When Adams invited me to partake, I’d just finished writing the usual letter prefacing the Spring 2010 Aperture booklist, which I mention only because I begin the piece by marveling over the extent to which photobooks have been a primary topic of conversation everywhere I’ve been over the the past year — from the Netherlands to Madrid, Frankfurt to Paris, Beijing, and other less exotic places in between. It’s not that this is unexpected in my line of work (publishing, photography, etc.), but the fact that I haven’t been the one to force the topic on other people, and that others have been eager to speak to me about it on their own—that I have been invited to more book awards, shows on books than ever before—is proof to me that the conversation on photobooks is reaching a point of super-saturation. To my knowledge, there are at least four major Books about Books in development (Latin American Photobooks, German Photobooks, Dutch Photobooks, among other general interest) and several related exhibitions underway for release sometime in 2010-11. (In fact, I’m a little bit worried about whether or not the backlash is going to set in before too long). Of course, this newfound attention must be viewed conversley within the larger context of the implosion of the publishing industry at large. This is one of those moments of reconsideration that history loves to give us: the book is dead, long live the book!
From this vantage point, it seems pretty apparent that the photobook market is bifurcating and then some, dividing things into at least two identifiable camps—not to be seen simply as a split between the luxury collectible v. the mainstream affordable, or, as it is more commonly interpreted, between analog and digital. My preferred view of this is of a matrix in which along one axis, you have publications in which the transmission of the idea is tantamount to its material form; and along the other, publications in which the objectness and conceptual rightness of the material form are of utmost importance. In the ideal world, a multiplicity of points plotted between these two axes would be acceptable and supportable; the key factor being a commitment to finding the right form for the material—be it traditional offset printing, hand-pulled gravure, Indigo digital printing, halftone on newsprint, eBook, or online presentation. In other words, even if one sticks to the traditional definition of the book as the word and image brought together in a physical form, there is no single future of the photobook—there are multiple futures.