The brainchild of designer and writer Kay Jun and designer Jeong Jaewan, Aprilsnow Press revolves around three keywords: photography, text, and design. We caught up with the Korean publisher’s co-founder Kay Jun to discover more.
Make sure you tune in to our talk with Kay Jun which will be posted online on 23 February. She’ll be talking to Yongjoon Choi, artist and author of Location; and Minji Yi, artist and author of To Bury the Dog Properly. Both titles are included in Aprilsnow Press’ presentation currently showing at PRESENTS: The Photo Book.
The term ‘photobook’ is recent and can be interpreted in many ways. What’s your definition of a photobook?
If I can rephrase the question, I’d rather say that the photobook phenomenon is recent. I see lots of awards and fairs going on worldwide right now but the genre of the photobook has existed since the late 19th century, so the term itself is not recent. Of course, there can be a discussion whether the term ‘photobook’ can be applied to those titles from the 19th century, but a word or term changes with time and so does a definition. Therefore, I’d say any book that raises issues about the relationship between image, text and graphic design can be interpreted as a photobook.
The traditional concept of a photobook where one imagines photographs (or plates) laid out neatly on spreads is too narrow. It’s narrow if one considers how various kinds of images float around in contemporary culture and are linked to graphic design and technology. From an Instagram story to satellite imagery, photography is expanding. So for me, a photobook is not just about photography in traditional terms. The new photobook is inclusive in a sense that it prefers the term “photographic image” to “photography” and considers it in the broader context of visual culture.
What is it about the book form that appeals?
I started making photobooks for various reasons. It was not because I wanted to make beautiful and luxurious photobooks. I view my own publishing as a live platform of looking into the relationship of text, image and graphic design and practicing it. Due to the increasing dependence on digital media, the ‘book’ form obtains a new status in terms of materiality. However, it’s not only the physical aspect that interests me. I’m more interested in how the book functions as a space of narrating stories. And since photography has a kinship with printing and plate (and then later paper) from its birth and thus, is a more fluid media than any traditional fine art, experimenting with the narrative structure through photography is quite efficient and also lots of fun! This is what attracts me most about photobooks and the reason I make them.
For someone unfamiliar with the photobook genre, would you share with us your tips on how to 'read' a photobook? What and where should the viewer pay attention to?
Ever since I started publishing, I’ve learned that despite the expensive and luxurious materiality of producing photobooks, the genre itself is minor – it’s often quite subcultural. For many, the photobook is a book that cannot be read, which implies that image literacy is necessary. And to gain literacy, there is nothing else one can do than learn. That means, reading books on photographers, photo theory or history of photography would help a lot. But if it sounds too academic, I would suggest starting with some famous photobooks by renowned photographers. Photobooks by Martin Parr or the famous Mirai chan by photographer Kotori Kawashima, books by Rinko Kawauchi would get the reader familiar with the genre photobook.
What makes a photobook work?
The structure and sequence is what makes a photobook work or not. A single image doesn’t tell us much, but as soon as photographs or photographic images are laid out on pages and form relationships either with each other or text, the photobook begins to make sense.
What advice would you give to artists looking to make a photobook?
As I have a background in graphic design and teach its theory and history, I’d say the first thing to do is to find the right graphic designer you’d like to work with. Of course, there are organizations such as Self Publish, Be Happy and other DIY photobook sites that would largely for you and a number of photographers have made their own artist books wonderfully. One of my favorites from the self-publishing scene is Max Pinckers’ Red Ink. (To be more precise, Red Ink’s design was done by designer Rudy Latoir and the photographer.) However, I still believe the best outcome comes from a tight and intimate collaboration and this collaboration starts first with finding the right graphic designer (and editor as well, if possible) that understands photography. The renowned Japanese graphic designer Suzuki Hitoshi once said, ‘Not all graphic designers can make photobooks.’ I would add, ‘Find the right graphic designer who understands photography well.’