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Book of the Week: A Pick by Laura M. André


Book of the Week Book of the Week: A Pick by Laura M. André Laura M. André selects Photobook Phenomenon, by Moritz Neumüller, Lesley A. Martin, Markus Schaden, Frederic Lezmi, Martin Parr, Horacio Fernández, Ryuichi Kaneko, Gerry Badger, Erik Kessels, and Irene de Mendoza, as Book of the Week.

Photobook Phenomenon.
By Moritz Neumüller, Lesley A. Martin, Markus Schaden, 
Frederic Lezmi, Martin Parr, Horacio Fernández, Ryuichi 
Kaneko, Gerry Badger, Erik Kessels, and Irene de Mendoza 
Barcelona: CCCB, Foto Colectania, and RM, 2017.

Laura M. André selects Photobook Phenomenon, by Moritz Neumüller, Lesley A. Martin, Markus Schaden, Frederic Lezmi, Martin Parr, Horacio Fernández, Ryuichi Kaneko, Gerry Badger, Erik Kessels, and Irene de Mendoza, from Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB), Foto Colectania, and RM as Book of the Week.

For all but those experts armed with extensive knowledge, experience, and access to rare collections, the photobook world can be a daunting place. It's easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of books, artists, designers, and publishers that appear in any given year, not to mention the vast history of photography books, many of which are so rare that you and I will only ever know them through reproductions.

Like all areas of art history, as well as public and private collecting, the histories, criticisms, and theories about photography books are evolving and hardly fixed. After all, scholars, critics, collectors—and booksellers—can't even seem to agree on what the term photobook  includes, excludes, or means. 

Curious and perhaps daunted neophytes have a number of encyclopedic publications to help guide them as they begin to navigate the photobook world, but many of these books on books have themselves become collectible, expensive, and, some people might argue, a bit too influential in terms of the photobook marketplace.

Published to accompany a major photobook exhibition in Barcelona, Photobook Phenomenon is a collection of eight easily digestible, illustrated booklets, each of which addresses certain aspects of the photobook world. Beginning with an overview that provides a glimpse into what the "phenomenon" is all about, subsequent volumes address:

  • A case study of a canonical photobook, William Klein's Life Is Good & Good for You in New York;
  • A compendium of the best of the best photobooks according to photobook collector Martin Parr, one of the individuals most responsible for the recent photobook phenomenon; 
  • An essay that considers the personal libraries of Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Gabriel Cualladó as singular photobook museums;
  • Ryuichi Kaneko's illuminating presentation of 5 distinct aspects unique to, or particularly important to Japanese photobooks;
  • A concise examination of the differences between politically oriented photobooks as propaganda and as protest;
  • Erik Kessels' iconoclastic, unique look at fascination and failure in photobooks, and;
  • A final round of case studies of contemporary artists working to expand the boundaries, capabilities, and forms of photobooks. 

I'm a big fan of this publication because it doesn't take itself too seriously. While certainly not an exhaustive study (itself an impossible task), it does lead by example insofar as it eschews a single narrative and includes a plurality of voices and perspectives.

As we enter the year-end cavalcade of book awards and best of lists, use the information to learn about books you might not have known otherwise, but above all, keep in mind why certain kinds of books interest you. Whether it's subject matter, particular artists, book design, contemporary relevance, historical context, a favorite publisher, or a combination of factors, figure out what you like, and why you like it. If you focus your collection based on these personal and intellectual guides, I can't promise you'll never be overwhelmed, but you will have a stronger sense of navigation through the photobook phenomenon.

 — Laura M. André

Purchase Book

Photobook Phenomenon
By Moritz Neumüller, Lesley A. Martin, Markus Schaden, Frederic Lezmi, Martin Parr, Horacio Fernández, 
Ryuichi Kaneko, Gerry Badger, Erik Kessels, and Irene de Mendoza. Barcelona: CCCB, Foto Colectania, and RM, 2017.

Photobook Phenomenon
By Moritz Neumüller, Lesley A. Martin, Markus Schaden, Frederic Lezmi, Martin Parr, Horacio Fernández, 
Ryuichi Kaneko, Gerry Badger, Erik Kessels, and Irene de Mendoza.  Barcelona: CCCB, Foto Colectania, and RM, 2017.







Laura M. André earned a PhD in art history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and taught photo history at the University of New Mexico before leaving academia to work with photography books. She is the manager of photo-eye's book division.

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