« A Challenge for the Commentariat | Main | The Tenset »

Tuesday, 15 December 2009


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

As a photographer, I find looking at books and prints in exhibitions is more powerful than on the web. I also am influenced more by physical prints rather than on the computer. I spend more time with each one and really look into the quality of the print. So much of photography has been about the print, as much of the art has been in producing the print. To see thousands of images on a computer screen is to me, still not as powerful as seeing a dozen prints in a book or on a wall.

People are terrible editors. Period. This applies to all aspects of our lives. We would rather be crushed under the weight of all our junk than sell/get rid of some it or just not buy/create/output so much of it in the first place.

So a question: will more people actually see a particular photographers work now than before the interwebs? Or will it be buried in the stack with only the most prominent work coming to the fore (as it did in the past).

In other words, or we really much further ahead in terms of exposure. Yes certainly it is easier to get it out there, but is anyone looking? Truly looking?

So the internet becomes the public beta for the photography, the book (or show?) release 1.0...

Interesting. You are totally correct about the internet. I sometimes get grief from other photographer friends about my lack of editing on my flickr account.

I pretty much put everything up there that I shoot, unless it is just completely awful - or too private for public view. I look at my photostream as an easy-to-search index of everything I've shot over the last few years. If I need an image, I can find it quickly, then find the negative or the RAW file wherever they might be. That's just my image dump - except other people get to look at it, if they are interested. It's cool, though, because sometimes a photo that I don't think much of gets lots of interest, and I come back to it - sometimes I change my mind about it after that.

I've just started working with an editor, picking and printing photos, going through the 20,000+ photos I've uploaded to my flickr account - I've picked out maybe 100 so far, and some of those haven't even made it past the first round.


I agree..anyone following Lenswork and what Brooks Jensen has been doing for several years now would agree as well.

I believe that your point of view regarding the relative value of photobooks is true for the present ... and for the foreseeable future. But I see no intrinsic reason why digital delivery is incapable of supplying the same attributes that you claim for books:

"Editing. Winnowing. Sifting. Curating. The creativity of culling. The imposition of a viewpoint. Redaction. Call it what you will."

While such treatments of images may always be rare on the Net, so, too, is it rare among all printed material, the vast majority of which also fulfills trite purposes. He who only sleeps around will have a jaded view of life's offerings.

Beyond your list of photobook advantages, lack of image quality, viz. resolution, contrast, and color fidelity, is now the principal shortcoming of digital delivery of photos. Although present electronic displays are wholly incapable of achieving adequate image quality to match photobooks, that may not always be true. Even the notion that a book is valuable for its physicality, its satisfying heft and feel, may someday be matched by a form of electronic images and thereby found to be only a prejudice of our cultural history. For the present, however, there's no contest, and I agree with you that photobooks will remain for some time as the best delivery vehicle for serious photography.

I'm not quite so optimistic about the future of the photo book, at least as an art form in its own right. Meaningful sequencing, careful editing, supportive text, and artful design & typography that echo the image content are all essential parts of a fine photo book. Yet the skill and resources required to attain such standards are disappearing as the traditional publishing model implodes. Near as I can tell, we're likely to see "Blurb books" as the new model of publishing. John Paul Caponigro has already taken this route, after recognizing how hopeless the economics of traditional book publishing have become. Photo books in the future increasingly look to be a collection of images sequenced (for good or ill) by the photographer, poured into a procrustean standardized package and printed on-demand at the lowest common denominator of reproduction quality. Typography and book design will continue their relentless decline into 'lost art' status.

I have to say I share your misgivings to a certain extent, but I also have in the back of my mind what I might call "The Log Cabin Fallacy." I remember reading in a series of books called "The Foxfire Books" many years ago that an oft-repeated myth was simply not the case. They noted that it was conventional for modern writers to extol the virtues of log-cabin craftsmanship and frontier builders, noting that the skill and craft that went into things like precise dovetail joints had allowed frontier cabins to stand for more than a century.

Nonsense, said Firefox, whose authors pointed out that the vast majority of frontier cabins would have been haphazard and piecemeal, poorly crafted, and temporary--and would have started falling down almost as soon as they went up. The thing was, all those poorly-made shelters would have decayed into nothingness over the years. The few cabins that lasted were the few that were beautifully made--but they were very much the exception rather than the rule. In many cases, they would have been treasured and preserved because they were extraordinary. So taking the example of the survivors and extrapolating to generalizations about how great frontier craftsmanship was is an error.

If I think back to when I got into photography, I remember that many of the books that made the era's art photographers famous were actually very modest, small paperbacks with poor to fair reproduction quality. I'm sure you have some of them...the early work of Garry Winogrand could stand for others; I have "Women Are Beautiful" (Light Gallery Books, 1975) in front of me as I write this, and I think it's safe to say that it's no more special or better made than the average Blurb book. I have a number of such books and I remember many more.

If you broaden the scope to recall travel books and books of scenics and annuals and all sorts of commonplace photographic publications, it becomes clearer that the really extraordinary books were always rare.

It's impossible to say for sure, but I think the standard of the photo book has been actually a bit higher than it deserves to be in the past ten or twenty years. Everybody seems to think that every photo book deserves to be a big, lavish coffee-table tome, even if the contents are second-rate and even if the photographer, flying high at the time of publication, would skulk off to another field or simply fade away as being of less importance than the book might have implied. Similarly, I think you could make the case that the average quality of the average art-photo-book has never been higher.

I think of books like Aperture's "Mexico: The Revolution and Beyond" of Casasola, or "An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar," or "Cherry Blossom Time in Japan" or any of a number of other modern books, and I see really well-made books with outstandingly beautiful reproductions. That kind of quality is not exactly common, no, but it's not uncommon now, either...and I suspect that really good books in any era, at least photographic books, were always the exception rather than the rule.


And lets not forget the color-management problems: JPEGs with no color space or profiles, browsers with no color management, uncalibrated screens, laptop screens that wouldn't be right even if they were calibrated, and environments with bad light, colored light, and reflections.


The best books IMO are ones that tell a story, or at least have a meaningful coherence. They are not just a collection of great photographs.

Robert Frank, for instance, chose photographs for the The Americans that supported his storyline and sequencing. They weren't always the best technically. He discussed this in his lecture regarding the "Looking In" exhibit at the National Gallery, and his expanded book on this exhibit shows the contact sheets from which he edited the book.

Great books put images in a particular order for a reason. Narrative also can be used, or not, in many ways to support the arrangement. Which images go next to which...where to start and end...what to include, and what to omit despite technical merit...these are all elements for a successful book.

I don't see these criteria for success changing. But, unfortunately, in large part due to the web (and the ease of web book self-publishing), and the profileration of photos in general (camera phones and the like), fewer and fewer people understand the issues, process and difficulty to produce a great book. And, that's just the content. The presentation (quality of reproduction) is another important matter.

I started collecting books from my favorite photographers 30 years ago, and the best ones are far more than a collection of great photographs...although they have an abundance of them.

Before the Internet, our primary introduction to distant photographers was through a limited number of periodicals, occasional tips from friends, or hit-n-miss bookstore browsing.

Now, we can have it all with a few simple keystrokes, which is a wondrous thing. Through the Internet (including TOP) I've become familiar with a great many photographers around the world who may have otherwise remained anonymous to me (Ravilious, Hoflehner, Citret, to name a few). I have books by all three as well as books my many others.

I can only surmise the effect has been the same for others. The Internet, through sheer force of near limitless information, has made us far more aware than we were before it's existence. It only makes sense that books are doing well as photographers are now less difficult to find.

Think about it, how many photographers has Mike featured that would have otherwise gone unnoticed by the majority of us readers? For me, it's a LOT.

How is POD with adequate photo quality (perhaps better than adequate with careful choice of provider) playing into this? I know photographers who carry POD books as their portfolio.

I think my photos are being seen by more people than they were 30 years ago. I think that's generally true for people with web galleries. People are seeing a huge number more photos than they did 30 years ago, it's not completely a zero-sum game. I don't think this makes it any easier to make the step up to the top ranks, though. It just makes it more fun where I am.

Another photographer and I were having a conversation about this very topic yesterday over coffee. The expense of putting on even a minor "show" at a coffee shop or cafe' is too expensive for most. It was her contention that a photo book was the way to go and I plan on looking at Blurb and Lulu next to see what self publishing is like.

I looked at flicker once years ago and after an hour gave up trying to find something to view worth the time. There's are better results on photo.net to a search, but still you must have the patience of Job to weed and cull through.

I have the same feeling toward facebook and myspace where it seems there is almost a "competition" to see who can load the most volume of images on the web. The previous commenter who posted 20,000 images is the norm these days.

I forget which famous photographer said it, but they stated that; if over the course of a year they captured 10 - 12 images worth printing and sharing, then they had a good year.

Perhaps the current success of the photo book is because the internet makes it so much easier to be aware of what books are available and easy to buy them when we decide what we want. I'm nearly always disappointed by the lack of choice and/or the prices when I look for photo books in a real (not virtual) book shop.

There's no denying that flickr is a phenomenon but how frustrating for the casual visitor! - a pity there isn't an unspoken rule that says "Please only upload your best photos - i.e. the ones you care enough about to have printed first"

Cheers, Robin

Yes. The more time I spend online, looking at other photographers' work, and the more time I spend going through my own exposures, the pickier I get in terms of what makes it to my site. One of these days, in fact, I should go to my gallery and start the culling process there - things that a year ago struck me as brilliant now look trite and amateurish.

One thing about photobooks is that now the possibility of print-on-demand self-publishing is now available to ordinary people. I've had one such project in mind for a while now, and have been adding to an ongoing collection of images from which to cull the images for the book. I don't know when I'll be ready to begin the process, but I figure it'll be in that little window between feeling like I've exhausted all the possible variations and being sick of the project.

But what about (some) photography blogs? Aren't they somewhere in between the careful sieving of a photo book edition and the junk piling of Flickr? Taking your yard sale analogy, the photo blog version could be something like:

Here are the best three photos from my visit to a yard sale last weekend. This is my 247th post on the “yard sale” series.

Mike Said: "So is the photo book dead? Dying?
Not hardly. In fact—against the odds, one might have guessed—it's flourishing as never before."

What are you basing this on? Sales numbers? Number of new titles published? Personally, I just don't see evidence of this.

Mike, your piece is so spot on, I trust it will be met by a parliamentary chorus of "Hear, hear!", plaudits, all heads nodding in agreement.
Michael Meadows raises a valid point though: there is no intrinsic reason why digital delivery should be incapable of supplying the same attributes that you claim for books. None except one: cost.
Low-cost high-bandwith media invariably attract a high proportion of junk. High-cost media attract only the junk that sells. This leaves a small but still substantial niche for quality and value.

I expect printed photography books to go into two quite different piles. Either 1) poorly reproduced slock, and 2) really fine art books (such as the Lodima pressings), with little or nothing in between.
Most serious presentations will be on digital medium, such as the over-the-web Kindle or on profesionally produced DVDs.

Isn't it possible the photo book was successful largely because people wanted to own the work of certain photographers and couldn't afford the original prints?

If they could have afforded original prints, the photo book might have enjoyed considerably less success. Second best is an economic choice, not an aesthetic one.

Geoff Wittig wrote "Photo books in the future increasingly look to be a collection of images sequenced (for good or ill) by the photographer, poured into a procrustean standardized package and printed on-demand at the lowest common denominator of reproduction quality. Typography and book design will continue their relentless decline into 'lost art' status."
To which I would add "but it need not be so".
Just as the popularisation of the camera and the chemist's shop enprint were worlds apart from the art of the beautifully conceived and executed fine print (and did not kill it) so the pre-formatted book template is the inferior relative of the beautiful print-on-demand book with beautiful/meaningful prints designed and sequenced in a considered manner and further enhanced by complementary typography and layout and of course the words themselves. Many won't bother but some photographers will choose to develop their book making and writing skills to go with their photography and others will get help from friends and professionals. They will all share the common objective of attempting the best creative expression and embodiment of their vision that they can with the techniques and materials available. Blurb and its like increase the standards and options of what is offered every year and it's still very early days. Print-on-demand has a truly remarkable potential to become a fitting medium for those with sufficient creative talents to fully explore its possibilies. We may not have yet reached the technological goal of every individual, given the skill and imagination, being able to produce a great book at a comparatively low cost, but we are well on the way there.

"How is POD with adequate photo quality (perhaps better than adequate with careful choice of provider) playing into this?"

I have nothing against POD books in theory—they're useful for many purposes. All for the good.

However--and I think Geoff will agree with me here--they're not a substitute for "real" books produced by publishing companies IN MOST CASES. And I'm not just talking about their quality/cost ratio, although there's that. The reason is that a published book really does benefit at least moderately—and more often, greatly--from the ministrations of a variety of professionals. That begins with a practiced, objective decision as to whether the work is strong enough to be published in the first place! And it continues through editing, design, typography, sequencing, repro quality, and printing--all the decisions that go into creating a published book help the work to breathe, to flower, to "sing." A good book is a collaborative process. I've been a professional editor, and yet my own POD book had lots of mistakes in it. I would have hired an outside editor if I could have afforded to.

It might be true that a few photographers are as good at publishing--bookmaking--as they are at photography. I might point to, say, Ralph Gibson as an example. But even the best self-made POD books could have benefited from help in some area or other of their production.

Again, this is not an indictment of POD or self-editing--those things are what they are, and insofar as they enable people to work, so much the better. My own books were POD...I have nothing against it.

But I don't think they're quite the same species of beast, is I guess what I'm saying.


I have 15,000 exposures in my photo library. A couple dozen on my website. Just sayin'.

Mike -

You are the little kid who pointed out the King has no clothes. Bless you. Hooray.

As someone who is starting on his first commissioned book I agree with the point in respect of editting. Some 10% of my frames make it onto my website, but the number that make the book will be a lot less. I have to work with authors and publishers and that external review process will (I hope) make a much better project.

But I do think that the digital age means that one does get more good prints. I had a portfolio published in Lenswork - there were 70 odd shots in there from 2000 or more frames shot in the field. Maybe a dozen went into the magazine. As a guy with a full time job I would NEVER have had the time to process that many photographs with the level of control I had in the film age. In fact, I would never have bothered with a darkroom (at the time I lived in a small flat in London). So the work would never have existed.

That is the good side. The bad obviously is the neglect of craft over volume. But I will take flickr as a small price to pay! But for me the internet is not the finished product (although it is for some). I use it to share work with the maybe 5 people who are interested to see it in this form. For me Lenswork was a 'finished' product. I also bind my photographs into small portfolios - this is a finished product, and the book will too hopefully. They serve a different pupose, for me.

The real issue on the web and digital in the wrong hands is that it promotes a general lack of commitment. Committing yourself to a set of pictures, to proper editing, publishing etc. There is no penalty for not being stringent with yourself or your work. With books, and also with film, there is a tangible financial impact with everything you do. That can be educational. Want to fund a print run of 1000 for a set up mediocre photos in a book? Surely not.

Do Flickr, pdf etc and you will never feel any pain. But to get discipline and to look critical at your own work, possibly with the help of others, that will require commitment and the risk of painful learning, financial, emotional and otherwise.

New Freedom, yes... but with strings attached. Ultimate democracy is everyone publishing and everyone getting the same attention. Wouldn't that be great?!

Yes there are too many bad pictures online. But as a result, there's another dynamic at work. Those photos get edited by strangers ! I don't browse photo sites. I look at photographers works that I see recommended by various people (first and foremost Mike with his "Random Excellence" and other posts). And those public sites have ways of browsing that are affected by popularity.

I think you're right about photo books. I hope you're right about photo books. I like them more than ever. I like looking at a well designed website showcasing the work of a single photographer, ideally in galleries that show a portfolio that's well thought out. I hate browsing flickr. Aside from the randomness of the content, the presentation is awful. It's like looking through someones envelope of 4x6 prints, rather than looking at a book or a gallery.

The ability to print my own photo book is one of the things I love about digital.

My own web gallery is a disaster - a poorly thought out mishmash of old stuff plus "practical" things I share with friends & family. My idea of a decent online gallery is to approach as if putting together a book. I've read Mike's thoughts on creating a portfolio (and hopefully still have a link). One of these days.

Just speaking for myself, I don't care if I view a photograph in a book or on the Internet, either way they're reproductions. Really, the Internet is more convenient since you don't have the loadstone of having to purchase and store a book. I can understand buying a photobook if you want to support a certain photographer, but other than that, personally, it will always be about the print.

I don't care to have a web site - I'm not into selling prints or attracting admiring comments and the dross (as well as the jewels) in the public domain collections is just too huge to be bothered with. Nine tenths of it is not worth looking at.

I do buy the occasional published book. Picked up a couple by Charlie Waite on a recent visit to the UK. But in general my photography in recent years has moved away from the photo album of mounted prints and more into the preparation and presentation of a project of some kind. Most recently I produced an edited selection of about 60 black & white (film) shots I took during a week in Paris and also a second book over nearly 100 B&W images of thew UK and Ireland taken on the same trip.
Had them printed by Blurb with quite satisfactory results, given the negatives had to be scanned, tweaked and digitised. Many of the shots are not really "knock-your-socks-off" images in their own right but as part of a body of work they satisfy and it's a convenient way to collect and display your work to family and others. A modern "high end" photo album if you like.

I've done about thirteen books this way now. Some are just a holiday record but a few have more serious intent - to present what I'm capable of and maybe leave the kids with something to remind them of my pastime.
The project for this (Southern) winter is to select a number of the better images and print them in the darkroom. Then they might be used for framing or display at home or at the monthly Camera Club Print Competitions.

So, "Photography Books" like Charlie Waites or Joe Cornish or other eminent photographers past or present - yes, I do buy them.
But "Photo Books" like I have printed at Blurb or Momento - yes, I do create them.

Mike is on target again, as usual. The 'skillset' required to design and typeset a really beautiful photo book is quite different from photography per se. The quality gap between really excellent 4-color web offset photographic reproductions and what's attainable via something like blurb is non-trivial. The skills required to translate even the best pile of prints or digital files into a fine book are very specific and not widely possessed. They're not something you can pick up in an evening or two; folks used to serve apprenticeships for years learning this craft.

I had the opportunity to speak briefly with Eleanor Morris Caponigro, one of the finest designers of photo books over the last 30 years. She lamented how even high-end book publishing concerns have relentlessly lowered typographic and design standards, and how contemporary publishers are increasingly unable (or unwilling) to see the difference between fine printing and "good enough". The brutal financial pressures on the publishing industry promise more of the same down the road.

"The real issue on the web and digital in the wrong hands is that it promotes a general lack of commitment."

What? Really, the wrong hands?

I recently completed my first book of portraits which I exhibited at a company art show and then donated to a local service group. They were my subjects. There is no doubt that the quality of the images in the book is better than those in my web galleries. That said I don't plan to stop posting on the web.

As a guy with a full time job I would NEVER have had the time to process that many photographs with the level of control I had in the film age. In fact, I would never have bothered with a darkroom (at the time I lived in a small flat in London). So the work would never have existed.

Yet people managed to produce photo books before digital.

Good is still good. You can pick your top ten favorite photographs but now, with the internet, you have to sort through thousands to find your top ten. Used to be just hundreds to choose from. As my photo buddy says, "We are no longer photographers, we are editors."

With this increased ability to produce lots of good photographs my style has evolved from the search for a "greatest hit" to a more thorough presentation of a theme illustrated with multiple pictures and text.

Photography evolves.

photo-books? Did you mean these strange objects made of paper that some very rich people have on their coffetables and that mostly contain artistic pictures of the unfortunate?

Way back when the saying was that the 'difference between a professional and amateur photographers was the size of the wastebasket'.

Mike, I am not against photo books. I have shelves full of them. Nor am I remotely interested in "mummy look what I made" photo-sharing sites.

But the Internet is a lot more than just Flickr. True, viewing quality for photos on the web is merely passable (like listening to music on an iPod) but that has not stopped me collecting links to online portfolios of some amazing photographers.


These sites are also highly selective in terms of content, free to view, and a lot easier to find - there are probably many amazing photographers I would never have discovered otherwise.

Some of them are by complete amateurs as well. I don't think that has ever been a barrier to quality, only to exposure ('scuse the pun).

Longer term, the appropriate convergence of tablet PC and high quality reader will probably consign the printed page to the margins (sorry I can't help it). On that basis, I think the "online restrospective" will emerge and the resurgence of the printed photo-book may prove to be something of a dead-cat-bounce...

I don't see how liking traditional photo books is in any way inconsistent with liking the Intenet.

As a voracious consumer of photographs, I love the Internet -- it offers more than I could ever have dreamed. Although I live in NYC (and thus have access to seemingly innumerable galleries and museums) and own many (too many) photography books, I could never see as much photography without the Internet. And, yes, the quality is not as good, but it's a lot better than seeing nothing.

As a photographer -- an entirely unknown amateur in the original sense of the word -- the Internet is also more than I could have hoped for. Anyone in the world can see my work, anytime they want. What more can I ask? If the work sucks, or is not sufficiently pruned / presented, or does not generate interest, that's fine. That's my problem and no one else's.

At least the work is available-to-be-seen -- something that would never have occurred before the Internet. That's all I want.


And, Mike, I can't believe a BLOGGER is exhorting the virtues of gatekeepers (such as publishers, editors, and gallerists) over the democratic 'Net! OF COURSE we would all like to have our work professionally produced, edited, and marketed. But that's not going to happen for the vast majority of artists and photographers -- and not simply because the work is not "good enough."

A quick stroll through Chelsea galleries, e.g., confirms that art-world gatekeepers are far from infallible. Gatekeepers have their own agenda. Sometimes it's merely a matter of taste or fashion, other times it's a matter of saleability or simply who-knows-whom. And the history of art tells us that this has always been true -- for every Picasso (praised by the artworld during his time) there's been a Van Gogh.

I know this is cliched, but the Internet, and technology that permits things such as on-demand self-published photobooks, bypass gatekeepers and allow the unwashed masses to present their work directly to a potential audience without an intermediary. And this is a great, great Good Thing.

Although 99% of self-produced product may suck, so does much of the stuff that comes through the gatekeepers of the art and publishing worlds. And, in the end, why would anyone object to MORE information, MORE freedom, MORE content? Isn't it better to have all the work out there available to be seen, and let the end viewer sort out what's good and bad?

I'm watching related things play out in photography and fiction writing; more people are writing and photographing than ever before, and more of them are showing their works to other people, and most of it isn't very good. "Fan fiction" is the big source of bad fiction writing online, but it's also extremely popular, with "top" authors getting thousands of readers and some of them making the step to professional publishing.

The "gate-keeping" function of publishers is often discussed -- and all of us know examples of work that we and friends would love to read, that couldn't get published through normal commercial channels. Still, most of the time they're right. I've seen some of the unsolicited manuscripts that land in the "slushpile".

Copy-editing and book design are specialized skills unrelated to writing (or photography), and they're tremendously important. So is the broader editorial function, where they suggest the story should go a bit differently, and this scene really belongs in the previous chapter.

The actual step of reproducing photos in 4-color (or more) printing doesn't exactly have a counterpart in fiction publishing, but is indeed yet another tremendously intricate expert job. However, color management is having an impact here; it's less black art and more science (may even have reached > 50% science!).

I can produce a coffee-table quality book in terms of color reproduction in small quantities for myself, though. Instead of Lulu, use the press-printed books product from WHCC.com or equivalent photo lab. That gets you inkjet or equivalent original pages, bound as a book, on good paper.

I feel that the internet and web sites are rather lousy places to show fine art images. The resolution creates a rather iconic version of the image, but misses the real intent, which is often a function of resolution (and pixel density over area).

But the book alternative is not exactly a piece of cake. To print a book of works correctly gets mighty expensive---solidly mid five figures and higher. Today, most books, even by master level photographers are self-published in one form or another. Book companies have all but dried up and certainly are not willing to take on such financial risks without extreme caution. So then the books you see are often based on the economics of the artist (taking a big pile of money and turning it into a little pile). No one in the publishing world is waiting around for the next grand adventure in photography to come their way.

"photo-books? Did you mean these strange objects made of paper that some very rich people have on their coffe tables and that mostly contain artistic pictures of the unfortunate?"

No, I think we mean the photo books that many average professional and amateur photographers have on their bookshelves that provide a constant source of understanding, inspiration, and education, no matter what their content.

When you say "the photo book is flourishing like never before" I'm not sure I know what sort of book you're referring to. Do you mean traditional books published by a company that works through a distributor and pays the photographer an advance on sales or do you mean print-on-demand books self-published and distributed by the photographer? Collections of photographs uploaded to a photo sharing website are just that. Just because such collections are flourishing doesn't mean that books are flourishing. Please clarify.

Print-on-demand books are new to the web, but not truly new; the previous, analog-world version was the "vanity" book.You could be as simple or elaborate as you wanted to be with your book, as long as you paid for it. The simplest books were typescripts, often hand-cut to "book" size, and professionally bound. You can see quite a number of these in state historical libraries, usually as family and local histories. Many have photos bound in with them. At the top end, you could be as elaborate as you wanted, and some were *very* elaborate.

But I have never, as far as I can remember, seen a vanity book (or a POD) that was as good as an ordinary-quality commercially published book. There's a reason for that: a commercial book has somebody else's money behind it, and that person is usually not a romantic. He or she is not publishing the book because it makes them feel good, but because they hope to make money from it. That means that a severe judgment has been made before the process ever started. Those judgments are not necessarily the ones people on this forum would make, based on aesthetics alone, but they are made without a lot of wishful thinking about quality or meaning.

(There was a photo book about Madonna, which may have been called "Sex," and which had aluminum covers, apparently intended as fire-proofing, and I feel safe in saying that there are a large number of people on this forum who could have taken better photos. But it got published because it featured many photos of a naked Madonna. A very bad book which sold quite a number of copies at a high price, because the publisher, if not the photographer, knew what he was doing.)

One of the things that techie people tend not to think about, when touting a bookless world, is the human dimension, which affects technology in a lot of ways. I've been collecting ways that humaness affects technology, especially in regards to photography, and I'll probably write something about it...maybe.


"I don't see how liking traditional photo books is in any way inconsistent with liking the Intenet."

Did I say that? I didn't say that. I said that photographers now use the 'net to communicate, a function books used to have to serve, and the use, functionality, purpose and meaning of books has changed accordingly.

"And, Mike, I can't believe a BLOGGER is exhorting the virtues of gatekeepers (such as publishers, editors, and gallerists) over the democratic 'Net!"

Oh, I'm a gatekeeper all right. You have no idea. There is a constant clamor at TOP's gate. To the tune of many dozens if not literally hundreds of contacts a week. I gatekeep for a living, practically.


Steve Jacob,
I featured Nuri Bilge Ceylan on this site (actually the old site, same name) on February 26th, 2007. Just sayin'.


"But I have never, as far as I can remember, seen a vanity book (or a POD) that was as good as an ordinary-quality commercially published book"

Not to nitpick, but Josef Hoflehner self-publishes. The quality is absolutely amazing and beats most of the "commercial" books I own.

John Camp's comment above is spot-on-target in every way. Brilliant.

Why is everyone so worried about all the bad art that is out there now? Most of it has always been pretty dreadful.

Have you never seen a cave painting? Even I could have scribbled stick men and a sort of horse/cow/goat/dog like animal with some charcoal.

I wish my photography was better but I am definitely better than any stinky old caveman.

Just sayin'

"Steve Jacob,
I featured Nuri Bilge Ceylan on this site (actually the old site, same name) on February 26th, 2007. Just sayin'.

I will check that out but I commend your taste.

I went to see the full exhibition of his cinema-scope prints at the National Theatre (mezzanine gallery) in London about the same time (Feb 9th) when his film "Climates" premiered in London's art cinemas. Haunting and utterly captivating. And this collection was just location scouting for the movie. Incredible.


"I went to see the full exhibition of his cinema-scope prints at the National Theatre (mezzanine gallery) in London"

I'm jealous.


Mike, thanks for continuing AA's dialog about the Future of PhotoBooks.

I expect that we will continue to see 1.)general audience photobooks (e.g. "Beautiful Houses of Italy" type books), 2.) really beautiful, small run photobooks (pub from Nazraeli Press, Radius, Steidl, Twin Palms etc) 3.) continuing evolutions with the Print-on-Demand press (much like the ink-jet printing evolution over the last five years; more paper options, better print control, improved binding options, etc and hopefully some time soon, better pricing). Wonderful stuff and looking forward to the next 10 years!

I know this is not the type of photo book you are referring to, but I have found that the ease with which one can now "self" publish through services like My Publisher and Blurb to provide a great opportunity to learn to edit.

I am working on my first book right now called Faces of Malibu http://www.facesofmalibu.com and i would for sure hope that people still want a printed book. As a photographer nothing is cooler than looking at high end prints with high end photography. The web just has a bunch of trash before you find good work.

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007