Wednesday, 13 January 2016

The Photobook World is a Ghetto

So yesterday we posted about Krass Clement along with the question Why isn't Krass Clement better-known?

It's a curious thing, because you'd expect Krass Clement to be a prime inhabitant of the Photobook Ghetto. But actually he's not. You'd think he'd be at least better-known in the photography world, but he's not. There are few articles on him or interviews, or major features on him outside his native Denmark. Maybe it's because his books are quite traditional in some ways, or generally unavailable, or he hasn't published too many in recent years or he isn't part of the social media clamour? I'm not sure.

Maybe it's because there isn't really such a thing as a Photobook Ghetto. The idea appeals (especially in Bristol, which is home to Martin Parr - if there were a ghetto, Martin Parr would be the Mayor!).

Say the word ghetto, and a couple of things come to mind. Firstly you get the Jewish Ghettoes, culminating in those of Warsaw, Lodz and Theresienstadt where the Nazis concentrated Jews in ever increasing numbers before they were sent to be worked or gassed to death in Auschwitz and beyond.

Or you think of the US idea of ghettoes where economics, urban design and a virtual apartheid system resulted in parts of cities with high concentrations of one ethnic group - African-Americans in particular.

So there's the ideas of closedness, both of not being able to get out if you're in a ghetto, but also of not being able to get in unless you fit some particular ingrained characteristic.

But the Photobook World is nether closed nor difficult to get out of. Look at the list of Best Books for 2015 and while there are old-er-hands in there like Alec Soth, or Boris Mikhailov, the top places are taken by photographers like Mariela Sancari, Dragana Jurisic, Daniel Mayrit, Laura El-Tantawy, Thomas Sauvin and Ivars Gravlejs (Mariela, Dragana, Laura and Ivars will be speaking at Photobook Bristol 2016 - not because they are on the lists, but because they make great books and are original thinkers :-) ), names which were completely unfamiliar to most of us even 2 years ago.

above images from Moises by Mariela Sancari

So it's not a closed world. If you want to be part of it, make a nice photobook that says something different. If it looks the same as every other photobook, if it doesn't have an opinion or attitude, if it's bland and tasteless, it won't cut the mixed-metaphor mustard. It really is that simple - if you ignore all the other complicated things that we won't talk about here.

So the photobook world is not closed to anybody. And if you don't want to be part of it, then you can just walk away and not come in. Or if you're a little bit interested or curious you can just drop in and stay for a little visit. You can leave any time. It's really quite open,

The key thing about the photobook world is it is not very big. It's niche. A full house for Photobook Bristol is 200 people more or less.

So maybe  Photobook Village would be a better term than Photobook Ghetto. But the trouble then is that along with the lovely, gentle imagery also comes accompanied with all kinds of negative ideas of insularity and backward-thinking. So perhaps it should be the Photobook Ghetto after all. We all know what we're talking about then and we can pretend we're all a bit badass while remaining on nice familiar ground.

Next in the Photobook Repeated Circular Arguments: How can we make the market bigger?


  1. "If it looks the same as every other photobook, if it doesn't have an opinion or attitude, if it's bland and tasteless"

    And who decides this? One person's "bland and tasteless" is another's "strong and amazing".

  2. It's not a ghetto, it's a clique

  3. Who decides. It's strangely open if you start a tumblr and are happy to give your opinion? So people who give their opinion decide. But you need to have an opinion and then give it.

    With cliques the same idea applies - they have that idea of closedness and exclusivity - but every year the new photobooks are dominated by new names.

  4. Photobookworld is too polite enough to be a ghetto and it's not insular enough to be a clique. When I asked Colin to take a look at a PDF dummy of my photobook in progress he didn't tell me 'sod off, you're not part of my clique'.

    Photobookworld is a scene (as defined by Brian Eno here :

    It's scene that involves artists, designers, printers, publishers, galleries, writers and collectors, among others. It's small, but also international. You can be part of it in a myriad of ways that often overlap.

  5. I think most of what is referred to as a 'photobook', is a picture book. If photobooks are actually considered similarly to artists books, the content of which is mainly photographic and does more with ideas of 'the book' than simply putting pictures in, it's hardly even a village. Maybe a street. Photobook Street, in Artists book, a small village near the town of Multiple, just off the Publication Highway.

    A recent example of what I'd consider to be a photobook rather than picture book is Thomas Sauvin's Until Death Do Us Part. However, for example, (excellent) Tom Wood's (excellent) Photieman is an (excellent) picturebook, but it doesn't do anything with the book as a thing, nor vice-versa, the construction of the book doesn't help the narrative in a way another shape or size of book would. It's a book of very good and very well sequenced pictures.

    No what I mean?

  6. Scene - thanks Jack. I like it.

    Thanks Craig - it is a very small world and I think there is that confusion between a book with photos in and the photobook as we understand it. And the difference is sometimes arbitrary and there's massive overlap depending on the audience etc.