On Photobooks

I spent a good amount of time during the MA debating the value of the photobook in terms of a key way to disseminate my work. Photobooks can feel like a limited way of putting work into the world, which is supported by arguments put forward by Simon Norfolk who has suggested that they can be esoteric and only really consumed by other photographers (2019). However, I have since started to consider the photobook as one of a range of ways to disseminate my work, which in part has been inspired by that way that my own small book was distributed and shared, leading to additional ways in which work can be seen (Fig: 1). This in part has been formed from starting to look at the ways that I can use the format over an in-person exhibitions, owing to the pandemic. Martin Parr, one of the biggest proponents of the photobook also notes their significant place for the dissemination of photographic work: “The photobook has been a fundamental means of expression and dissemination for photographers since the earliest practitioners pasted their images onto pages resembling those they would once have filled with sketches” (Parr & Badger, 2004: 7).

Figure 1: Phil Hill & Out of Place Books (January, 2021) I hope this finds you safe and well photo book.

The book creates an opportunity for my work to be experienced in a tangible way, even when it has been impossible to do so over the recent months. The physicality of the book also places an enhanced experience of the work for the reader through the materials and the way that the work is presented. Bruno Ceschel expertly provides the basis in which I can now approach my own photobook construction for the project: “The first thing you must do is demystify the idea of the photobook. As soon as you have demolished every single convention about what a photobook should be, you fee yourself to dream up something new, exciting, and most important – completely doable” (2015: 485). It is important to put down my initial reservations about what I thought photobooks represented and consider the ways that I can add value to my project with a physical art object, which can be distributed and shared easily, meaning the experience of the work is not lost through the computer screen. Crucially, Ceschel makes a further point: “The book is a journey, not a destination […] Making a book should be both challenging and fun. It should be an adventure that will make you aware of your own practice, ideas, knowledge and skills” (p. 486). This above all, has been the biggest revelation in the process of the MA and indeed this FMP.

Figure 2: Alma Haser (2015) From ‘Cosmic Surgery’
Figure 3: Alma Haser (2015) from ‘Cosmic Surgery’

Therefore, I am looking at constructing a self-published book in the first instance. One that includes elements of trace and memory and how unreliable these things are. My book should be able to be reproduced easily in potentially different versions. I am considering creating a short run edition of between 5 – 10 highly unique books with an individual hand-made aesthetic and will be a higher end product, much Almar Hasser’s first edition of ‘Cosmic Surgery’ that that contains many more intricate elements than the subsequent editions (Fig: 2&3). I will also do a further edition, which is more easily producible on a larger scale – potentially on demand. Both of these editions, will be able to be produced through the resources that I have available to me. As I work in a Further Education college, I have access to good quality book making materials and printers – albeit with some limitations that I am exploring. There are also a range of art studios, which I can potentially use for elements such as screen printing and letter press etc.

Self Publishing

David Senior notes: “To self publish, to decentralise the production of print media, created a new type of printed object – one in which artists and designers bent the rules, played with conventions of the format, and created new containers for communication” (Ceshel & Senior, 2015: 8-9), which continues to support the idea of experimentation within my project. I have not finished photographing for the project either, so both provide opportunity to continue investigating ways in which to best communicate my ideas.

Figure 5: Lewis Bush (2021) From Bush’s Instagram showing the process of zine making.

My plan is to build a good quality dummy, which can be shared with publishers and also through book dummy awards. The idea that I can also produce other versions of the book quickly and efficiently to a high standard also means that I can share the book with people within the industry that might be interested in the project. I can do this on my own terms and also continue to develop the book as I gain reaction to it, as Ceshel also discusses: “Another thing you can do to free yourself from performance anxiety is to think of your book as being in flux – each time you print, the publication can change” (2015: 486). Lewis Bush also noted this when promoting some later runs of his zine publications (Fig: 5), which embrace the hand made nature of the format and the way that later mistakes can be rectified and does not detract from the professionalism that he brings to his wide range of zine publications.

My project has become one that builds an unusual world for the reader to be taken on a journey through. John Gossage places this kind of world building as a key element for a good photography book project: “firstly, it should contain great work. Secondly, it should function a concise world within the book itself. Thirdly, it should have a design that complements what s being dealt with. And finally, it should deal with the content that sustains an ongoing interest” (Parr & Badger, 2004: 7). This idea of world building is still ongoing and I will need to consider the ways that the materials and the design of the book add value to this. 


Ceshel, B. & Senior, D., 2015. Self Publish Be Happy: A DIY Photobook Manual and Manifesto. 1 ed. New York: Aperture.

Norfolk, S., 2019. A Small Voice: Conversations with Photographers [Interview] (12 June 2019).

Parr, M. & Badger, G., 2004. The Photobook: A History Vol 1. 1 ed. London: Phaidon.

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