Photobooks in the digital age.


To understand what place the Photo-book has within today’s society firstly one must be able to define just what the “digital age” is. In this digital age we are linked.  There is an abundance of information at our disposal and we use digitally linked devices to obtain and share this information. We live in a digital convergence culture, that being the coming together of technology and information. We can  find, copy, produce and share information like never before but just what does this mean for the Physical Photo-Book?

What is a book? The Oxford English dictionary defines it as such :

Book Noun : a written or printed work consisting of pages glued or sewn together along one side and bound in covers. 

The book has a highly standard form which is intended to be read in order. It is sequential, logical and has a defined narrative.  The traditional format of a book has been used for centuries and is instantly recognisable . Photo Books adheres to the same blueprint. It is not a collection of parts, but rather a whole. A photo-book is not a portfolio of the authors work but a project that is sequential and has narrative.  It has direction and meaning.

The author of a photo-book has to present their Horizon (Vision/ideas/agenda) within their book. It has to be clearly illustrated in order for the viewer make sense of the book. It also has to be considered that the viewer/reader will also bring their own viewer Horizon to their experience, in other words , they have expectations based on knowledge or research. The two Horizons can merge and the artists horizon can alter the viewers horizon.  How we choose to present our photo-books must reinforce the message we are trying to communicate without confusing the viewer.

We looked at Nobuyoshim Araki – Sentimental journey, Winter journey , it tells the tale of love and falling in love and ends with the death of his wife. The book has clear direction and leads with viewer on a life journey. The way in which the book comes encased in an outer sleeve gives the impression of something hidden , precious and makes the viewer feel as though they are being somewhat voyeuristic.

This physical gives the reader a generative experience that a digital book, in my opinion, could not. The feeling of intimacy would be lost in not being able to feel and hold the book, to uncover what lies beneath the outer layers.

It could also be  that something that can be copied loses its value, something that Walter Benjamin in his work “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” argues. Things that are authentic and unique have more value placed on them by the reader/viewer and therefore are more genuine. This said, I feel that the digital book definitely has its place within modern society. Physical books are limited by a number of factors, such as cost restraints, the lack of portability and exclusivity. The digital book, and in particular the print to demand book, reach a far wider audience and can bring information that would have been previously out of reach to the viewer. So whilst physical books retain an air of uniqueness about them, the digital book has the ability for authors to reach a wider audience than ever before.

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