Bangkok-based designer, photographer and self-publisher Wuthipol Ujathammarat creates striking titles such as Cover Up and Popisicle District which question what’s possible within the photobook medium. His work is included in our most recent online exhibition PRESENTS: The Photo Book.
The term ‘photobook’ is recent. What is your definition of a photobook?
In my view as an artist a photobook is a visual documentary that is creatively fulfilled with a clear narrative; it goes beyond just a compilation of photographs on a page. I feel like all photobooks are quite experimental. In a way it can be developed and designed, especially the ones that can bring a photography narrative to life through a physical craft of bookmaking. It is essentially an artistic book, without an influence of words, that narrates through a concept.
What is it about the photobook form that’s particularly appealing to you?
Making a photobook or a photo zine offers me endless possibilities in the way it can be crafted. A photobook today has become so diverse in its size and format. I certainly prefer to present my work in a small and tangible way. It gives the readers an opportunity to physically interact, engage, and be intimate with the told narrative inside the work—you know, the touchy-feely kind of experience. I always adore the handmade craft that goes into making a photobook or photo zine.
Please share your tips on how to 'read' a photobook. What and where should the viewer pay attention to?
Treat it as if you were a kid reading a children’s book. A photobook strangely offers a similar visual experience in the way it draws your attention towards imagery before narrated texts.
I don't think there’s such a precise set of rules on how a photobook should be read. It’s all about making sense of what the photographs aim to communicate through visual sequencing, intended narrative and physical craft of bookmaking. I personally prefer to thoroughly browse through all the photographs; simply to observe visual sequences and hidden messages well before I get into what the actual narrative is. This is just to keep my imagination open and not be limited by the photographer’s intention.
What advice do you have for artists looking to make a photobook?
Think about what the result could be and work backwards, step-by-step, to see what the potentials and obstacles are in achieving it. Things like budget capability, print production, graphic design and photography concept.
It’s ideal to always have a clear vision beforehand. To make photobooks, you will need to understand your target audience and whether or not they can resonate with the work on a personal and cultural level. While there’s a lot to think about at the beginning, it will really help shape not only your physical creation, but also your photography curation as a cohesive body of work. This is a way to ensure your book is well integrated from the outside in - from exterior design, visual sequence and photography narrative.
What are the possibilities and limitations of self-publishing?
Self-publishing is a bittersweet endeavor for many independent artists. It always comes with a price, from a making and selling point of view. The great thing about self-publishing is that the artists have a complete freedom to create and express ideas; with full control in all aspects of the work and in the timeframe that favors them.
It also gives them an opportunity to find their own voice through trial and error. Creating is all fun and games, but many artists find it extremely challenging to market and distribute their work without the support. Publishing a book independently requires a high upfront cost in design and production. The overall sales tend to be quite gradual and could suffer a potential financial loss if the work is not properly marketed. Although self-publishing requires a lot of efforts and self-motivations, it is still an ideal approach for artists to present and promote their work. You just need to have a clear vision well beforehand on what you want to achieve, both strategically and financially.