Carine Thévenau is one of our featured artists in our latest online exhibition. A Mauritian/Australian photographer who is currently based in Sydney, Thévenau's work is expressed through portraiture of the individual, but also broader portraits of place, space and time. She shares her thoughts on the photobook.
The term ‘photobook’ is recent. What is your definition of a photobook?
The photobook is a curated object in the form of a book that allows photographers to build unique worlds, explore ideas and enable a way of thinking through the photographic medium. There may be some text, but photography is the primary vehicle of communication. I do love the late Dutch visual artist Ralph Prins analogy of a photobook being comparable to a piece of sculpture, a play or a film.
What are your tips on how to 'read' a photobook?
For someone who has never picked up a photobook before, first start with the knowledge that a photobook is a designed object that wants to be touched. I recommend you pick up the book with both hands to fully realise the tangible experience.
Often there are textures and details that will inspire your attention. Take in the cover. Take in the details on the spine and then turn to the back cover before opening it. These actions are essential when seeking to find the photobook you want to take home. It’s then time to open the book. I often begin by first flipping through the book content (images), before then searching for some text (if there is any). I personally love reading about the work, although sometimes this is not required or desired by the photobook artist.
If the book has evoked some excitement, I’ll then pour over the photography in further detail and really take my time. The content of a photobook is much like a textual book in that the content is almost limitless and while the medium is confined to restrictions, these restrictions are constantly being tested. If the book is available online, check out the video available of someone else looking through the book. The little hit you get from finding a photobook you wish to purchase for your collection is what you’re searching for and is what will get you hooked!
What makes a photobook work?
If the making of or handling of a photobook sparks excitable neurotransmitters produced in the brain, then the photobook has worked.
What's the one bit of advice you’d give to artists looking to make a photobook?
Use your intuition. You must feel the magic before committing to reproducing a product and releasing it out there into the wider world. We don’t need more stuff, but we do need more ideas. Make your book count.
What are the possibilities and limitations of self-publishing?
To self-publish means you have the freedom to release something obscure, which may not be intended for a mainstream audience. To have a photobook published through a publisher could extend your scope significantly. As a photographer I feel both are relevant practices and depend upon the project one is developing.
Can you share with us the one photobook that profoundly changed your thinking about photography? Or what was the first photobook that you bought?
Winner of the Mack First Book Award in 2018 TTP by Hayahisa Tomiyasu is one of my favorite photobooks in recent years. Tomiyasu spent five years documenting the view of a ping pong table from a window of his student apartment. The photobook reveals the ping pong table being used for multiple purposes and changes. The ping pong table is used to sunbathe, a kids play frame, a lunch table and many other uses – except as its intended function! The book examines human behavior, resilience and problem solving. It is amazing how different the narrative and aesthetics of the exact same window view can be.