Buy A Photo Book Today!

When the barbarians sacked an ancient city they often used the library as kindling, wiping out ancient knowledge and ages of historical texts and pretty much bringing on the Dark Ages. To hear some folks tell it, all a barbarian would need today is a powerful magnet applied to servers and hard drives. This would hardly seem to sate the appetite for pillage any good barbarian would practice, but might have the same effect. While the allegory might be a bit over the top, it is one of the reasons we continue to dedicate our December issue to photographic books.

© 2010, Grace Schaub, All Rights Reserved
A good photographic book is the next best thing to seeing a photograph on a wall, and in fact allows us to see many more images than any gallery could hold, as well as brings us the work of photographers we might not see. True, everybody has a website these days, where you can view a wide variety of their work, unsullied by fussy editors, but I don’t think that even given a well-executed web page you’d be able to see the nuance and depth of a print you’d see in a well-produced book. It also allows you to linger over the images without Google ads and to bring the book off the shelf to study at your leisure anytime, anywhere.

I might be showing my age, but I grew up learning about photography and photographers by poring over books and, yes, magazines. I couldn’t afford all the books I wanted to see, so I spent a good deal of time in the large book collections of libraries. I guess that would have to be the case, being brought up at a time when the web didn’t exist (OMG!), but it also allowed me to share in a visual legacy that I wanted to study. In the main, books were where I got that learning.

A book for most photographers is a true labor of love, especially so-called monographs that rarely if ever approach best seller status, or in fact even earn enough to make all the effort pay off. But it usually isn’t about money (though that would help) but more wanting to leave a legacy and to express their vision to as many people as possible. Perhaps that’s why photo books are so popular these days and why many photographers have even chosen the self-publishing, press-printed product route to get their work seen. There is something substantial and lasting about a book that a website cannot match, and that will stay around way past the time when the rent on the server space goes unpaid.

Some folks might see this opinion as downright reactionary, but for me photo books have always been a source of inspiration and have opened my eyes to what a good image should look like, without straining to see it on the screen or traveling to museums and galleries that were, for much of my formative years, out of reach. When I go into a photographer’s home or studio, the prints on the wall and the books on their shelves tell me a lot about who they are and where they have traveled on their photographic journey. And when I can share a book or, as in this issue, help point out those that deserve perusal, it feels like I am passing something along that has inspired me and helped me along the way. Besides, I know what it takes to produce a book, and I salute the effort and the vision that makes it happen.

That’s what this annual survey of photo and instructional books is all about. It’s not denying the power of the web or even the amazing technology that makes all information available all the time. It is about the enduring power of books for and by photographers. So, for my part, all I can say is: Support a Photographer—Buy a Photo Book Today!