|A few of the books in my studio|
Utility aside, ebooks, at least for me, have very serious drawbacks. The book itself, the object, possesses properties that ebooks can never conceivably have. Give a book as a gift to a good friend, watch her/him unwrap it. What are you gonna do with an ebook? Hand someone a gift card for some online retailer? Or talk with a friend about a book, and then loan her/him one. These kinds of social (yes, social!) interactions lack their equivalent in the “e” world.
On top of that, books require book shops, which can be a huge problem if you’re a publisher, but which is great for people who love books. An avid reader, I’ve never figured out how to meaningfully browse for books on Amazon, say. Their computer will suggest books to me that are based on what I bought already (which usually leads to amusing suggestions when I buy something as a gift for someone with vastly different interests) or on what other people bought. But other people aren’t relevant for me. Anonymous, computer-algorithm generated other people aren’t relevant for anyone. If you get a recommendation then that recommendation will only work for you if the source is trusted, if you know where that other person is coming from.
Here are a few thoughts of my own. For certain this discussion is not going to go away anytime soon. Paper v pixels…the debate seems to be hotting up regarding the future of the traditional book and its competition from the ebook. If one was a mainstream fiction publisher you'd have to be worried. However the photobook is a whole other story. To crudely paraphrase poet William Carlos Williams, so much depends on the feel of the paper, glazed with ink, besides the other books in the library.
The photo book is a tactile experience. Good photo books are about the look, the feel, and how often have you seen somebody pick up a photobook and smell it. I have. Often. Ink and paper can be addictive. It's all about the book as object and its appeal to the senses. Emotional, physical.
My relationship with the photobook is a random sort of affair. I own a lot of photobooks and they are distributed all over my house and studio. Of course when I'm looking for a particular book I can never find it. But that adds to the adventure and I keep discovering "old friends" and I sit and take a hit, a few pages here, a few pages there. Working from the front to the back it doesn't matter. It sort of mirrors seeing out in the world, this and that. Random.
Of course you can't totally write off the ebook and the pixel experience. It's not better or worse, just different. I remember sitting at dinner in Paris a few years ago with photographer colleague Susan Lipper who had an iPad and was able to show a bunch of us some recent work. It was impressive. Both the work and the viewing. But there is no way I'm going to get out my iPad and browse through Baltz, Graham, Tillmans, Adams, Gossage. Mmmm, might just dig out my copy of The Pond right now…