Review: Swiss Photobooks from 1927 to the Present


Book Reviews, Photobooks


We live in what feels like the golden age of the photobook. There currently is enormous interest in the medium, and one can hope there will be for a long time. At the same time, the photobook has produced another industry: Books about photobooks. Things started off slowly, with The Photobook: A History, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 deservedly becoming seminal books. Much could be said about these books - the writing is superb, while one wishes there were better spreads of the books, say. There simply is no way anyone interested in photobooks can be without owning a copy each. A few years after their publication, many other such books have now been published, typically with a geographical focus. Swiss Photobooks from 1927 to the Present is, as far as I can tell, the latest addition to the growing canon. (more)

If you’re not Swiss you might wonder what is interesting about Swiss photobooks. The answer, of course, is provided by, well, Swiss Photobooks, and this certainly is not supposed to be a flippant comment at all. Regardless of how we look at things, our world still suffers from a large variety of geographical biases (I realize this is a rather tame way to describe the West’s shameful treatment of Africa, say, but that’s beyond the scope of this article), and books like this one can easily help to correct things quite a bit (for another example, c.f the recently released The Latin American Photobook).

But what makes Swiss Photobooks such an exciting read is not that it closes whatever gap in knowledge one might possess. Instead, it is how this is being done. The book easily is one of the most massive tomes in my library. After it arrived in the mail, my wife asked me where I would possibly store it, which is a very valid concern. I do have industrial-type shelves to store books (I kid you not), but I’m still waiting for the day when the floor will buckle underneath them. That day cannot be far off once I add this particular book: It has 640 pages and weighs 7.5 pounds, introducing 70 photobooks.

If you’re good at math you’ll immediately realize that each photobook thus gets more than a mere couple of pages. Instead, there are many spreads and a long in-depth essay for each book. In addition, there are additional essays about different time periods. All of this was done by a team of 23 authors. It really doesn’t get any better than that. Swiss Photobooks is a pleasure to look at and read. A truly amazing book.

Swiss Photobooks from 1927 to the Present, various authors, 640 pages, Lars Muller Publishers, 2011