Dec 10, 2009

a few thoughts on books

Andy at FlakPhoto emailed a few days ago about a new discussion at Resolve on the future of photography books. where is the future of the medium? this is something i think about constantly, and thought i would weigh in.

i don't have any grand predictions of a major shift in the basic formula of the book in the next decade. i don't see the printed page perishing, nor do i want it to. the pleasure of holding a courageously designed and printed book is an experience that can not be replicated on a monitor. advances will be made in the way we experience work online, and interactive websites that support the printed matter will evolve into something elegant in themselves no doubt. but will the internet spawn a legitimate replacement for the printed page? no.

the biggest change i see in books in the next ten years rests squarely on the shoulders of us, the photographers. artists will take more control. we are already seeing this with the strong grassroots (for lack of a better term) efforts by creative photographers; publishing their own works and advancing the format by making ambitious works that compete with those of the larger presses. each year, my own collection sees a virgin publisher, or self published effort, find a home on my shelf. i adore a tightly executed book by Steidl or Hatje Cantz, but there are books that excite me just as much by smaller groups like hassla or a self published book by Stephen Gill.

as our economy continues to stumble, i'm seeing photographers become more creative and assertive in their efforts to become a part of the machine on their own terms. its inspiring, and i'm seeing the strength of these small organizations find success through their embrace of community. artists banding together to collectively rise up. Shane Lavalette's Lay Flat is a good example of a smart guy building a coalition of sorts - supporters with a stake in the success of the effort.

every time a photographer takes control of their work, and redefines the way its viewed, they raise the bar for all of us. i'm pushed by the idea of self publishing and taking more risks.

books are still history - permanent and important. whether they are stapled or stitched is of less importance to me lately. good photography, presented well, still trumps all. if its on my shelf its important to me. i covet it - that won't change.

some books, and organizations, i've been impressed with this year..

hassla's Streets and Trails by Bernhard Fuchs
upstart Radius' Saguaros by Mark Klett
Dennis Witmer's self published Front Street, Kotzebue
farewell books in general, and specifically John Divola's As Far as I Could Get.

finally, Alec's Last Days of W is a testament to what i believe is a well executed effort in self publishing. he has three successful monographs with Steidl, and follows them up with a risky edit of photographs, nudging at politics, and printed on newsprint. The Last Days of W could have been another successful cloth cover from Steidl, but his realization of the work in raw diy newsprint takes it above the safeness of following his previous books. he did what the work called for.

his Little Brown Mushroom imprint expanded beyond photography today too. keeping us all guessing.

raising the bar.

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