Monday, 24 January 2011

I like picture books

One of my University lecturers once said that he hated 'picture books.' You know the sort of thing - coffee-table photography books which have little to no editorial in them, instead relying on the photographs themselves to get the message across.

His reasoning was something along the lines of how he disapproved of the way pretentious photographers were exploiting their work (and its captive audience), simply to make a quick buck and if they were that set on being 'photographic artists,' they should probably just think about getting their work up on the walls of a gallery. Ooph.

I can see his point. I don't necessarily agree, but I can see his point.

Personally, I love seeing my work come together in any way, shape or form - whether that's on a client's website, in a national magazine, in a self-published book, whatever. It's often been said that pictures are no good just sitting on a hard drive - they should be enjoyed by others, employed to increase awareness of a situation, or to generate revenue if used in a commercial context.

By now, you will be aware of my Fountain Jam book project. I'll be editing, laying out and generally putting this together next month, but already I'm thinking about getting this year's book project under way. No details to share with you yet - you'll just have to watch this space!

Anyway, the point is, it's really important for us photographers to create bodies of work other than those which are commissioned by our clients. If we don't, all we have to show for ourselves is a bunch of pictures depicting interpretations of other people's ideas.

I like 'picture books.' Regardless of whether they are produced by contemporary photographers or creators from other disciplines. If I admire their work, chances are I'll take a look at any new collection they unleash on the viewing public.

One such example is Chase Jarvis, who I have mentioned in previous posts and on The Active Photographer podcast. Not so long ago, Chase brought out a new book called Seattle 100: Portrait of a City, which is a fine example of what a self-driven book should look like.

Whether you like his work, or you simply want a great photography book to inspire some fresh thinking (especially if portraits are your thing), I'd highly recommend you take a look.

My copy is sat on the bookshelf, waiting to be brought into action just as soon as I have a spare moment - but from what I've seen of it already, the ol' brain will be buzzing with ideas once I properly indulge myself in the pages' rich, contrasty, black and white images.


Laurence said...

To a point I think it is important that photographs speak for themselves, and I don't think pictures should have a description. I don't expect to go to an art gallery and read a description of what each painting is about, that's the point of the painting as a piece of work, in the same way that the photograph is composed to put the message across on its own.

Giles said...

Hi Laurence.

I agree with what you are saying; I also believe that we should be able to view images 'on spec' and that they should stand up on their own.

Are you saying that a photograph should not have so much as a caption by which one can place it in context? Or just not long-winded explanations? Personally, I don't mind captions, as I find such little prompts ultimately help me to get more out of a picture - especially when taking in a large collection such as in a gallery context. Just enough information to be going with.

But no, you're right, the viewer should be able to make their own mind up about any kind of imagery and, essentially, be told what to think.

Laurence said...

I don't mind an image title, and if it's a documentary image then maybe it is even correct to provide a fuller caption, but certainly in terms of the more arty type of image, I don't think a full description is needed and a short image title should be enough. Obviously there are going to be exceptions; books on architectural photography for example, should perhaps include the name of the feature and the name of the building/place taken.

For all I say about images having a title, if I submit images for an exhibition, I hate coming up with even a title, never mind working out a price for them, I find it's always too difficult to 'name' my pictures, and when I do name them, I somehow feel the names are a bit pretentious...looks like I can't win either way!

Giles said...

I always remember the times, in my teens, when I entered my local camera club monthly slide competitions. There were certain rules which we stuck by for these:

a) Judges like things in groups of three.
b) Judges liked artsy titles - seemingly, the more pretentious the better!
c) Judges didn't like this new-fangled digital lark (it was just starting to raise its ugly head, you know!)

So long as we all kept those pointers in mind, we would do just fine ;)

Will said...

I'd never really thought about the fact that a photo should or shouldn't be 'tagged' somehow. But having heard that - I like it. When I go to art galleries I do tend to have a 'good look' before I read the title etc so why not? It's at that point you almost want to press a 'reveal all' button to see how close you were to the artists angle. But the golden rule is... it's what YOU see that matters. Ansel Adams would say something similar but more eloquently I'm sure. I hope...

Giles said...

Absolutely, Will.

Case in point... Last year I saw an exhibition of work by 19th-century photographer Camille Sylvie. It was only by taking a look at the background information at the start that I was able to form an impression of this otherwise-unknown-to-me artist.

The information it presented actually enriched my experience of the show; for example, I did not realise that one of his pictures (which I had recognised) was actually a composite of several negatives - that's right, image manipulation did happen pre-Photoshop!

This wasn't so much a 'reveal all' moment, but it certainly gave me a better understanding of the man and his thought processes.

Incidentally, you might like to check out this link, which is a review of the show.