Photobooks in a Digital Era Lecture – Matt Johnston

On Friday 8th February 2013, we had our standard afternoon lecture that started at two o’clock in the afternoon. This lecture followed on from the previous two lectures about the Digital Era


and was also taken by Matt Johnston.  In this lecture, we learnt about different forms of photo books, the pros and cons of them, and then we split in to groups and discussed a variety of different ones. Below are the notes that I took from this lecture:

Digital Era:

  • Information
  • The majority of us will be digital natives
  • We can share, find, edit, this information through LINKED digital devices
  • Converge culture


  • Can find information but would take more time
  • Harder to share information physically
  • Not linked digital devices


  • Book
    • Must be read in a certain way
    • A written or printed work consisting of pages glued or…
    • Ulises CaronA book is a sequence of spaces. Each of these spaces is perceived at a different moment – a book is also a sequence of moments. A book is not a case of words, nor a bag of words, nor a bearer of words.”
    • Karen RaneyIn everyday use books have a highly standard form. They are made of rectangular pages, attached together on one side, and covered with words and images which are intended to be read in sequence.
      • Rectangular – distribution, easy to hold
  • Photobook
    • Dick Higgins  “I’d suggest: a book done for it’s own sake and not for the information it contains. That is: it doesn’t contain a lot of works, like a book of poems. It is a work. Its design and format reflect its content – they intermerge, interpenetrate. it might be any art: an artist’s book could be music, photography, graphics, inter medial literature. The experience of reading it, viewing it, framing it – that is what the artist stresses in making it.”
    • Alex Sweetman “Photobookworks are a function of the inter-relation between two factors: the power of the single photograph and the effect of serial arrangements in book form. Such arrangements may be viewed as worlds which the individual photographs inhabit and, therefore, as their context. Individual images may act as expressive images and/or as information; combinations of these can provide series, sequences, juxtapositions, rhythms, and recurring themes.”
    • Photobook vs Vogue
      • Links back to Dick Higgins quote – “…it doesn’t contain a lot of works, like a book of poems. It is a work.”
    • Hans-Georg GadamerHorizons
      • Two horizons
        • Artists horizon – vision of work, trying to communicate with audience, ideas, agenda
        • Viewer’s horizon – we bring expectations, past experiences, understanding to an exhibition, memory, knowledge, experience
        • When looking at an artists work, these two horizon’s fuse together – we want to see the view of the artists eyes
        • When we leave the art work, these horizons then move apart again – we do not continue to see the world as the artist
        • Our baggage then changes due to the work that we have viewed
        • Horizons – our presentation choices must reinforce the communication of our message or theme
  • Nobuyoshi Araki ‘Sentimental Journey, Winter Journey
    • Reads right to left
    • The book is contained in a slip
      • Makes it more precious
      • It invites you to sit down and tak in the book
  • Alec Soth’s ‘Broken Manual, Steidl, 2010
    • The book is hidden within a book
    • It is called an ‘ideal addition’ – how he would idealy like it to be seen
  • Eikoh Hosoe and Yukio Mishima ‘Barakei Shinshuban, 1971
  • Ed Ruscha ‘Every Building on the Sunset Strip, 1966
  • The photobook became more of a message rather than just a container for images
  • Photobooks and books have gradually fused with the digital era – changed gradually as books have been around for millenia
  • Photobook bad points:
    • Cost
    • Distribution
    • Ease of production is not easy
    • Time
    • Space
  • Photobook good points:
    • Remains in its context
    • It is self-contained – you wouldn’t need to update it in any way
    • Generative experience – nice to look at, you can hold it
    • Talks about the 8 generative qualities
    • In order to find our value, we need to find things that people value
    • Embodiment’ –  At its core the digital copy is without a body. You can take a free copy of a work and throw it on a screen. But perhaps you’d like to see it in hi-res on a huge screen? Maybe in 3D? PDFs are fine, but sometimes it is delicious to have the same words printed on bright white cottony paper, bound in leather. Feels so good. What about dwelling in your favourite (free) game with 35 others in the same room? There is no end to greater embodiment.
  • Lucas Foglia
    • Question asked by Matt – Why is this work so popular at the moment?
  • The designs of normal books are changing
    • Embossed front covers
    • Retro-styles
    • Designed to look like artifacts
    • It is about the shared generative experience – e.g. music and music festivals
  • Hyper-generative Indie Photobook’s – self-published and attempts to challenge the stereotypes of books
  • Craig Atkinson “Bits
    • Personalized
    • Photobook Club
      • Scans
      • Videos
      • Discussions
      • Shared communities
  • Very few people are making money from the book – but there are very few that are making money from exhibitions also
  • This is not a making money time, this is the time to put our point across
  • The physical book is doing well
  • Marshall McLuhan  “Our Age of Anxiety is, in great part, the result of trying to do today’s job with yesterday’s tools and yesterday’s concepts.”
  • David Greene Comfortable Walking Socks, 2011
  • Alex Leme ‘Small Town, 2011
  • Life Cycle of a Book

If you are going to make a digital book, spend the same amount of time and rigor as you would for something physical

Do not use an animation of a page turning

Digital platforms can be updated very easily – books will never be updated (unless its documentary then new editions will be created)

  • QR codes
  • Between Page and Screen
  • Richard Kostelanetz quote said in 1978  – “One purpose for the present is to see what alternative forms and materials “the book” can take: can it be a pack of shuffleable cards? Can it be a long folded accordion strip? Can it have two front covers and be “read” in both directions? Can it be a single chart? An audiotape? A videotape? A film? Is it “a book” if its maker says it is? With these possibilities in mind, we can recognise and make a future for the book”


  • Welcome to Pine Point
    • Town in Canada
    • Mine opened – tends to create a town
    • Mine closed – sometimes the town continues, others die
    • Not a digital book but a digital publication
    • Need to go through it in our own time

Might want to look at creating a QR for a physical book – the viewer can then go to my blog with different audios of the subjects


  • Read Kevin Kelly’s ‘Better than Free’
  • Look at some free digital photobooks on Magclud and Blurb
  • Spend time looking at ‘Welcome to Pine Point’
    • Is this a digital book?
    • Bring a photo book from the library to next weeks session (Friday)
      • Prepare a short 1 minute introduction to it – concept, design, narrative/sequence


  • 4 people per book, sell me the book in four minutes (15minutes preparation time)
    • Generative qualities
    • Narrative/sequencing
    • Concept
    • Before/after

Before and After

  • First book
  • Representation of conflict
    • Ongoing war in the Demographic Republic of Congo started in 1998
    • Current events
    • Photos taken between 2010-2012
    • Express conflict in a different way
    • Published book to make people more aware and to challenge their understanding
    • Reminded Becky of the video Rape of a Nation by Marcus Bleasdale found on Mediastorm – went into the Congo and explored the fact that the military is corrupted
      • He photographed the event in a similar way but without the infra film
      • However, they looked at the same event from a different angle – Richard Mosse at a more empathetic side of social documentary, Marcus Bleasdale at a more straight documentary style