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Jeffrey Ladd on Errata Editions

Books on Books 1-12
Errata Editions embarked on an exciting publishing project in 2008. The Books on Books series is a unique venture to bring out-of-print volumes from the canon of photobooks back to their audience. They are scholarly editions, seeking to approach a complete representation of the original edition, highlighting not just the work contained inside, but the object itself. Beyond a reprint or facsimile, the Books on Books series acknowledges the importance of book design and materials, the images contained within showing reproductions of the actual photobook, flipped through, page by page. The result is a viewing experience not just about the work, but the total package, expanding the discourse on the photobook as a mode of fine art in and of itself and reopen them for study, making these treasures of the past available again, and to a new generation.

The Books on Books series now features 12 titles, Eugene Atget’s Photographe de Paris, two editions of Walker Evans’ American Photographs, Sophie Ristelhueber’s Fait, Chris Killip’s In Flagrante, William Klein’s Life is Good...New York!, Yutaka Takanashi’s Toshi-e, David Goldblatt’s In Boksburg, Koen Wessing’s Chili September 1973, Paul Graham’s Beyond Caring, Zdenek Tmej’s Abeceda, Alexey Brodovitch’s Ballet, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s 60 Fotos and three limited edition sets.

Series originator and Errata Editions Creative Director Jeffrey Ladd was kind enough to take the time to compose an essay on this venture, sharing his inspiration for the project, how it came to be, how books are picked and some plans for the future.
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My love of photobooks started while studying at the School of Visual Arts in New York City from 1987-1991. Year to year, I had the good fortune of studying with teachers who stressed the importance of photobooks and their difference from stacks of pictures or exhibitions. Some of my professors were self-taught and largely informed by photobooks. This was a habit they instilled in us, to discover photography by looking at the great bookworks and learn by example. So it was natural that when I wasn't out photographing, I too would fall in love with the medium by turning pages.

Through books I uncovered not only the variety of practice that the medium holds, but also its rich history. I saw first hand how certain books seemed to influence others and on the other hand, how some artists made wilder leaps of faith in testing their pictures and the book form. I scoured the shelves of bookshops for gems, buying some that I could afford, or, when the book was long out of print, I would try to find them through libraries to finally experience what I had heard so much about. This ongoing search, not necessarily to own the books but to see them and include them in my understanding of the wider context of history, became harder and harder as certain titles grew in popularity and their scarcity or vast expense increased.

The Photobook: A History Volumes I and II by Martin Parr and Gerry Badger
It was in 2004 after Martin Parr and Gerry Badger's The Photobook: A History Volumes I and II were published that I realized not only the huge scope in the array of photobooks (two-thirds of their choices I hadn't even heard of) but how elusive most were. Nearly 90% of what had been referenced as the "most important" photobooks are out of print and really only accessible to a few wealthy collectors or through research libraries. As a photography teacher, the idea that a young photographer just learning their craft couldn't, without great effort or expense, experience what came before them was very disturbing to me. It begged the question of consequence; what if the greatest literature or poetry was not available for young writers to be informed by? That seemed to be the current state of the history of photobooks.

From American Photographs by Walker Evans
Now, of course, not all books can remain in print and there will never be enough copies printed for everyone. Early on in my obsession with photobooks I had heard that many were never reprinted not because of the publisher but because of the artist. Henri Cartier-Bresson was known to be vocal in his opposition to the reprinting of his classic The Decisive Moment. Turns out, this is much more common than one might think. After all, for an artist, how intellectually or artistically interesting is it to keep repeating old work? The reasoning is understandable, but Walker Evans' American Photographs, arguably the most important photobook ever created, has also been out of print for almost a quarter century.

In 2008 I had an idea. How could I create a series of books that walk the fine line between reprint and facsimile while being neither, yet provide all of the content of the original? I decided to try an experiment. In an early conception of Books on Books, I made a mock-up of my idea using Chris Killip's In Flagrante and presented it to Chris through my publishing partner Ed Grazda. Through conversations with Chris I knew he was against reprinting both In Flagrante and his earlier book Isle of Man.  Surprisingly, when he saw my mock-up, he agreed instantly that it was a good idea and said we could feature it in the series. It eventually became Books on Books #4, and was the first step in the birth of the series.

Books on Books on press
 Errata Editions Books on Books is making strides to restore accessibility to books that are disappearing into history. Each book is a study of one important photography book that won't be reprinted in the future. Over time this mix of classic and contemporary works will become an inexpensive research library for individuals or institutions, allowing a new generation of artists to see what came before them and create their own opinions about these bookworks. It is my hope that by re-exposing these books, a wider discussion of these titles will become possible instead of remaining constricted to a very small number of the same experts for information. Besides providing illustrations of every page spread in the original book, our books provide contemporary essays as well as a short "making of" chapter with brief anecdotes on the genesis of each title. Biographic and bibliographic information on the artist ends each book in the series.

From Atget's Photographe de Paris
The books we chose to feature fit certain criteria. First, the book  has to have been recognized as an important contribution to photography or bookmaking - preferably both. Secondly, the book has to be long out of print, exceedingly rare, and not readily available on the market. (There is little sense in us doing a study of a book if the original is found easily or cheaply through bookshops). Third, the book won't be reprinted -- either the artist is hesitant to do a new edition or a reprint is impossible because the source material is no longer available. This was the case with our study of Atget's first book Photographe de Paris and Alexey Brodovitch's Ballet. The last criteria; the copyright holders of the work grant us permission to feature the book in the series. This last criteria is the most daunting as each book, depending on its content - including photographs, texts, etc - might have two or three different rights issues which need to be addressed and cleared. I have met some people who mistakenly thought our approach in presenting the books was a way to avoid dealing with the copyright protections - not true. I work closely with living artists or estates to make a book that satisfies all parties involved. Working directly with living artists is one of the more fulfilling aspects of creating this series. It opens the discussion to understanding the artist's process and enables a look into some of the 'behind the scenes' anecdotes of the genesis of each book.

Since we are publishing four books per year, the question of which books should be done is important. We could have published books that fit the criteria arbitrarily but I wanted to curate the series so that the four books sit in interesting relation to one another - that in exploring loose connections between the books they become richer. For instance, our first four books move progressively forward in terms of artists recognizing the book as an art form in itself and advance toward crafting an art object. From Books on Books #1 with Atget's Photographe de Paris published posthumously in 1930 to Books on Books #2, Walker Evans' American Photographs where Evans, with the help of many people, consciously explored the book as a work of art using his own photographs, to Books on Books #3, Sophie Ristelhueber's artist book Fait which is an example of an artist taking full personal control of the presentation with minimal outside help.

Creating Chili September 1973 by Koen Wessing
Books on Books #5-8 explore descriptions of cities, two books doing so through the use of metaphor and poetry (William Klein's Life is Good...New York! and Yutaka Takanashi's Toshi-e) and two books describe more overt political themes (David Goldblatt's In Boksburg and Koen Wessing's Chili September 1973). In the most recent Books on Books #9-12, two of the books are essentially about stasis brought about by political events (Paul Graham and Zdenek Tmej) and the other two feature photobooks where the artist was testing photographic conventions and descriptive quality through visual experimentation (Alexey Brodovitch and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy).

From Fait by Sophie Ristelhueber
 Three years into the series the reception has been extremely positive with Errata Editions being recognized by publishing awards and acknowledgments that the series is an important contribution to the study of photobooks. Understandably though, since this is a bit of a quirky publishing project, there has been some misunderstanding that our books are reprints or facsimiles and we have faced a small amount of frustration from people who expected them to be full-scale reprints. I understand this completely since a similar frustration encouraged me to start the series. Our books are studies, not reprints. Nor are our books simply "mini" versions of the original. We consciously employ strategies which we believe assist in the study of books. When we illustrate a page spread in with more than one plate it is an attempt to show how the photographer or designer was making associations between photographs. Again, it is a compromise in treading the fine line between a reprint and a study and keeping our books affordable for most everyone. Will our books provide the same experience as the original? Of course not, even modern reprints, unless they are printed with the same paper and technologies, would fail to do so. But Books on Books provide a full sense of the character and history of each book we feature.

In 2011, Errata Editions is taking our publishing mission to the next level by applying to becoming a 501(c)(3) not for profit organization. It is our hope that by acquiring this status we can explore different funding possibilities through tax deductible donations and grants so that we can not only sustain the series in this troubled economy but create a division of Errata aimed at distributing our titles for free to schools and institutions which do not have sufficient library budgets to purchase our books. With your help we can keep this series going long into the future and bring some of these masterworks of photography back to bookshelves.

-- Jeffrey Ladd
Creative Director, Errata Editions

See all volumes from the Books on Books series here.

3 comments:

  1. I've got used to this concept now, having followed it from the outset. 'Books on books' are welcome, but i have to say that these books are becoming expensive and rare collectors items in there own right which is defeating some of the purpose talked about here. I'm interested in them, but have never felt the urge to snap them up straight away as you almost seem to have to.
    I trust Jeff will try and correct this matter if possible. I know i might have seen second editions at one point if that is right, but maybe a cheaper and bigger first edition is the way the way to go... cheers!

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  2. @Kayne: At a talk i saw in Rotterdam Jeff said that they reprint as necessary, the idea is to keep the things in print...if the idea is to study them the number of the edition shouldn't matter much.

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  3. Exactly, thank you Andrew! I sure would like to be able to pick one up when need be (within reason...).

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