The Quest for the Perfect Photo Book


General Photography

It seems the photo book scene is changing rapidly, with both on-demand printing and truly self-published books cutting into a market previously dominated by actual book publishers. As someone who loves photo books (books in general actually) I am very excited about this development.

There are many things that I look for in a photography book, the actual print quality being one of them. Just like there is a vast difference between a good and a bad print on the wall of a gallery or museum, there is a vast difference between a cheaply produced/printed photography book and one done with attention to detail and a willingness to aim for high quality.

Over the past few months, I was in the lucky position to be able to follow the evolution of a self-published book through all the various stages. You might already have heard of Richard Renaldi and Seth Boyd’s Charles Lane Press and their first book Fall River Boys. Richard and Seth are good friends of mine, and whenever we meet we talk about new books and about what we like and dislike (yes, it does get very book geeky at times). Richard and Seth have been sharing their vision and ideas concerning Fall River Boys with me, and unlike what certain people want to make you believe creating a book is a bit more than sticking a bunch of images into some layout and then telling someone else “print it!”.

Just the other day, they showed me the “F&G” (I didn’t know what that meant, either, it’s simply the unbound pages of the book), and even though I knew what they were aiming for, I was still amazed. Fall River Boys looks and feels like a book consisting of actual photographic prints. I was only half joking when I told them I’d probably have to buy two so I could cut out some of the pages for framing.

I’d love to see something like that more. Another friend of mine teaches at a German photo school, and some of his students have given him books made of actual colour prints, bound by a professional book binder. That’s, of course, an extreme way to produce books (and a very expensive one). But given it’s photography I think it’s closer to what getting a book from one’s own photography should be like - rather than shipping it off to some publisher someplace, to have it printed on cheap paper, with the colours ballparkish OK.

Sure, all of this comes at a price. Maybe this is a good way to look at this: Most photographers spend an awful lot of money on cameras, on film, on scanning (if applicable), on printing, an awful lot of time on making sure that everything is perfect - only to then opt for something cheap for the final book? Does that make sense?

PS: See, this is what you get when writing blog posts before reading other people’s blog - Mrs. Deane just talked about the joys of looking at self-published books (before talking about something else).