I have been looking at my own book collection for some inspiration into potential exploration into publication.
I very much enjoy photo books and collect them enthusiastically. It is worth noting however, that the photo book might not be an effective end in itself, as it can be quite a limiting format to display work. There is a great deal of prestige in having a book published of course and I would absolutely love to have one of my own. The audience for these books is quite limited however and it is important to understand this before chasing this as an output for a photography project, which should consider other ways of presenting work and making it accessible.
The primary market for photography books is other photographers, which the demographic is notably white middle-class. This has been one of the reasons why Simon Norfolk, for example, stopped producing books as a matter of course, noting that they are more about an insular self-congratulating between photographer that does not look outside its own bubble (2019). Norfolk is quite damning, but makes a solid point, if you are producing a body of work, especially one that is socially concerned, having 300 books produced will not reach enough people. There is an argument for the photography book as a way of opening doors into other avenues of publication, for example Vanessa Winship’s ‘She Dances on Jackson’ (2013) also has features on the BBC (Coomes, 2013), and The Washington Post (Dickerman & Winship, 2018) with the latter being published in 2018, long after Winship’s book has sold out and a collectable rarity. Of course, any work by Winship is going to have a life beyond its limited publication, however this is an example of how a body of work can continue to reach audiences beyond its printed origin. There may be a need to consider the secondary market for photography outside of photography. Hoxton Mini Press are quite good at creating these and I have regularly seen copies of Jenny Lewis’s ‘One Day Young’ (2015) in parenting shops.
Understanding that I would ultimately like to produce a photo book, however also considering that the project must exist outside of only that format is important for the effective dissemination of a photography project. This is another good reason for my Landing exhibition to be displayed online as it makes the work accessible to all with the option to purchase a limited-edition zine for anyone invested in collecting and rarity.
Looking at different binding and publication options
Knowing and understanding that I have no authority in the reading of my work by others, postcard sets present a really interesting way to present a body of work. I have used this method in the past as a marketing tool to send out to potential editors. One of the biggest draws to this format is the ability to spread the work out in front of you and create your own narratives by placing images together (Fig: 1). The challenge of the book is that the sequence is fixed to the linear journey through the book format. This was pointed out by the curator of Jack Latham’s ‘Sugar Paper Theories’ exhibition at the Royal Photographic Society (2019), who stated that the audience of the exhibition had free reign to create their own version of the narrative, which very much suited the conspiracy and mystery of the ‘Sugar Paper Theories’ work. Postcards have the advantage of being a tangible art object, which is not limited by any sequenced narrative of the author. The size of a standard postcard makes them ideal for mailing out to potential audiences and buyers of work, however the size could be considered limiting as it is quite a small size compared to many other books.
Lewis Bush produced a postcard set of his work ‘A Model Continent’ (Fig: 2), which is glued on one edge to be flicked through as a book. It is quite delicate and potentially designed to be taken apart by the reader, however I have tried to keep them together. This continues the idea of the object having rarity but removes any advantage that the postcard had as a flexible narrative presentation.
Saddle Stitch Binding
In 2015, Portrait Salon created an interesting concept for its exhibition catalogue, which links to the flexibility of the postcard. The book was essentially a sticker album where you would have the book and a pack of stickers that could be placed in any way that you wanted (Fig: 3). This created a method of giving the audience agency in the way that the work could be read and placed together. Once the stickers are placed they are of course fixed.
Saddle Stitching might come across as lower quality than a traditional case bound book. It is much more accessible financially however and can be created as a very high-quality art object in itself. For example, Sadie Catt’s book ‘Woodstock’ (2019) is a beautifully produced saddle stitch book with a very nice finish (Fig: 4), which has been stitched not stapled (Fig: 5). I also really like the letterpress wrap that creates a greater sense of the book’s quality.
Ewen Spencer’s self-published book titled ‘Open Mic’ (Spencer, 2005) is perfect bound and creates an exhibition catalogue aesthetic (Fig: 6). This is another method that is more accessible to self-publishing and does make the resulting publication look more professional over many saddle stitch books that can come across looking like zines. What I find challenging when reading through Spencer’s book is when an image is printed across pages, much of it can be lost to the gutter of the book (Fig: 7). This feels like it is because of the binding method that is quite tight and does not open out.
Considered the best binding technique (Philipson, 2017), it creates a significant sense of the quality of the book. As an object it seems to denote the significance of the photography within and understanding the hard work that goes into getting a book published, there is also the prestige of having the work in a hard cover book. I have a few Hoxton Mini Press books who’s aim is to create high quality but accessible books, primarily focused on East London (2020). The covers are generally linen with an image (Fig: 8) and smaller in size than many of the books that I have. The size compares to Spencer’s ‘Open Mic’ but is more easily read and images viewed (Fig: 9).
Unfortunately, my ability to experiment with publication is limited by the current situation, however I was lucky enough to have some printed pages from the previous modules and a printed-out PDF book dummy I made prior to the MA to use.
I am fairly used to creating PDF books using InDesign, however printing them out is not something that I have been too concerned with up to this point. The challenge is getting the pagination correct when setting up the printer (Fig: 10), which was my aim when I printed these out. I still have some research and development to do in this area as although I was able to work out pagination for saddle stitch (Fig: 11), I could not get the case bound version to print correctly without setting up a separate InDesign file for each of the book’s signatures (Fig: 12).
I created a saddle stitched booklet using black thread with holes I punched myself. A little uneven without the correct tools for the job but useful to understand the process (Fig: 13). My finished book is rough but works, albeit with some loose pages (Fig: 14).
Figure 13: Phil Hill (July, 2020) Saddle Stitch outcome
Using some of the lessons learnt from the saddle stitch, I have also created a booklet from the signatures I set up, without a cover for now. Each signature is essentially a saddle stitched booklet, which is then sewn together in order and glued. Again, mine is very rough but works well as a booklet (Fig: 15)
I would have liked to have made these experiments with my current work in progress research project, however it has been really valuable to explore and better understand the differences between bindings. Moving forward, I think that i am still very keen to produce my work in a physical medium. As I am waiting for the delivery of my Landings Zine (Fig: 16), I can use these lesson to develop that process and refine it ready for my WIOPP Submission for this module.
Figure 15: Phil Hill (July, 2020) Case bound binding test
Bush, L., 2016. A Model Continent. 1 ed. London: Self.
Catt, S., 2019. Woodstock. 1 ed. Frome: The Lost Light Recordings.
Coomes, P., 2013. Each picture paints 1,000 words in Vanessa Winship’s US photos. [Online]
Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-22508301 [Accessed 15 July 2020].
Dickerman, K. & Winship, V., 2018. Deeply poetic photos focus on the nexus of ‘chronicle and fiction’. [Online] Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/in-sight/wp/2018/06/06/deeply-poetic-photos-of-the-junction-between-chronicle-and-fiction/ [Accessed 15 July 2013].
Hoxton Mini Press, 2020. About Us. [Online] Available at: https://www.hoxtonminipress.com/pages/about-us [Accessed 15 July 2020].
Latham, J., 2019. Sugar Paper Theories. Bristol: Royal Photographic Society.
Lewis, J., 2015. One Day Young. 1 ed. London: Hoxton Mini Press.
Norfolk, S., 2019. A Small Voice: Conversations with Photographers [Interview] (12 June 2019).
Philipson, S., 2017. WHAT’S IN A BIND? 4 TYPES OF BOOK BINDING – PROS AND CONS. [Online] Available at: http://blog.ironmarkusa.com/4-types-book-binding [Accessed 15 July 2020].
Spencer, E., 2005. Open Mic. London: ESbooks.
Winship, V., 2013. She Dances on Jackson. 1 ed. London: Mack.