I've made above have been going through my head. In the end I've opted for the straight up, a series of 26 pairs with images all the same size. I made this decision for several reasons. First I wanted to show all 52 images and not blow the budget by having additional blank pages. Second, the images work as pairs. Third, I kept the images all the same size simply because I didn't want to privilege one over another. Watch this space!

In the end it's surely a question of horses for courses. Here are some books I like and that break the mold.

Tillmans, here some catalogue spreads where he has incorporated installation pictures and found material.

OBVIOUS AND ORDINARY, America 2006 by the anonymous P&G. Here they mix it up.

The spread at top from, Robert Adams, What Can We Believe Where?  Quite perfect!

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