Lecture 5 The Photobook: a Renaissance

New technology gets over thought – when internet began it was thought that all printed matter would be obsolete.

Photography: darkrooms will go, not need to print anymore, will all become digital.

Photography being re-birthed, more photobooks being made now than ever before. Why is this? Reaction to screens, photography’s intimate relationship with the page. Have control over it, unlike magazine. Photography went straight to the page rather than wall.


The very first photographically illustrated book:

Anna Atkins self-published her photograms of algae in the first instalment of Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions in October 1843

Books have become subject to study – books on books. Photography theory on books was hard to find in early 2000s. Critics and theorists didn’t think it needed thinking about (last dozen years).

Internet shows the quality of the book and television gave old movies a new lease of life.

The internet is a lot of things put together – includes television. When new technology comes, it adds previous technology to it, rather than replacing it.

What is a ‘photobook’? Is it event a category?

‘The compound noun ‘photobook’ is a nifty little invention, designed to turn an infinite field (books with photographs in them) into something much more definable. What chancer would dare try to coin the term ‘wordbook’ to make a category of all books with words in them? But here we are. The field needs a name and until we find a better one we’re stuck with ‘photobook’.’
David Campany, ‘So what is a “photobook”?’, Source magazine n. 79, Summer 2014

Photobook Review, published by Aperture.

“The term ‘photobook’ is recent. It hardly appears in writings and discussions before the twenty-first century. This is surprising given that some of the various kinds of objects it purports to designate have been around since the 1840s. It seems that makers and audiences of photographic books did not require the term to exist. Indeed they might have benefitted from its absence. Perhaps photographic book making was so rich and varied precisely because it was not conceptualized as a practice with a unified name. So does the advent of the term ‘photobook’ mark some kind of change?”

“There was little serious writing on the subject of photographically illustrated books throughout what was arguably the most important period for the form: 1920 to 1970. In that half century, when so many remarkable and important books were published, barely a single intelligent essay was written about them. For example, August Sander’s Antlitz der Zeit (The Face of Our Time, 1929) and Atget: Photographe de Paris (1930) received almost no critical attention, beyond a few lines from Walter Benjamin and Walker Evans. Today they are among the most discussed. Even Robert Frank’s The Americans (1958/9) attracted little serious commentary when it first appeared (although there were plenty of ranting column inches, for and against).

For all the sophistication of the photographs, the design, editing and printing techniques; and for all the nuanced grasp of how a book of photographs might contribute to its cultural moment, or become a complex document, something seemed to elude critics and commentators. It’s as if it was only once photographically illustrated printed matter had begun to be eclipsed by television, video and later the Internet that it could come under close scrutiny.“

David Campany, The ‘Photobook’: What’s in a name?
THE PHOTOBOOK REVIEW #007, APERTURE, WINTER, 2014 http://davidcampany.com/the-photobook-whats-in-a-name/

1 The Americans, Robert Frank, 1958.

2 Evidence, Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel, 1977.

3 The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, Nan Goldin, 1986.

4 New York, William Klein, 1956.

5= In Flagrante, Chris Killip, 1988.

5= Farewell Photography, Daido Moriyama, 1972.

7 Ravens, Masahisa Fukase, 1986.

8 The Map, Kikuji Kawada, 1965.

9= Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph, 1972.

9= Sentimental Journey, Nobuyoshi Araki, 1971.

9= William Eggleston’s Guide, 1976.

9= For a language to come, Takuma Nakahira, 1970.

13= American Photographs, Walker Evans, 1938.

13= The Decisive Moment, Henri Cartier-Bresson, 1952.

13= Waffenruhe, Michael Schmidt, 1987.

16= Redheaded Peckerwood, Christian Patterson, 2012.

16= U-NI-TY, Michael Schmidt, 1996.

Certainly before the widespread acceptance of photography by museums and galleries, books were a central means of expression for photographers.

Often a book is not merely a ‘vehicle’ for the photographs, rather the book ‘is’ the work itself.

The making of any photographic book requires expertise not only in photography but also in graphic design, writing, editing/sequencing, publishing technologies and much more.

Book as primary vehicle, sequencing, print quality, font, some just albums.
– Jeff Wall: Never took photobook seriously and always sees his images going straight to the wall.

Examples of books studying book:

  • Andrew Roth, The Book of 101 Books (2001)
  • Martin Parr and Gerry Badger, The Photobook: a History, Volumes I, II and III (2004, 2005 and 2014)
  • Jörg Coldberg, Understanding Photobooks (2016)
  • Imprint: Visual Narratives in Books and Beyond (2014)

Once a book is gone it’s usually gone, but some books due to popularity get re-issued.

  • Stephen Shore, Merced River, Nazraeli Press, 2006
    When working with 8×10, can’t see entire screen at the same time, see pictures within picture (sub pictures).

Between documents and fictions

  • Cristina De Middel, The Afronauts (2012)

    Created lots of discussion online The Photographers Gallery wouldn’t stock the book because it was seen to be racist.

  • Zoe Leonard and Cheryl Dunye, The Fae Richards Photo Archive (1996)

    Looks like archival photographs, a life story being told. Beginning – domestic servant to Jazz musician, number of relationships (homosexual and biracial) – ends showing her dying alone.
    All fictional, discusses the issue of white lives being shown more than black lives in archival photographs.

  • Christian Patterson, Luc Sante and Karen Irvine, Redheaded Peckerwood, (2011)

    Redheaded Peckerwood is a work with a tragic underlying narrative – the story of 19 year old Charles Starkweather and 14 year old Caril Ann Fugate who murdered ten people, including Fugate’s family, during a three day killing spree across Nebraska to the point of their capture in Douglas, Wyoming. The images record places and things central to the story, depict ideas inspired by it, and capture other moments and discoveries along the way.
    From a technical perspective, the photographs incorporate and reference the techniques of photojournalism, forensic photography, image appropriation, reenactment and documentary landscape photography. On a conceptual level, they deal with a charged landscape and play with a photographic representation and truth as the work deconstructs a pre-existing narrative.
    Redheaded Peckerwood also utilizes and plays with a pre- existing archive of material, deliberately mixing fact and fiction, past and present, myth and reality as it presents, expands and re-presents the various facts and theories surrounding this story.
    While photographs are the heart of this work, they are the complemented and informed by documents and objects that belonged to the killers and their victims – including a map, poem, confession letter, stuffed animal, hood ornament and various other items, in several cases, these materials are discoveries first made by the artist and presented here for the first time.

Reconsidering the representation of war and conflict

  • Gilles Peress, Telex Iran (1983)

    Still significant, style of photojournalism which focuses more on the social and psychological effects rather than the event itself.

  • Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger, Infidel, (2010)


  • Jaqueline Hassink, The Table of Power, (1996)

    A study of the boardrooms of the world’s most powerful corporations.
    Inserted black pages where consent was denied, acknowledging it.
    Very small book.
    Includes information about the tables at the back of the book including dimensions, where it was bought and if it was made specifically for that room.

  • Taryn Simon, An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar, 2008

    Places the public are not allowed to see.

  • Florian van Roekel, How Terry Likes His Coffee, 2010

    Photographing boring office life, generic, could be any workplace, images feel quite cinematic.

  • Jules Spinatsch, Temorary Discomfort Chapter I-V: Davis, Evian, Geneva, New York, Genoa, 2005

    A study of the world economic summits.

  • Mark Neville, Port Glasgow book project 2005

    Mark Neville’s project was the result of a public art commission, but instead of making a public sculpture, or publicly displayed images, Neville produced a documentary photographic book.
Copies were given directly to each of the 7000 residents of Port Glasgow. It was never available commercially.
    Not all the residents liked the book, some of them were burned due to religious reasoning.

  • Dana Lixenberg, Imperial Courts, 1993 – 2015

    In 1992, Dana Lixenberg travelled to South Central Los Angeles for a magazine story on the riots that erupted following the verdict in the Rodney King trial. What she encountered inspired her to revisit the area, and led her to the community of the Imperial Courts housing project in Watts. Returning countless times over the following twenty-two years, Lixenberg gradually created a collaborative portrait of the changing face of this community. Over the years, some in the community were killed, while others disappeared or went to jail, and others, once children in early photographs, grew up and had children of their own. In this way, Imperial Courts constitutes a complex and evocative record of the passage of time in an underserved community.

Extended Journalism

The book form allows for ambitious projects, often in images and writing, that have the complexity of long-form journalism or novels. Such books may take the reader a long weekend to fully absorb. Some examples:

  • Alixandra Fazzina, A Million Shillings – Escape from Somalia, 2010

    Photographs and text by Fazzina, following the fate of economic refugees fleeing Somalia by boat.
    Learn a lot about their situations.

  • Mitch Epstein, Family Business, 2003

    His Fathers generation, post war. Writes his own text, publishers didn’t make any changes.

Lyric documentary / street photography

(The term ‘lyric photography’ comes from Walker Evans)

  • Ricardo Cases, Paloma al aire, 2011
    A study of pigeon racing in Valencia and Murcia, Spain. Uses spiral binding to advantage.

Photography and process exploration of materiality

  • Jason Evans, NYLPT, 2012
    Double exposing photographs from different places. All image are an accident, will just grab a used film.
  • Maurice Sheltens & Liesbeth Abbenes, Unfolded, 2012
    Commercial design and fashion photographers, exhibit work and make books.
    Revisiting commercial work.


  • Jenny Saville and Glen Luchford, Closed Contact, 2002
    Saville’s work is very ‘fleshy’. Used glossy paper. Body on to glass.
  • Daniela Rossell, Rich and Famous, 2008
    Portraits of the mega rich – mostly women, doesn’t always photograph the source of the money.
    Women who were photographed were not happy with the representation, perhaps thought the images would be in magazines such as Felt betrayed due to the context of the exhibition and book.

Small idea, small book:

John Divola, As Far as I Could Get
Sets the timer on his camera and runs as far as he can before the shutter releases.

Essential Reading:

Darius Himes, ‘Who Cares About Books?’, in Alex Klein, ed, Words without Pictures, LACMA, 2009. On Blackboard.



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