Consider making photo books where the images speak and relate to each other,
holding hands to make a work that is greater in impact than the individual parts.” . Harvey Benge
Thoughts about Photo Books
Today, most photography is consumed on our phones and computers. Shared on social media, scrolling and scrolling as the images go by, liking and commenting here and there. Digital consumption of photography makes for broad distribution for the photographer and gives viewers lots to look at and enjoy. However, viewing a photograph in print is a different experience.
One form of a print photograph is obviously the print – owned or viewed at an art gallery and on museum walls. Another form of print is the photobook, more often owned. Like a print, the photobook is an object you can hold in your hand. Unlike a single or couple of prints on a wall, photobooks include numerous images sequenced and laid out in a manner that brings meaning to the series as a whole. The composition of the photobook is not simply about the rectangular framing of a single image, rather it is about the series, the sequence and the overall narrative.
Walker Evans suggested that “he could create a sequence of pictures that could become in and of itself a work of art,” Sarah Hermanson Meister, Curator of Photographs at MOMA has noted. “It’s not just that each individual picture was great or actually described its purported subject. But without any knowledge of narrative or chronological structure, he was creating the photo book as a work of art. That laid the groundwork for the whole artistic potential of what the photo book became in the 20th century.”
Some photobooks are simply images. Some photobooks include text. Others include materials that contextualize the pictures, such as correspondence, diary/journal entries, maps or illustrations. Some photobooks include design features that enhance the experience and materiality of the book. However, what is especially interesting across all of these formats is that a single photograph may tell a story, but a series of photographs brought together in a book offers a more complex and complete narrative. The cover design, image sequencing, accompanying text, and the pages themselves come together to play supporting roles. The books can rise to the level of art themselves, and art that that you can hold in your hand or leave on a coffee table, accessible to you and others to flip through and enjoy — sometimes seeing new things each time.
In fact, today the photobook is not just art, it is considered collectible art. Like all art, some collectors of photobooks base decisions on personal taste, knowledge or interest in an artist or specific subject matter. Others choose to collect based on artists but also with a view to rarity and seeking vintage first editions. Collectors are willing to pay steep prices for the world’s finest photography books, including: Ansel Adam’s Sierra Nevada; Walker Evan’s Let us now Praise Famous Men; Robert Frank’s The Americans; and, Henri Cartier-Bresson’s The Decisive Moment. For a primer on factors for consideration when collecting photobooks, check out this article.
The photobook has also become a way for photographers to disseminate their work to a broader audience than a single print can reach, while also serving as a way to tell a longer-form story about a project they have been working on.
If you want to explore photobooks by photographers of our time, check out: Radius Books, Aperture, Steidl, Phaidon, and Dewi Lewis Publishing. For reviews of some recent photobooks and a further understanding of the form, function and overall understanding check out The Conscientious Photography Magazine.
The more I study photography, the more it seems clear — photobooks are the optimal format.
Portable, shareable, permanent.
Behind the Scenes: Making a Book
A couple months ago a reviewer of my Roadside America portfolio of 15 images suggested I take those 15 images back up to roughly 40 images — the size of a book. It would prove to be a good experience in terms of editing and sequencing and offering a new way to look at the photographs, as a whole, as well as individually. Out of that came new ways to see the different ways the images connect with each other.
While Robert Frank’s 84 page book, The Americans, was a result of editing and sequencing from 27,000 photographs, my little project edited just a thousand images down to about 100 and from that, a book of 51 images.
The Process: At first, I went back to the raw material to see what I thought might build upon the portfolio of 15 images. As I identified those photographs, I made 4’’x 6’’ prints and then laid them out, mixing and matching sequences (see photo above). As I played with which images and sequences might work, I gradually settled in on a “master narrative” or what you might call the topics and chapters/sections of the book. Once that was settled (although the sequence of the chapters changed another couple times), I then reorganized photos and choices of photos in each section. I would often let the changes sit for a few days in order to digest the individual image placements, as well as the overall flow of the the sections and story. Of course, that would inevitably lead to more changes of both the images and the sequencing. I would go back and add, delete, rearrange the images all over again. Several months of this went by and I finally got to the point where I was no longer shuffling images around. The story was complete and images worked separately and together to do what I wanted.
Here’s a tip about all that editing and sequencing, in case you get the book (details below). The images are arranged as if you are on a road trip, coming into and going out of a town. Each “chapter” is about key elements in any community – the economy, transportation & distribution, travel, commerce, social and home.
The next steps were easier. I organized the photo files on the computer in the order I had settled on (photo below) and uploaded them to Blurb – an online self-publishing service that also includes a store front. I printed a couple proofs to see the book in reality. I made some additional changes to end up with what you can see today.
While Blurb is not the stature of the publishers I mentioned above, and there is no curator writing an introduction/essay or any assistance for wonderful design or typography, and it is mass produced, but it is nice to complete the project and have a book to hold in your hands and flip through. A good experience and a fun first effort.
Roadside America, In Black and White Infrared
If you are interested in previewing and/or purchasing the Roadside America book, you can visit Blurb. It is also available as an instant pdf download if you would prefer that.
Limited Edition of the Book: I am also printing a limited edition run of 15 signed copies of the book with a premium archival paper. You can email me if you are interested in that.
Additional Roadside America photographs are available on the website: https://binhammerphotographs.com/galleries
Prints from the Book: The images in this book are available as limited edition prints by emailing me directly. They are not all on the website.