Understanding a Photobook: Foto Féminas | PHOTOFAIRS

Understanding a Photobook: Foto Féminas

Hong Kong-based publishing platform Foto Féminas, established by Verónica Sanchis Bencomo, promotes the works of Latin American female photographers. Their titles Por Maniobras Del Terceto by Clara de Tezanos, Umbral by Erika Morillo, Los mundos de TITA by Fabiola Cedillo, A Thousand Ancestors by Michelle Arcila and musician Eivind Opsvik plus Where Your Gaze Can’t Reach Me by Saraí Ojeda are all included in our online exhibition PRESENTS: The Photo Book. We talked to Verónica about how to “read” a photobook. We hope you enjoy this interview and, like Verónica, learn to embrace experiments and mistakes in the creative process.

The term ‘photobook’ is recent. What is your definition of a photobook? 

For me a photobook is an editorial format that primarily comprises a photographic narrative, which can be complemented by other elements such as graphics and text. Yet, one of the things that makes it more unique for me is its edit, which can really differ from an exhibition or online edit. Also, the intimate experience that occurs between the photographer, the story and the viewer is a beautiful process too that I look forward to while looking at a photobook.

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?

Begin to look at a photobook without any preconceptions. It is not just about what the photographer is trying to say, but what kind of thoughts and emotions it arises in you. Photographs have more ambiguity than text, and as such, they leave more ‘work’ for the reader. Be open to discover a new storyline and remain curious while looking at the work. Pay attention to how individual photos relate to one another, as most photobooks are not about best single photographs but a collection that says or does something as a whole. 

What makes a photobook work?

Firstly, I would say there is no given formula, but the photobooks that have remained in my memory are those that are able to combine successfully the elements of photography and narrative together with design and materials – all in a unique style that still represents the photographer’s style and work. I personally like when I can see that every decision in the bookmaking was planned and well thought-out. From cover design to usage of paper, every detail contributes towards the narrative of the story. I think combining all the aforementioned elements provides an immersive or even unique experience that keeps the story alive in your memory.

What's the one bit of advice you would give to artists looking to make a photobook?

Firstly, execute good research upon the topic you are looking to develop before you begin to work on a photobook. Consider what’s been done before. Looking at other people's work will help you while making your own book. When it comes to editing the book, I would suggest getting an editor, a person who’s not as close to the project might be best – often photographers are not their best editors. Once you get a book dummy, ask for other peoples opinions as well — they may help you realise elements of the book that need to be improved. Plan your process but be open to experiments and accept mistakes as a contribution to the final result—your book.

What are the possibilities and limitations of self-publishing?

Self-publishing gives the photographer more agency on how everything should be done, and you could edit, write and design the whole thing if you wanted, and it could potentially be 100% yours. In reality, most people will benefit from help when it comes to editing and designing, and of course, could have this kind of support even when self-publishing. But unless you get that as favours, you’ll need to pay for it, and will have the resources.  Even if you have a publisher, you will still have to put money towards the book, but you will also have creative, production, and distribution support from the publishing house.

I have self-published two of my works, and on both occasions, what I have loved the most is the process from starting from zero – a blank page - and making every decision along the way. Editing my work into the book format both times has made me look at the work differently, reflecting upon my practice. Yet, as a whole the personal experience has been very enriching. 

Click here to see more about Foto Féminas in PRESENTS: The Photo Book

Tune in this February for a talk hosted by Foto Féminas in conversation with Erika Morillo and Fabiola Cedillo