Paris based Publisher La Maison De Z focuses on contemporary Chinese photography and independent publications. Their titles Even Us, Even Me by Sun Yanchu, Uncharted+ by Wang Juyan, Tragédie, Coïncidence et La Double Vie de L.L.D.M by Zhen SHI, The Bliss of Conformity by Yingguang GUO, and 1974 by Li Lang are included in our online exhibition PRESENTS: The Photo Book. We talked to La Maison De Z about what is and how to “read” a photobook.
To me, the book form is akin to an exhibition space made of paper—it’s playful. In a sense, the process of bookmaking is like a mind game with the readers: we set up questions and leave clues through the sequencing and juxtaposition of images and text. We then lure the readers into following a certain narrative in order to understand or deconstruct the work of an artist. It is fascinating.
What makes a photobook work?
The unity of form and content. Every choice made in the process of creating a book (whether in content, structure or design) needs to be rooted in what works for the content, rather than simply for the sake of visual appeal or being eye-catching.
What's the one bit of advice you’d give to artists looking to make a photobook?
Try to read and engage with as many kinds of books as possible in terms of format, period and genre, not just photobooks. This will go a long way in helping you make sense of the book format, and ultimately, better understand what you really want.
Do you think there is a specific style in China for photobooks?
Photobook is a compound word and subject matter/idea–it is like a 2D exhibition space in which photographs are displayed and presented. Just like a photography exhibition is the presentation of photographs in an exhibition space. It doesn’t have a nationality in the concept itself.
However, there are differences among photographic artworks—depending on the cultural, historical, economic, political backgrounds of the makers—eventually leading to the different content and presentations.
What are the possibilities and limitations of self-publishing?
Self-publishing provides a lot of flexibility—from operation to production and distribution—it’s really different from traditional publishing.
As the "self" in "self-publishing" implies—in this model—greater emphasis on showcasing the bookmaker's unique qualities through the book.
These may be personal and/or creative qualities, or in some cases, the book is like its maker—they share similar characters. It means that the book is part of a portfolio and is used to reveal the artist’s style and larger body of work.