What May Come: On the Future of Photobooks

I’m jumping in at literally the 11th hour to add a few thoughts to this discussion generated by Andy Adams and Miki Johnson.

Point-the-first: I’m of the opinion that the photobook can be one of the most inviting, personal, revelatory and pleasurable of aesthetic experiences. When done thoughtfully, there is an actual conversation that can occur between reader-as-viewer and photographer/artist-as-storyteller. It is a one-on-one experience. There is no gallery wall, no bad lighting, no buyer’s sheet. Just you and an object and a whole lot of artistic intent.

Point-the-second: I can only address these questions (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?) from the point of view of an image-monger, and consumer of said photobooks.  Funny reading through some of the threaded posts to this question, as I share Dan Abbe’s sensibility of naming the books that made it through my bank account and into my home this year.  Because doesn’t this question also ultimately matter from the perspective of where we’re willing to invest our money?  Where we’re looking and why, what moves and motivates us to purchase what we do?

  • Bukubuku, by Masahisa Fukase via Photoeye
  • Drop of Dreams,  by Toshiko Okanoue via Nazraeli Press
  • Suginami, by James Luckett, via Blurb
  • Barakei, Eikoh Hosoe (re-issue), via Photoeye
  • Solitude of Ravens, (re-issue) Masahisa Fuksase via Dashwood Books
  • The Helsinki School: New Photography by TaiK(v.2), via Amazon
  • Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, by Kazumi Kurikami via Japan Exposures
  • Sentimental Journey, Winter Journey, by Nobuyoshi Araki, via Japan Exposures
  • Koshoku Painting, by Nobuyoshi Araki, via Japan Exposures
  • FUNICULI FUNICULA (Signed), by Asako Narahashi, via Japan Exposures
  • The House I Once Called Home, Duane Michals, via Photoeye
  • Aaron Siskind: Order with Tensions Continuing, via Amazon
  • Ralph Eugene Meatyard: The Family Album of Lucybelle Crater and other Figurative Photographs, via Amazon
  • Heavy Light, ICP catalog, ICP bookstore
  • The Model Wife, Arthur Ollman, via Amazon
  • The Dodo of Mauritius Island: Imaginary Encounters, Harri Kallio, via Amazon

Looking through my list over the past year-ish, I see a pattern that probably won’t alter anytime soon in my viewing/purchasing habits: I buy what I love, sometimes regardless of price (the two re-issues were most of my tax refund); I buy what I want to learn more about that at the time I only know in teasing/glancing ways (TaiK); I buy things that I know I should know more about, but feel a gap in my current knowledge (Meatyard); and I buy things that literally make me laugh, ache, or sigh with great or imagined feeling (everything else). I think that these variables of myself will always be present, informing and egging me on.  Stat-wise, I ran the gamut: small press, large conglomerate chain, two-person run online bookshop on the other side of the world, museum stores, small independent bookstores, directly from the artist (via online self-publishing store).

What I imagine and hope to happen within the next decade is that there will be a profusion of both so-called high and “low” forms (but by low I certainly don’t mean low-ly; quite to the contrary, I mean lo-fi, which has a kind of proletariat high-mindedness about it that I can really dig). It is my deepest hope that there will continue to be publishers like Chris Pichler of Nazraeli press, continuing to form close, evolving and loyal relationships with artists that allow beautiful collaborations like that of Masao Yamamoto, Michiko Kon, the one-picture-book series and many others. Actually, my deepest-deepest hope is that there will be more publishers like him (or that he manages to clone himself and his acute sensibility and produces 10x as many wonderful tomes).  I hope that there will still be wonderful pocket-sized editions like that of Photo Poche and Phaidon 55, in groupings and with well-written forwards that in themselves make me want to purchase them.  I hope that for emerging artistis the act of making photobooks from a good self-publisher will only get better, and cheaper, and more democratized. I hope that, in the spirit of Oscar Wilde’s dictum of admiring useless things intensely that there are still people that hand make, hand-sew and tip-in photos, that the art of letterpress does not die.  That if anything does die,  I hope that it is the profusion of photobook clutter, in the manner of Barnes-and-Noble inspired coffee-table books with insipid themes that so bloat and overshadow what is really a quality photo book experience begins to see its first decline, in a decade when the rare, the ubiquitous and sublime all continue to find their place on my shelves.

3 thoughts on “What May Come: On the Future of Photobooks

  1. I too enjoy the quiet solitude of looking at a well done photobook – many times I find it so much better than visiting work in shows where you have to contend with other viewers sometimes quite obnoxious. There is an opportunity for viewing intensity that is very unique to books.

    I’m happy with a number of very small purchases I’ve been able to afford – a particular favorite of mine recently that I enjoy returning to over and over is Summer Nights, Walking. I haven’t seen much of Adam’s work on the wall so to speak – so I wonder if I’m missing anything?

    It’s great to see you posting – hope you find energy and time to continue to do so.


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