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.

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