Why is the photo book today more alive than ever?
Today, more than ever, the photography market is flooded with photographic books and at the same time has a deep need for themselves.
The special value that today is given to photographic books is directly connected with the development and diffusion of new digital media and with the organic contrast that has been created between old and new media of communication. Always referring to the field of photography, we can create a nominal distinction, here, between "media" that offer a direct cognitive experience, and "media" that offer an indirect cognitive experience.Among the first we find printed photography, whose privileged areas of dissemination are the book, the magazine, the exhibitions and advertising among various. Among the latter we have everything that revolves around digital technology: websites, applications, projections, video-installations: which are conveyed by digital media such as computers, I-pads, telephones, interactive screens. Digital technology has allowed a diffusion of content unthinkable before it. Moreover, it has given the possibility - at least apparently - to take advantage of art, even in the most intimate of domestic environments. This extreme closeness created a feeling of "estrangement" in the audience that felt the need for a return to the "old media" like the book and the printed image.
However, that of digital media, remains an indirect cognitive experience, which puts a further distance between the user and what is approaching.
The conveyance of art through a led screen creates a sort of subconscious alienation that partly distances the reader. In fact, although it offers many advantages, it does not manage to give the reader an adequate tactile experience that goes beyond a simple "touchscreen". Moreover, his visual experience is more partial than that of the printed page. To use a metaphor, using an LCD screen to watch an image, it's like listening to a live concert with a great stereo: there's nothing to say about the quality of the audio but it's certainly not like going to that concert.Precisely because of this cognitive "alienation" it perceives, today more than ever, the public wants to have a direct cognitive experience as it happens with the photographic book and the photographic exhibitions.
The public wants with his hands to turn the pages of a book, go in search of its smell (The smell of printed paper, totally absent in digital media), its physicality and its specificity. The public feels the need to interface with a support that can be embraced, manipulated (the graphic signs on the book as authentication of the same), marked and consumed in a random and inaccurate. Today the public needs humanity.The physicality of the book and the printed paper then, today more than ever, are required by an audience that feels the needy "real experiences", a return to the authentic,
1-“The dress that makes the monk"
But the history of the photo book has changed considerably in recent years.
It was this change that actually involved multiple artistic disciplines, including music production and literature.
However, the photographic book has undergone a twofold change that we can identify in two factors:
1-The means of dissemination, production and promotion of the book
2-The conception of the photographic book.
1-A-The means of dissemination of the book
Until a few decades ago, the market of photo books was a market that remained quiet, self-powered thanks to its fans, foundations, museums, whose production was entrusted to a relative number of publishing houses that produced and promoted a small number of artists. There were independent producers, so to speak, but their presence on the market was rather marginal and off the official circuits.
In recent years, however, there has been a proliferation of independent producers. Many of them opened their own publishing house to promote a series of photographers who could not find a space in the publishing market to make their voices heard. Others to feed a part of the photographic world that was out of print.
This circuit of independent production, however, unlike what happened in the past (in which the means of communication were the prerogative of the most important publishing houses) was able to take advantage of the new mass media, interact with them and sometimes create a symbiotic relationship. A small photo producer from Estonia today has visibility in Cape Town and Tehran. A certain Fabriano publishing house today works with a photographer from Tbilisi.
Being able to create a "crowfounding" in a website with a certain visibility, for example, has become an excellent production strategy for those photographers and publishers who wanted to invest in a project but did not have enough financial resources to do so.
The photographer who was good at social relations and in promoting his work has found in self-production a privileged field of work.
Being able to take part in photographic book festivals and trying to promote their books (or having their own product produced) has become an excellent strategy to succeed in gaining more space in the photographic market.All this went hand in hand with a greater dialogic exchange in society (and among the needs of society) between the external and formal world and the internal and informal world, between the need to talk about man in general and the desire to know personal stories, intimate, capillaries.
1-B. The family of a man-The family of that man
A part of the world of photography today feels the need for intimate and everyday stories that can represent a reality that is far from a proposed stereotype. We are a society obsessed with truth, with the looming perception of being surrounded by falsehood. Disbelief has become a form of mass belief. In the photographic field, that of telling personal stories is a need born and slowly grown that, from the great works of photographers such as Walker Evans, has moved to a middle ground (Robert Frank) to arrive at the many intimate narratives that there were yesterday (Nan Goldin) and we find today (Bieke Depoorter). To use a metaphor, if in 1955 the exhibition "The Family of man" was proposed with great worldwide success, to represent in a universal way the character and identity of man, today the title could be changed to "The Family of a certain man "and the exhibition represents, through a personal story, the same universal character. It is a process that has also invested literature, interviews, cultural broadcasts, society in general; all powered by the very structure of many phone applications that have changed our lives (Instagram, Flickr, FB etc) ...
In this desire to represent the everyday, the book has returned to being a perfect expressive tool.Its tactile uniqueness makes it an instrument of direct and intimate knowledge, a "hot" mass media unlike the "cold" LCD screen.
2-A. Not all monks have the same dress.
But the second change that has invested the book concerns his conception.
Today, a large part of the photographic book market finds its ideal form of expression, in interaction with other means of expression and in the creation of a unique and original book.
Creating photographic books, with particular papers, with covers or interiors of certain materials (read: plastic, velvet, polystyrene, cardboard, metal) with drawings, texts and more, has become a practice adopted by many photographers or artists working in visual world. The same idea of a photo book has been redesigned. Today the photographic book is no longer just a book that collects photographs that revolve around a topic, a project, a theme or a place, but also an instrument of cognitive investigation, which reflects on itself using his body as an expressive module of the its same meaning. A photographic book that talks about the meaning of the photographic book today, in a philosophical dialogue with himself and with his essence. A game of mirrors in which the absence of an image could be reflected endlessly.So a photographic book that rethinks the function of photography, questions its value as a document, as a representation of reality and that borrows from literature, philosophy and sociology (to cite only a few disciplines) the topics and communication techniques needed to explore these issues.
As an ideal means of expressing this, the book changes its appearance. We are far from here, from the cold and sober books that until the 50s were mostly widespread. A new form of editorial aesthetics emerges: the precious fabrics of the past are partly replaced by elaborate patchwork able to express a plurality and heterogeneity of society that can no longer remain silent.
In this centric movement that goes from the marginal stories and the unusual points of view, towards the major diffusion channels, the book maintains a serene relationship with the new means of communication, in a cognitive exchange that less and less involves the emulation of the one towards each other and more and more collaboration.
If initially the new mass media were seen as possible substitutes for the book and its adversaries, today we know, more than ever, that this has not happened. The book is not dead and still enjoys excellent health.On the other hand, a profound dialogue has been established between old and new mass media. An exchange that we had already met in other disciplines, such as music, but which still had to take place in the world of photography.
The website, the apps he uses, the advertising in a photographic exhibition, thus become an instrument to promote the artist and his book, just as the book becomes a tool for promoting the artist's website, where he will sell the same book , of the single prints, of the photographic services and will offer itself available to various collaborations.
And if until today, for the most part, the new mass media were seen only as free promotional tools and almost homologous to the printed book, today more than ever they differ from the book and create a discourse in its own right. Taking advantage of the potential of video that can be transmitted on any physical medium or still associate digital photographs with sounds, music or performance, are all ways to give a new dignity to the new mass media and create a market that does not live in reflected light.
4-Today, in the market, we.
Today, therefore, the publishing market of the photo book offers more possibilities but also more competition.
With the general idea that everyone is a photographer with a camera in hand (and with a smartphone), there are countless requests and offers received by publishers or authors who self-produce sometimes looking for confirmation of the their own value, and other times just desiring to see their name written in large letters on the front cover. Perhaps Warhol's claim that in the future everyone would have had 15 minutes of celebrity, was taken by someone too literally.
Precisely for this reason, today the market is similar to a large jungle, full of enchanting landscapes, holes, colored birds and poisonous animals. To extricate yourself in this maze, you need a good knowledge, a certain intuition and a good dose of perseverance. Beyond this it is necessary to have a valid project. A valid photographic project today means being able to offer a photographic work that can stand out from the thousands of similar works that are proposed every day. A solid photographic project, original, with its own voice, difficult to create, but at the same time it is perhaps the only one that would be worthwhile to print.I do not think that the point is how to succeed in publishing a book, but finding the deep reason to do it, if it exists. Precisely the uncertainty of art requires a thorough examination of conscience to understand its value before it is recognized by someone else. They are the intent and the motivation that give depth to the work that is proposed.
In an age of hyper-diffusion of messages and information, in which we are burdened by immense amounts of often useless and harmful data, it is a good practice, before wanting to publish a text, ask yourself:
-Why do I want to publish this book so much?
-What is the added value it can give to the market and the world?
- What messages do you want to convey?
- what is different from others already on the market?
This reflection would probably lead us to give more meaning to our actions and quality to what is read.