Lecturer and Teaching Assistant Matt Johnston was interview recentley by Sara Potter of ‘The Art Book Group‘ who have published a book looking at the future of art books, both physical and digital. The book will be available shortly but in the meantime here is a short extract from Matt’s conversation with Sara on the future of photobooks, more can be read here.
SP: Where did the idea for The Photo Book Club come from?
MJ: Essentially, the club came out of my own desire to learn more about photobooks, I was discovering old books all the time with the help of bibliophile Wayne Ford and was enthralled by them. I was also surprised that there were very few places to discuss these books, there were a number of great websites discussing the new, indie, or self-published books, but nobody was inviting discourse on the classics. I wanted to spread the availability and discussion of old and rare photo books, to discuss the authority of the photobook in our world, and to share ideas with others. I was also keen that this would not be one person’s voice but a community project.
Recently I have also been hosting Book Club meetups and encouraging others to do so, the idea here is to get a lot of the discussion that currently happens online, to happen in person around a table. Fortunately, it seems that this idea has really resonated with the community and thanks to a group of enthusiastic organizers, there are now a whole host of monthly meetups.
SP: Are photobooks an artwork in themselves?
MJ: In short, yes. Viewing a book is sometimes compared to visiting a gallery, as you turn the page (or a corner of a gallery), the impact of the previous image gives you a different context for the next image, you can use space to give a breath to the reader, or to surprise them, and images can be paired in harmony or stark contrast. When careful sequencing, appropriate printing, layout, typography, paper stock, size and design are combined to enhance the content the book holds, then yes, it can absolutely become artwork in itself. But not all photobooks are, Alex Sweetman sums this up when referring to Cartier Bresson’s ‘The Decisive Moment’ and ‘The Europeans’;
“…these elegant presentations of photographs fall short of being bookworks. The art here is the single image, not the expressive action of the whole. And this is true of the bulk of photography books, monographs, and exhibition catalogues which remain merely collections – portfolios between covers.”