Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Photobook at The Photography Room

The Photography Room is an exhibition space in the town of Queanbeyan, NSW, Australia. The town is located 15k west of the city of Canberra and despite a population of just 34,084 The Photography Room punches way beyond its weight with its ongoing program of cutting edge contemporary photography shows.

Opening June 9 until July 1st The Photography Room will transform into a reading room for an exhibition of Important Photography Books. The plan is to encourage gallery visitors to spend time reading, looking at images presented in book format, leading to discussions with other interested lovers of the photobook medium. Book artists included in the exhibition are William Eggleston, Larry Towell, Antoine D'Agata, Josef Koudelka, Araki Nobuyoshi, Eugene Richards, Alec Soth and John Gossage, as well as lesser-known photographers. The exhibition includes a wide-ranging display of books, all of which will be available for viewing.

In support of the exhibition Errata Editions co-founder and Creative Director Jeffrey Ladd has given The Photography Room some thoughts on photobooks and why they are important to him.

Jeffrey has this to say:
Why Books? My love of photobooks started while I was studying at the School of Visual Arts in New York City from 1987-1991. I had the good fortune of studying with teachers from year to year who stressed the importance of photobooks and how they differed from stacks of pictures or exhibitions. Many of my most important professors never went to school to learn their craft but were instead self-taught and informed by being out in the world photographing and also by looking at photobooks. This was something that they instilled in us, to discover photography by doing and also by looking at the great book works. So it was natural that I too would fall in love with the medium by turning pages when I wasn’t out photographing. It is through books that I have discovered not only the variety of practice that the medium holds, but its rich history. I could see first hand how certain books seemed to be influenced by others and, on the other hand, how some artists made wilder leaps of faith in trying to test their pictures and the book form. What makes a photobook great is often a mystery and of course will vary from person to person. For me, generally speaking, books that manage to ask questions and leave the viewer unmoored and seeking what is within this new relationship of book and viewer that may be meaningful or important. Books that tackle and pin their subjects with either conceptual rigor or exhaustive explanation tend to be less interesting to me. I find reading a book, especially a photobook, is a very intimate act and those that inspire thought and surprise are most likely to avoid becoming too dusty. All books come with their own set of operating instructions. Those are, formal elements either in design or construction that try to dictate “how” the book is read. For instance, in Western countries books read from left to right or the pictures are oriented to the page so that the book is held in a single position from page to page. A great book I would say can have these instructions but work in a variety of ways knowing the viewer will approach it with either laziness or full attention. For instance, it is common for people to pick up a left to right reading book and flip from back to front instead of front to back. A book should try to dictate those reading instructions but also work when they are broken. The other huge factor in my opinion is longevity. What makes you pick up a book more than once? For many titles, the concept or “meaning” is so clear with the first reading that it could be questioned whether it would ever be necessary to be picked off the shelf again. I have hundreds of books, which, although I may like them for one reason or another, I never feel it necessary to pull them from the shelf. It is a simple question of whether I am engaged enough to need a continued relationship with this object and body of work. 

Jeffrey Ladd is an American photographer, born in 1968. Jeffrey’s work has been exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago, Oklahoma City Museum of Art, International Center of Photography, Museum of the City of New York among others. Jeff splits his time between photographing and writing about photography. From 2007 to 2012, he wrote over 450 articles for his website 5B4 – Photography and Books, a blog dedicated to discussing and reviewing photography and art-related publications. Ladd is one of the founders of Errata Editions, an independent publishing company whose Books on Books series has won many awards for their scholarship into rare and out of print photobooks. He is currently based in Köln, Germany.

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