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Victoria Cooper+Doug Spowart Blog

hEADoN into THE FUTURE OF PHOTOBOOK PUBLISHING

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Invite and MOS

The Future of the Photo Book Forum Photo: Victoria Cooper

The Future of the Photo Book Forum ……Photo: Victoria Cooper

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RUNSHEET & OVERVIEW:

Momento Pro/HEADON Event: The Future of Photo Book Publishing

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6.00 pm    Panellists arrive on stage                                                             

6.10 pm    Doug Spowart: Welcome and good evening.

Photographers and those who make photobooks are storytellers – and – with this in mind – I would like to acknowledge and pay respect to the traditional owners and story-tellers of this land on which we meet; the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation.

This evening we will discuss the photobook and consider the opportunities for its future in Australia.

My name is Doug Spowart, I make artists books, photobooks and I have a research interest in photography and the form of the photobook.

This evening I’m joined by an eminent panel of book people with a wide range of knowledge and expertise on the topic.

The order of this evening will begin with an overview by me about the photobook. Then each of the panellists will discuss their involvement within the book and photobook world. Following that the panel will be presented with a range of questions – some sent in from attendees. Towards the end of the forum we have set aside time for your questions and comments to the panel. The forum will close and be followed by refreshments and networking opportunities …

At this juncture I would like to thank our Sponsor Momento Pro and the Organizers of the HeadOn Photo Festival, and the Museum of Sydney for this opportunity to engage in dialogue about this growing and evolving medium …

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AN OVERVIEW OF THE PHOTOBOOK

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Photobook luminary Martin Parr states:

 … that photography and the book were just meant for each other; they always have been. It’s the perfect medium for photography: it’s printed, it’s reproducible and it travels well. (Parr in Lane 2006:15)

The photobook is indeed the ‘perfect medium’ for photography and its history, the history of photography are inextricably linked with that of publishing. In fact some of the earliest experiments in photography made by Hércules Florence (1804 -1879), Nicéphore Niépce (1765 -1833) and Henry Fox Talbot (1800 -1877) were to discover methods and processes that would enable the copying and printing of texts or designs by capturing and fixing camera obscura images.

William Henry Fox Talbot, by John Moffat, 1864 By Michael Maggs [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

William Henry Fox Talbot, by John Moffat, 1864
By Michael Maggs [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In March 21, 1839, Talbot, the inventor of the negative-positive photographic process wrote to fellow researcher Sir John Herschel, about the potential of his calotype research work. In this letter he predicted that photography would make  ‘Every man his own printer and publisher’(Talbot 1839). Talbot within four years set up a printing works at Reading where he printed the images for The Pencil of Nature, his treatise on the photographic process. This was published as a serialised form of text with tipped-in calotype images.

Books illustrated by photographs as a genre of the publishing industry flourished. The photographic image could operate as a storyteller, a precise document of truth, a device to entertain and, at times, a carrier of propaganda. Early photography book works consisted of travel, geographical and military expeditions, trade catalogues, scientific and ethnographic documentation.

Although some photographers, like Talbot, may have established their own publishing ventures, usually the photographer was a supplier of images for a publication that was commissioned by someone else – a publisher, benefactor or government agency. The publishing of a book was, and still is, a task requiring the specialized skills, the entrepreneurship and financial acumen found in the worlds of publishing, marketing and bookselling. Books are created for a purchasing audience: it is a mercantile process where return on the investment in a publishing project is a necessary outcome.

What is it about photographers and their need for photobooks?

Martin Parr describes the influence that photobooks had on his own practice by stating that:

I’m a photographer and I need to inform myself about what’s going on in the world photographically. Books have taught me more about photography and photographers than anything else I can think of. (Parr in Badger 2003:54)

Parr is not alone. The publishing house Aperture – a well established international publisher of contemporary and historical photographic essays and monographs – acknowledges in their organization’s credo that:

Every photographer who is a master of his [sic] medium has evolved a philosophy from such experiences; and whether we agree or not, his thoughts act like a catalyst upon our own — he has contributed to dynamic ideas of our time. Only rarely do such concepts get written down clearly and in a form where photographers scattered all over the earth may see and look at the photographs that are the ultimate expression. (in Craven 2002:13)

Photo Bookshelf

Library

So photographers seek inspiration for their work by building their own reference libraries: have you ever visited a photographer and not had discussions about books or been invited to see their library? It then makes sense that photographers will want a book of their own. Photobook publisher Dewi Lewis exclaims: ‘I have yet to meet a photographer who doesn’t want to see their work in book form.’ (Lewis and Ward 1992:7).

Photobook commentators and publishers of the book Publish Your Photography Book, Darius Himes and Mary Virginia Swanson claim that this need is universal and emotive:

It almost goes without saying that every photographer wants a book of his or her work. It’s a major milestone, an indicator of success and recognition, and a chance to place a selection of one’s work in the hands of hundreds, if not thousands, of people. Plus it is just plain exciting to hold a book of your photographs! (Himes and Swanson 2011:26)

It seems that this ‘rite of passage’ is an important step of professional recognition as photographer, photobook maker and writer – Robert Adams – makes the following statement in his book Why people photograph:

 I know of no first-rate photographer who has come of age in the past twenty-five years who has found the audience that he or she deserves without publishing such a book. (Adams 1994:44-5)

Does it then follow that every photographer of note or the creator of a significant body of work deserves a book?

It is not that easy. Amongst others the photobook publisher Dewi Lewis argues that the market for photobooks is limited – where he identifies that: ‘photographers themselves are the largest purchasers of photobooks’ (Lewis and Ward 1992).

Ultimately unsold books are remaindered – something even Magnum photographer Martin Parr experienced. His first book Bad Weather (1982) sold poorly and was remaindered at 40p. In an essay on photobook publishing Peter Metelerkamp reports that:

Parr himself bought in as many copies as he could at that price (very much below the cost of production) (Metelerkamp circa 2004:7).

But while remaindered books can be a great way to acquire a low priced library they represent a loss to the publisher, who may then be wary of undertaking future photobook ventures.

The photographers who are successfully trade-published are usually either well known and/or are those who produce work that is of interest to a broad audience. Most notably in Australia this has included celebrated photographers such as Harold Cazneaux (1878-1953), Frank Hurley (1885 -1962), Max Dupain (1911-1992), Jeff Carter (1928-2010), David Moore (1927-2003), Peter Dombrovskis (1945 -1996), Rennie Ellis (1940-2003).

In contemporary times other avenues of photobook publishing as a documentary/art project have emerged and include photobooks by Tracey Moffatt (1960-  ), Max Pam (1949-  ), Matthew Sleeth (1972-  ), Stephen Dupont (1967-  ), Trent Parke (1971- ) Michael Coyne (1945-  ) and Wesley Stacey (1941- ) and many others. The field of contemporary pictorial photobook books could be represented by the likes of Ken Duncan (1954 – ), Peter Lik (1959 – ) and Steve Parish (1945 – ).  Then there are so many more …

So what about the photographer doing it for themselves?

Historically, the self-publishing of photobooks was a huge investment of time and money – an individual photographer’s access to the required production and printing facilities was a major barrier. Also those who have financed their own publishing exploits generally lacked the distribution and marketing connections that were attached to the major publishing houses.

Access to printing facilities were overcome by the photographer having contacts in or working in the printing industry such as American photobook-maker Ed Ruscha did with books like Twenty-six Gasoline Stations (1963). In Australia Peter Lyssiotis was able to produce:  Journey of a Wise Electron (1981) and other books by participating in a co-operative that accessed a commercial printing press during down time or on weekends. But these access points were not available for everyone who wanted to publish a book.

Bill Owen’s book

Nearly 35 years ago American photographer Bill Owens, publisher of Suburbia (1972) and other books made the following introductory statement to his info-guide – Publish Your Photo Book (1979) – a statement that may resonate with the experience of today’s photobook publishers:

Had my photographic books made lots of money I would not have written this book. I wouldn’t need to because I would be part of the establishment and enjoying its privileges. (Owens 1979:3)

It has been a long time coming, but 175 years later with digital technologies including DIY book design software, print-on-demand presses like HP Indigo, the self-published photobook is fulfilling Talbot’s prediction. It’s never been easier for anyone to make a photobooks.

Seminal  photobook texts

Some seminal photobook texts

The photobook discipline now has commentators and critics, there are awards, linkages with the artists book, supporting independent groups like Self Publish Be Happy, The Photo Book Club and the Indie Photo Book Library.

However just making a book, even your own, does not guarantee success – whatever that might be. But at this time, what are the barriers and opportunities that we in Australia need to consider and respond to as this boom in photobooks continues?

What ideas, social and political mechanisms and appropriate structures do we need to create to nurture and support this emerging publishing paradigm?

Let us now pose some questions to the panel …

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INTRODUCTION OF THE PANELISTS

See invitation blog post for bios http://wp.me/p1tT11-MT

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A SELECTION OF THE QUESTIONS POSED TO THE PANEL

  1. What is the recipe for the perfect commercially viable photo book?
  1. Are Awards/Fairs/Festivals/Exhibitions important to or essential for photo book sales and marketing?
  1. It’s often stated that the basic market for the photo book is photographers themselves – how can this market be expanded so that the photo book can become more popular for a broader audience?
  1. Is the Australian photo book consumer more interested in Euro/USA content than homegrown books?
  1. Is there a market for Australian photo books overseas? Are there mechanisms in pace to support photo books as export? Are our photo books internationally competitive?
  1. If, as a publisher, you were approached by a photographer with a photo book idea – What would you expect them to bring to your meeting with them.
  1. What kinds of books/themes or content would an independent or niche publisher take on that a mainstream publisher wouldn’t?
  1. In the photo book genre, as with other special interest low volume publication sales, will print on demand publishing become a viable option – thereby doing away with the practice of remaindering?
  1.  How can we nurture, inspire and develop the Australian photo book market?

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A SYNOPSIS OF THE DISCUSSION WILL BE POSTED SEPARATELY:

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In conclusion …  I’d like to see, and I guess you would as well, that the photobook break from the publishing paradigm that Bill Owens spoke of before.

Let’s hope that as a result of, or perhaps more modestly, that this forum will contribute to a future where photographers and their photobooks will be recognized, revered and financially rewarded for their contribution to telling their stories, our stories and the stories of humanity and of life on this planet and beyond.

Once again thank you to our panelists …

Our sponsor – Momento Pro

The HeadOn Photo Festival

And to you all —–

You are now most welcome to join us for some refreshments and networking

8.15 pm    Close…..

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Bibliography for Doug’s Overview

Adams, R. (1994). Why People Photograph. New York, USA, Aperture Foundation.

Badger, G. (2003). Collecting Photography. London, Mitchell Beazley Ltd.

Craven, R. H. (2002). Photography past forward: Aperture at 50. New York, Aperture Foundation Inc.

Himes, D. D. and M. V. Swanson (2011). Publish Your Photography Book. New York, Princetown Architectural Press.

Lane, G. (2006). “Interview: Photography from the Photographer’s Viewpoint. Guy Lane interviews Martin Parr.” The Art Book 13(4): 15-16.

Lewis, D. and A. Ward (1992). Publishing Photography. Manchester, Conerhouse Publishing.

Metelerkamp, P. (2004). “The Photographer, the Publisher, and the Photographer’s Book.”   Retrieved 12 March 2009, from http://www.petermet.com/writing/photobook.html.

Owens, B. (1979). Publish your Photo Book (A Guide to Self-Publishing). Livermore, California, USA, Bill Owens.

Talbot, W. H. F. (1839). Letter to Sir John Herschel, HS/17/289. The Royal Society. S. J. Herschel. London, UK, The Royal Society: HS/17/289.

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FUTURE-Publishing-NEW-invite

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All  photographs  © 2013 Victoria Cooper & Doug Spowart

Texts an Overview (except references as cited) © 2013 Doug Spowart

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Creative Commons-by-nc-nd.eu

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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2 Responses

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  1. This was a great review and read Doug & Vicki. Obviously something dear to my heart too and I am just a beginner. Thank you

    jan ramsay

    June 25, 2013 at 8:19 pm

    • Thanks Jan – Did you get to read the Better Photography story on ‘Looking Good in Print’ DIY Photobooks? Check it out – there’s a download of the article on the Blog…


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