Blurb has just announced that the winner of the Photography.Book.Now contest for "self-published" digitally-produced photography books is Beth Dow , for her book "In the Garden". Dow's book is a series of pictures made in gardens in formal gardens in England and Italy, shot on medium format and 35mm, and printed with a platinum palladium process by her husband Keith Taylor .
I had the pleasure of seeing these prints at the f295 symposium earlier this year and the combination of the images and their interpretation as prints blew me away. The pictures describes ideal gardens existing somewhere between the imaginations of their designers and gardeners and the imagination of the photographer. They evoke 19th century imagery in material appearance, content, and composition, yet somehow they don't look like pictures recovered from an archive, they look like they were made more recently- which they were.
Photographers used to talk about publishing their first book as a milestone in a career. The ability to do so through a publisher or in conjunction with a show is still evidence of accomplishment. But what does it mean that the well-produced monograph that was a badge of accomplishment, gatekept by publishers and museums, can now be so well-produced by individuals? The gatekeeping still makes a difference, but book-making, made more convenient, can return to other uses: a framework for organizing a project, a means to circulate one's work in a physical form, a means to keep pictures so that you can live with them. Sometimes flickr photo streams and flash galleries are not enough.
One of the pleasures of this contest is that many of the submissions are available online for browsing. There's a huge range of entries, including lots of travel-based books, relationship-based books, theme-based books of portraits, etc. It's a really impressive array of ways that people have chosen not only to look at something in the world that has interested them, but to edit and narrate stories about them.
The contest, however, awarded work that is squarely situated in the conversations of the art world. The winners all look like high end art books and feature a high level of photography; the designs are clean, lots of white, lots of space for and around pictures. It's good art, yes, and the winners are good art books. But it seems a shame that this opportunity to explore the possibilities of self publishing was not taken, to reward books that don't look or feel like the ones in the MoMA shop.
And mysteriously, there are few people depicted in any of the winning entries apart from Lowy's pictures made through the window of an armoured vehicle in Baghdad. Where did all the people go? (Note: Blurb only allows visitors to browse the first 15 pages of any book, Ben Lowy's book was not browsable, and Cara Phillips' Singular Beauty was self produced and not browsable on Blurb.)
You can see all the winners at a traveling salon , in London October 10, other cities as well.
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