Indie Photobooks Recap

After a day listening to people talk about photography and making photobooks, I’m convinced I should be taking photographs and making books. If for no other reason than to document things I’m seeing or thinking about. I love photography, books and photography books so why shouldn’t I make one? Even if the book sucks, it’s so easy to physically make a book these days that there really isn’t a compelling reason not to make one.

That was the overwhelming feeling I had after spending the day at Carte Blanche on Valencia yesterday. CB  owner Gwen Lafage hosted an event built around a show of photobooks from the Indie Photobook Library curated by iPL founder Larissa Leclair and Dairius Himes, Assistant Director, Fraenkel Gallery and Co-Founder, Radius Books. The day began with a Photobook Meetup where a number of people whose work was in the show or had produced books talked about the book making process. Their was a wide range of experience from Noah Beil (Gone Quickly) who produces his own books (printing the photos, hand setting and printing the type, and sewing his own binding) to Lydia Panas, who had her book The Mark of Abel published by Kehrer Verlag. Whatever the experience, there seemed to be agreement that producing a photobook was never going to make you rich, but that it was important to the process of making and thinking about images, and a useful tool that opened up other opportunities.

The afternoon consisted of three panels discussions, The Art of the Artists Book, Publishing a Photobook, and Documentary Photographic Styles in the Early 21st Century.

Michael Light talks about his book

Books are Containers of Thinking
Kicking off the first panel Lauren Henkin talked about her various book projects and how she really saw them as a chance to collaborate with other artists, be they binders, printers, or poets. John DeMerritt talked about bookbinding and how, though much of his work is still based on 18th and 19th century craft, he’s incorporating things like laser matte cutting as well. I was happy to see that he had worked with Bay Area artist Nigel Poor on a case for her Washed Books project. Though he didn’t say it in so many words, I got the impression that he subscribed to the bookbinding equivalent of the Crystal Goblet theory, that the binding should only be a vessel for the content or ideas of the artist. The final speaker, Michael Light talked a bit about some of his trade books, but the show stopper was a giant thirty-six inch tall book of aerial shots, GREAT RIFT/SNAKE RIVER/SHOSHONE FALLS, in a beautiful case built by DeMerritt (seen above). It was Light who crystallized the theme of the session by calling books “containers of thinking.”

The Period at the End of the Sentence
All three of the panelists for the second panel, focusing on DIY and small press publishing, talked about how they ended up making books almost by accident. Patrick Aguilar talked about starting up Owl and Tiger Books right out of school producing books for people he knew. John Steck, Jr., of Make Book Blog, took a class on photobooks where they just talked about books and had to figure out for themselves how to actually make a book for the final project, and Daniel Milnor (Smogranch), Blurb Photographer at Large, started out making books as promotional pieces for his photography and found that it fed his need to document.  Though they are both working with the book as a form, Steck and Milnor differ in how they use it. Milnor doesn’t claim to be a book designer. He uses the book-making process as a way to work through ideas, making a book for every idea that comes to him. Steck sees the book as the “period at the end of the sentence.” The idea given final form as an almost sculptural object. However they use the book, each speaker from this panel has produced at least one book that is in the Indie Photobook Library and it’s great to see how a community, that was really made possible by the Internet, can move beyond the virtual and result in a bunch of people sitting in the same room looking at and talking about books.

“Photography is a profound corner that sits in between literature and film”
The final panel of the day, ostensibly titled Documentary Photographic Styles in the Early 21st Century, included Kathleen Laraia McLaughlin’s ethnographic work in Romania from The Color of Hay, Eric W. Carroll’s giant diazo prints of a walk in the woods (Blue Line of Woods), and Todd Hido’s fictional narratives created from real parts for a book that will come out Spring 2013. As you can tell, the term “documentary” was applied fairly loosely, though I tend to agree with Carroll’s point of view that all photography is a document of some kind in that it is a record of the interaction of light with some chemical or electrical process. The “profound corner” quote, sited by Hido and attributed to Lewis Baltz, came towards the end of the panel. It was a fitting closing thought because human beings are hard wired to create stories and anytime you have a group of images arranged in a sequence (as in a book) the mind is going to start creating narratives.

On the whole, a great event on photobooks and a reminder of how strong both photography and the book arts are in the Bay Area. Something I should take advantage of more often.

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