Sunday, 13 December 2009

'The Future of Photo-books' A response.

Miki Johnson over at Livebooks asked me to contribute to her crowd sourced 'Future of Photo-books' blog post, so here it is.

I'm no expert on the history of Photo-books, and I go to other people for that knowledge (Art Director Wayne Ford's Posterous page is one of those little nooks that I like to nip into to hear and see what books have caught his eye recently).

My excitement about the future of photo-books is all around the narrative structure, what the implications of that are both for the medium (books), the practice (photography) itself, and what opportunities this presents for the 21st Century Practitioner.

I am though equally excited about the fall-out from this rush to pixelate. The generation currently breaking into the industry have inherited a fond nostalgia for analogue processes (think Holga, Lomography or witness the dramatic rescue of Polaroid ). Developing and exploiting this demand is one of the areas that photographer’s business practices can and should focus looking forward. The book is just one element of this and I’ve written about how ‘Versioning’ can be leveraged in this respect both in my trials with Cory Doctorow and here in conversation with New York Photographers last month.

The pixelated version of the book promises what to me, is the most exciting element of 21st photographic practice : the non-linear narrative. It's the chance for the reader to engage with the subject and the subject to talk back. It represents the natural evolution of the photographer who has sourced, funded, recorded, published and (most satisfyingly) realised the material benefits from their work. The (now empowered by their Holistic Photographic Business Practice) Hyper-Photographer* in making an image, provides the forum for the subject and internet-viewer to come together and engage in a discourse.

This is obviously more directly relevant to the Photojournalist but the dynamic aspect is just as relevant to us all, whether we’re considering a portfolio that responds to the needs of the client, or a book that responds to the subject matter (think of the Living Book or the work of Rick Smolan and his Obama Timecapsule which enable readers to engage in both the processes and final products). **

None of these things represent nails in coffins of the Photo-tome and it's really boring when people start banging on that it is. These vehicles that facilitate the pixelated Photo-book (e-paper, the kindle, Apple's Tablet, iPhone etc etc - the PC for goodness sake) represent an evolution of some aspects of the analogue experience, but also a host of brand new possibilities. And as these new directions take us further away from their paper-based ancestor (perhaps thinking of Apple's Tablet and so along the route of Apps), then so the inferred value of the coffee-table trophy original will rise.

Did any one predict the upsurge in demand for Holga's at the birth of Flickr? I understand that I'm not exactly comparing like with like with that analogy and of course the demand for cheap plastic cameras didn't make up for the dramatic drop in demand for film. But what it did do is tap into demand for lo-fi analogue practice and the internet enabled it to explode, those two Austrian students (Lomography) were just in the right place at the right time right ?

Yes, just like we are now.

* For more and better reading re Hyper-Photography see After Photography by Fred Ritchin available from his blog by the same name, here.
** For a great article on Rick Smolan's work pop over to PhotoMedia Magazine.


  1. Amy Stein's post on the same topic has a link to some inspirational examples of artisanal book making.

  2. More on the future of photo books from Senior Product Manager at online publisher Tim Wright: