• Ljubljana / London
Miha Colner

Photobook: Discipline, Genre or Movement?

Photobook: Discipline, Genre or Movement?

Photobook: Discipline, Genre or Movement?

The column on the phenomena of photobook, first published in the catalogue of the Fotoknjiga in fotozin [Photobook and Photozine] exhibition at DobraVaga, Ljubljana.

Today, the photobook is a thoroughly institutionalised and canonised discipline in the field of contemporary photography and art, swiftly building its own theoretical apparatus and extensive production and presentation infrastructure. But this has not always been the case. Its mass appearance in the past two decades can be understood especially in the context of searching for accessible forms of public manifestation of artwork and bringing photography back to the material. And due to the high variety of artistic products that can be described as books, its definitions and classifications are mostly imprecise and inconsistent.

Goran Bertok, Requiem, 2015 / The Angry Bat

In art and culture, the beginning of the 21st century is characterised by a boundless abundance of content leading to an immense quantity of various disciplines, genres and styles–merging with one another with increasing abandon. The photobook is merely a manifestation of this state of mind. The reasons and aims of its authors and producers are of course not always the same: on one hand, they are driven by the desire for the broadest possible accessibility, enabled by technological advancements in printing and bookmaking, while on the other, by the idea of uniqueness and exclusivity, reflected in unique products and limited editions.

Opening of Fotoknjige in fotozini exhibition, Dobra vaga, Ljubljana [18 April 2018] / photo: Asiana Jurca Avci

But as with artist’s books, the photobook is not a new form of art and visual culture. Ever since the emergence of printing in Europe, reproducing images has been one of the important forms of mass communication. The appearance of photography and later the possibility of its quick reproduction in print accelerated the process further. The photobook thus became an appealing means of presenting and distributing photography in the early years of its existence and evolution, soon obtaining primacy in the field of visual culture on account of the limitless options for its reproduction and broad reach.

Asiana Jurca Avci, Tendertits, 2015 / self-published

But that was not yet the photobook we know today. The path that led to the circumstances and conditions that enabled the current growth of its production and consumption is long and complicated; even experts cannot agree on it completely. It is an accepted fact that the photobook is an autonomous form of artwork, and as such it is thus widely available and easily transportable. Unavoidably, the question of the motives and causes for using the book form arises, as well as how they changed through time. In principle, a photograph published in a photobook does not differ from one published in print or online, or displayed in a gallery. It is still the same image but can be completely different as regards the technical quality, the (usually linear) way of reading, the possibility of very intimate content consumption, and the context of its reading and understanding. The image presentation and reception definitely changes when placed in book form, but to what extent and for whom? Firstly, for the artists who view the book as an autonomous message bearer, equal to other forms of display and, secondly, for the more attentive readers who are active in this small, yet lively scene.

Joze Suhadolnik, Balkan Punk II, 2016 / Goga

Photobook development in Slovenia is largely disproportionate to global discourses as it appeared relatively late while production has always been meagre. Nonetheless, a boutique scene has evolved, operating successfully at both the local and the international level, with a micro-market also evolving due to affordability. Like the artist’s book, the photobook therefore established a scene within a scene, founded on the belief that books and print are still a highly relevant form for presenting the photographic image. It is likely no coincidence that this phenomenon started manifesting itself at a truly mass level in the era of the digitalisation and dematerialisation of photography, as a sort of antithesis to the instant publishing and dissemination of images via online channels. The photobook is perhaps the middle ground between the elitism of unique or limited-edition art objects and the carefree saturation of the visual in the virtual space of online media.

Tadej Vaukman, Grandheroes, 2018 / Rostfrei Publishing


© Miha Colner, March 2018; proof reading Ana Cavic