Photobook: Introduction: the Photobook Reinvigorated

Volume 2 (the last volume) was expected to be the final of the series as it not only documented but
                             triggered other further wider research
                             brought less well known books to the fore
This process continues in this third volume.

Digital progress (costs; software; on demand publishing; self publishing) since Volume 2 has allowed for the growth of the photobook.

Volumes 1 and 2 showed 472 books and was broadly chronological in approach. This volume is about the contemporary photobook and so the structure is simpler – focused on the factors that gave rise to the contemporary photobook. Thus the categorising was a result of the themes that emerged from the research as they relate to modern life. Here they are highlighted.

  • Progress Reports: The Flourishing of the Propaganda Photobook
  • Documents of Anger and Sadness: Protests and the Photobook
  • The Kids Are Alright: Desire and the Post-war Photobook
  • Monuments to Our Moment: Modern Life and the Photobook (Society)
  • From There to Here: The Photobook and Place
  • Killing Fields: Conflict and The Photobook
  • Looking At Ourselves: The Photobook and Identity
  • Momenti Mori: The Photobook and Memory
  • Cannibalizing Photography: Representing and Representing the Medium (the medium itself)

The authors are clear in their approach. They are against work that is:

  • Solipsistic and self reverential
  • Photography for its own sake

And they have given documentary a privileged position – not straight (detached formal) documentary photography but a documentary approach more in the sense that Szarkowski defined when introducing the New Documents exhibition in 1967. Ie documentary aimed at more personal ends.

Lastly they define what makes a good photobook through its purpose.

“Firstly it should contain great work. Secondly, it should make that work function as a concise world within the book itself. Thirdly, it should have a design that complements what is being dealt with. And finally, it should deal with content that sustains and ongoing interest”.

(John Gossage quoted at page 8)

This was a great introduction. It offered me a clear view of where the authors were coming from in the sense of the two previous volumes; what their approach is here and what they think the value of the photobook is. For example, they think the personal approach is good when used to document experience but not when it falls into solipsism (somthing I need to be very aware of).  

Interestingly the authors cite that the first exhibition of the self published photobook was in Cleveland museum of art in 2012 – so very recent. (While the authors note that volume 1 cited the first photobook as Ann Atkins Photographs of British Algae 1843-53).

The chapter also made me think about how I could produce a range of books: a self published limited edition print – v expensive; a smaller self published but accessible print; as well as approaching publishers …


Parr, M., and Badger, G.  (2014), The Photobook: A history Volume III Published by Phaidon


About Pete

South Londoner struggling with life, art and photography.
This entry was posted in Book, Final Products and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s