I’m a great lover of photographic books. I’ve often said that for most photographs they are the place they work best. Or can work best – there are plenty of bad books as well as good books. But there are several things about photobooks that attract me.
First its the intimacy of the experience which I think is somehow so appropriate to our medium. Photographs are generally something to hold in you hands and look at – and you can do that in a book or with a box of prints in front of you. Its a much closer and more personal experience than viewing them on a gallery wall, and one that you can have without interruptions.
Important too that a book puts a photograph into the context of others. One of the things I often have said which has confused students is that “photography isn’t about making pictures.” We make pictures of course, but we – or at least I – don’t make them to make pictures. Photography for me is about telling stories, and the best place for a story is a presentation or a book. A gallery wall can sometimes do a half decent job, but often they leave me feeling something is missing.
But I do have a problem with books. I own far too many of them (and get told that frequently in-house.) Most of our rooms have walls lined with them – at least they are good insulation. It’s got to the stage where I have to smuggle new volumes in and find some place to hide them away, and that’s getting difficult as the gaps fill up.
So I’ve adopted a policy. I now only buy books by photographers I know – actually know personally. Of course I don’t quite keep to it, there are some I just have to buy. But most of what I buy now are by people I’ve actually met. And one small tip to anyone in a similar position to myself – it’s easier to smuggle in books published years ago and bought secondhand; I don’t actually lie about it, but just let it be assumed that I’ve had them for years.
So you won’t find me writing a list of my top 10 photo books of the year as most people seem to be doing at the moment. Instead I’ll refer you to the top 36 picked by Jim Casper and the editors of LensCulture, an interesting selection, though I’ve only bought one of them myself. There is a preview for each on the books to give you a real idea of what you have missed.
The volume that I do have (and am still looking for a space large enough to keep it) is the big Winogrand book. I’m still not sure that I really like it, and certainly I prefer the books that Winogrand himself produced. I’m undecided too about the whole idea of posthumous editing and rather think that he might have been better served had all those undeveloped film and unprinted negatives had gone up in a fire.
And although I like the work of Robert Adams, I don’t feel I have to get yet another book of his work – and it seems from the Lensculture preview to be the same work that I already have in the dozen other of his books on my shelves. I think too that I already have the best of Ralph Gibson and of Gene Smith. And thinking of Smiths, another book I didn’t buy this year was Evocations of Place: The Photography of Edwin Smith, because I already own the splendid 1984 monograph on him. But I think it would go on my list were I to make one. As too would the very different Shoreditch Wild Life by Dougie Wallace, a small enough volume for me to make space for. And… No, I said I wasn’t going to write a list!