To coincide with our latest digital exhibition PRESENTS: The Photo Book, we talk to Joyce Lam from Japanese publishers United Vagabonds about the power of a photo project in book form.
The term ‘photobook’ is recent. What is your definition of a photobook?
Photobooks are books that contain a series of photographs that are curated to form a narrative.
What about the book form that is particularly appealing to you?
Text based books that are categorised as bunkobon (文庫本), tankobon (単行本) or shinsho (新書) must correspond to specific dimensions in Japan, but the shape and size of photobooks or art books can be completely free. There is no set format but the pages are bound together to create a kind of sequence; the photographer’s world to be experienced by the reader.
Please share your tips on how to 'read' a photobook? What and where should the viewer pay attention to?
Reading a photobook begins when the reader places it in their hands. The size of the book, the type(s) of paper, binding, printing and colour—every detail is carefully decided by the designer, editor, publisher, printer and photographer, they all contribute to the overall concept of the book. Everything is brought together to create a harmonious rhythm.
What makes a photobook work?
Books have never been more accessible. Many novels and text-based books can be borrowed from the library, not to mention the multiple e-book or audiobook options we have today. But the physical presence of photobooks is imperative—it is something that is experienced by both the eye and the hand. They cannot be replaced by an online image. What makes a photobook work is largely subjective but a 'good' photobook is probably one that you want to keep, to place on your own bookshelf.
What's the one bit of advice you would give to artists looking to make a photobook?
The narrative of a photobook can be different to the photography itself. It is also different to creating an exhibition. Don’t be afraid to explore other creative options to show the work in book form.