Sunday, May 31, 2009

Photobooks worth keeping

How do you know what photobooks to keep and which ones to take down to your local used book shop? I have been thinking about this as my bookshelves have lost space to add anymore. I know, many of you are thinking, just add more bookshelves. Yes, that is doable, and most likely I will do that. But it did start me thinking.

It is not easy to pull a book off the shelf and decide that there is no value anymore (to me). Why did I buy it in the first place? It must of meant something at the time. Someone put time and energy into creating the book. I have always been a believer in the passion that is behind every work of art, including photobooks. At the time that I acquired the book, there where very good reasons for making this decision. This train of thought has lead me to the inevitable list, "top 10 reason to buy or keep a photobook."

The top ten reasons to buy (or keep) a book:

10. It was a good buy or its a first edition.
9. It will increase in value over time.
8. It is rare and not many copies are left in circulation.
7. It appears on some list of top 100 important photography books.
6. It is included in The Book of 101 Books edited by Andrew Roth.
5. It is included in either volumes I or II of The Photobook: A History by Martin Parr and Gerry Badger.
4. It is a perfect specimen of a photobook and comprises all that is key to a great book; wonderful photos, sequenced with intelligence, and is beautifully printed.
3. You learn something new or gain new insights about life and art every time you look it.
2. You are the author/creator of the book.
1. You truly love this book.

Feel free to create your own top ten reasons for keeping a book.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Digital or Not Digital

Recently I heard about the concept of a 10,000 year photography gallery. This idea has been put forth by photographer Edward Burtynsky in a presentation to the Long Now Foundation back in July 2008. The concept of the 10,000 year gallery is to archive images of our times that represent the culture of human kind today for future generations to see. Think cave drawings viewed today from our ancestors.

Part of Burtynsky's presentation was about the medium of display. His argument was that
photographic prints, especially color prints, degrade badly over time (digital imagery may not be practical because the machinery used today to create the images most likely will not survive in 10,000 years for the most fundamental reasons of environmental forces, etc.). Of course during every century, the images could be transferred to the technology of the day, but this solution may become cumbersome and requires a level of maintenance that is not practical. So instead, Burtynsky proposes the use of “carbon transfer prints.” This technology was invented back in the 1800's and there are a few, exactly three practitioners of this process. One happens to be in Seattle, Art & Soul. The carbon process transfers the image to just about any surface; water color paper, ceramic, steel, etc. The concept being that carbon wont degrade, the material wont deteriorate, and the imagery will last for millennia in the 10,000 year gallery.

Great, right? Not so fast. The problem is that the practitioners of this process are very few and there may not be new generations of people who know how to do this process. What happens when the few folks with the skill to create carbon prints turn into carbon themselves? We have all this great imagery of human kind turning into dust. As a culture, we are so quick to race towards a digital world and leave the analog (carbon) world behind, we lost tack of the value older technologies has to offer. Digital is great for today, but what about the archival prints? Sure, we can make a print that lasts maybe 80 or 100 years. Then what?

Students of photography, think about learning this craft. It may be ancient, but it will last millenia.