Photobooks, photobooks, and more photobooks

Copyright Jim Nickelson

Claxton Projects has just launched (today!) their new website and it is pretty slick. They basically provide a short review and select photo spreads of each book. I highly recommend browsing around as the website is slick, the reviews concise and insightful, and the book selection excellent.

In other recent news, local photographer extraordinaire Cig Harvey just announced her first monograph for Spring 2012, a book which is pretty much self-recommending.

One interesting idea just publicized by Joerg Colberg of Conscientious (a photo blog) fame is a photobook meetup – everybody brings a book and talks about it, and everybody then experiences a new photobook. I’m definitely intrigued by the idea but wonder if it would work in a place like rural/coastal Maine without the population density of NYC. Though, I suppose, this particular rural area probably has more photobook aficionados per capita than most places….Any interest out there?

And lastly, a little while back Mike Johnston of The Online Photographer posted a very long and interesting article about how to temper a photobook (the way you first open it and view it) so as to maximize its longevity, particularly the binding. Apparently this was commonly known in the book industry but I had never heard of it despite my somewhat obsession with books of all sorts. Geeky, but fascinating.

Photobooks – and so it begins…

 (Jim Nickelson)I have a photobook problem. Or, rather, I used to have a severe problem with buying too many photobooks and now that problem can best be described as a mild one – at least my purchases now are mostly offset by sales of ones from my library. This post marks the beginning of a long series on photobooks – reviews and my thoughts on particular books, my thoughts on bookmaking, analysis of news in the industry, that sort of thing. Hopefully you’ll find it useful and come along for the ride.

The first question before we start is:  “What is a photobook?”. Alternatively called photography books and with a subset of monographs, I consider a photobook to be any book for which one of the primary purposes is to display photographs. Photobooks can range from retrospective monographs of a single photographer to genre surveys featuring photographs of many different photographers working in a field. Most of the books I will talk about feature one or more bodies of work rather than individual photographs, but I won’t be limiting my reach with arbitrary rules.

Why photobooks? This question is becoming even more interesting as the online viewing experiences are becoming better and better – improved color management, more work online, larger viewing sizes and monitors, and the like. For me, the reasons are twofold. First, holding photographic reproductions in the hand is still more pleasing to me than looking at photographs online, dramatic as the backlit LCD can be. Second, photobooks are one of the last refuges of the bookmaker’s art. As most printed books are becoming more cheaply made each year, photobooks are experience a renaissance in quality and originality that make them a joy to anyone who loves the printed book. For me, my lifelong love of books has found the perfect partner in my more recent passion for photography.

How do I find out about photobooks? There are quite a few very high quality blogs and websites out there that focus on photobooks all or part of the time. For blogs, in particular I recommend Jeffrey Ladd’s 5b4 (probably the king of photobook review sites), Joerg Colberg’s Conscientuous blog (wide ranging and must read fine art photography blog that also covers photobooks frequently), Blake Andrew’s blog (many insightful thoughts on photobooks and photography generally), a slick Tumblr blog called Claxton Projects that features great interview views of the books and excellent and concise reviews), Doug Stockdale’s Photobook review blog, a newish blog from the ICP library that looks promising, Alec Soth’s new home at Little Brown Mushroom books, and Photoeye’s online magazine.

And speaking of Photoeye, their bookstore is the best online resource for buying photography books, though of course eBay and Amazon have their place, and I also like independent booksellers such as Vincent Borrelli. Don’t forget your local library, either, especially if inter-library loans are available – I was surprised at some of the now-pricey titles my library carries.

The elephant in the room on photobooks is their cost – because of their relatively high production quality and typically limited print runs (usually 500 or 1000), they aren’t cheap. And if you wait too long to buy a new one, it might go out of print and then go up in price significantly. Once you have been following these books for a while you can make educated guesses as to how long you can wait on a book, but now that I’ve curtailed my book buying there are many books that will come and go and become cost-prohibitive for me. Such is life in these glorious times for photobooks – they’ve never been more popular, but that kind of popularity comes at a price.

Ok, enough talk for now. Let me know if you know of any other great sites or have any suggestions for topics you’d like me to cover here in the coming months and years.

And speaking of Blurb…

There are a number of updates to the ubiquitous print-on-demand service that might be of interest to folks.  First, the B3 program that they have had the last few years for professional photographers is ending as of March 18, 2010, per an e-mail they sent to me.  According to Blurb, they are rolling out actual color calibration to everyone – good news for all photographers using Blurb for their work – making the B3 program unnecessary.  I was very happy with the color calibration resulting from the B3 program and  hope that the new universal color calibration works as well.

Blurb has also launched a new Color Management Resource Center to help explain color issues.  It is pretty sparse at the moment but it looks promising.

Color guru John Paul Caponigro also describes Blurb’s new ICC profile and suggests converting Adobe RGB or ProPhoto RGB images to the new Blurb ICC rather than the normal sRGB for improved color saturation.   I agree with his explanation and will try this myself for my next Blurb book.

And last, but not least, Blurb is having their second annual bookmaking competition for photographers with a $25,000 grand prize and a deadline of July 15th.  While the competition is fierce, I find the deadline of last year’s contest provided me with the motivation to finally put my first book together, making the contest worthwhile for me personally.

Blurb Book update

As some of you may recall, I self-published a Blurb book last year entitled ‘Red Rock’.  Red Rock included images from my multiple trips to the Utah parks over the previous decade.  I was pleasantly surprised with the print quality from Blurb – given how many horror stories were out there, perhaps lowered expectations also played a role.  The color was very close on almost all of the images, and only one image was clearly off.  Anyway, Blurb has a new feature now where you can preview the entire book online instead of just a few pages – a feature I’ll test right here:

[Update – it works on my browser – pretty slick!].