Running to over 1200 pages and featuring 1250 images, is this the biggest photobook in history?
The acclaimed photo editor and curator sheds light on what makes for a successful photobook and the complex processes involved in creating one
“The exhibition just becomes this transition point. There will be new artwork created by the exhibition. I think that’s exciting: it means it becomes alive. These often tragic stories will continue living in other forms, whether through painting or through music, so it’s about making the exhibition a place of life and a celebration of that life,” says Giles Duley, the photographer who has spent months travelling Europe and the Middle East to document the refugee crisis with UNHCR. Taking images from his photobook, I Can Only Tell You What I See, the display will feature artists in residence, a soundscape from Massive Attack and will host an evening supper so as visitors can sit and discuss the work and the wider problems surrounding the refugee crisis.
“I have always wanted my photobook collection to go to a public institution in the UK and with the recent commitment to photography from Tate, this was a very easy decision to make. I’m also very happy that thanks to Maja and LUMA, the city of Arles will embrace the photobook phenomenon,” says Martin Parr. Well-known as an avid photobook collector, co-author of the seminal three-volume anthology The Photobook: A History, and a respected photographer, the Magnum Photos member has given his entire collection to Tate. Built up over 25 years and including 12,000 photobooks, it is a world-class library which includes a broad geographical scope and many different approaches to photography, and includes self-published amateur work and mass-produced books alongside iconic publications by artists such as Hans Bellmer, Nobuyoshi Araki and Robert Frank.
“Most people I meet are not satiated or fulfilled and desire more. Desire to be heard. Desire to be seen. Desire to connect and matter,” says Phyllis B. Dooney, the American photographer behind the photoseries Gravity is Stronger Here. The project, which started as an exploration of the American South, centres on a Greenville family trying to negotiate life in middle America. Their needs and wants are the same as those across the country: to be heard, to be seen, to be accepted.
For his latest project, Andreas Mühe has opened a dialogue between the centuries. For alongside the photographs of austere politicians and dramatic cliffs in Pathos as Distance, he has interwoven excerpts from a novel, 1913 – The Year before the Storm by Florian Illies. In doing so, he hopes to give readers a sense of perspective about our own, increasingly fractious era. “1913 reminded me a little bit of our here and now,” says Mühe. “This unburdened and rather easy-going lifestyle right before World War One breaks out – [the start of the war] completely surprising, but very predictable at the same time.
Fiona Rogers founded her online Firecracker platform to help showcase the best talent in female photography. What followed was a community of photographers all celebrating and sharing amazing work and it wasn’t long before the Firecracker grant was born. “It felt like the natural evolution was to be even more supportive. Something that went beyond showcasing work online. It started out pretty small: everybody contributed £10 to put into the pot and then we managed to flip that into a grant that was £1,000 and now it’s grown to £2,000.”
Nick Thornton Jones and Warren Du Preez, the London-based experimental photographers, call their work “the de-familiarisation of surrealism”. In Immortal, their beautifully-produced new series of photobooks, the pair explore this idea with portraits of the human form shot with a dizzying intensity of colour and lights, as if we’re seeing, printed on paper, a fevered dream. “We were fed up of everything being watered down and diluted. It feels like everything’s hyper-referential,” Du Preez says of the genesis of the project when we meet in their Bethnal Green studio. “The editorial and art world can feel like a pool of brown mud to me. There’s a lack of process to a lot of art out there now and for two process junkies, that can feel quite depressing.” “It’s important to make your own stuff,” says Thornton Jones. “People don’t do that anymore; they sample everyone else’s and call it their own. They’re not inventing and making stuff. It’s an era defined by mass appropriation. So this series was born out of a sense of frustration …
Back in 2010 BJP asked a panel of experts to select the best photobook of the past 25 years. They chose Ravens by Japanese photographer Masahisa Fukase – a dark, impressionistic journey by a man left bereft by divorce which has also been interpreted as an insight into the post-war Japanese psyche.
“If you are on the lowest rung of society, if when you get on a bus people turn away from you, it’s nice to be noticed,” says Louis Quail. “It’s nice to be seen.” We’re talking about his project Big Brother, which recently won the portfolio review prize at Format International Photography Festival and will soon be published as a book. Shot over the last six years, it’s a portrait of Quail’s older brother Justin, who is now 58 and has suffered from schizophrenia for his whole adult life. Quail doesn’t shy away from the obvious effects of his brother’s illness, showing his wrecked shoes and chaotic flat, and including police notes and medical records that speak of medication, sectioning and arrest. But his project also shows another side to Justin – one less familiar, perhaps, in our conception of the mentally ill. It includes Justin’s excellent drawings and paintings, his poetry, and his love of bird watching; it also shows his girlfriend Jackie, who also has mental issues and is an alcoholic, but who …