I am an avid (probably obsessive) collector of photography books and catalogs - investing a fairly high percentage of my income each month to add to the collection. And there is a reason why I spend hours each month perusing new releases and scouring used outlets for classic older releases. Like many photography lovers, I would kill to have a collection of actual photographic prints that would rival the Getty or MOMA collections, but I will never have the financial resources to match my enthusiasm for collecting.
What top quality photography books offer me and many other photography obsessives is the opportunity to own the next best thing to the actual photograph.
There are books in my collection that include reproductions that rival the actual printed photograph on occasion.
The editor of Fraction Mag mentioned a much treasured copy of Alec Soth's Sleeping by the Mississippi. I cherish a copy of this book too and several others that Soth has released. I would love to have some of the original prints, but I will settle for a well crafted book... and Soth's books are certainly well crafted.
Another treasured volume is a limited edition of the work of Manuel Alvarez Bravo... it is a marvel of publishing and elegance and quality. And the work of Todd Hido, Guy Tillim, Lee Friedlander, and hundreds of other photographers are part of my daily life because of well crafted books.
They look good, they feel good, they smell good - and yes, each of them is treasured.
They don't come cheap these days with more limited quantities being printed, and for that reason each is carefully selected.
Since Photo-Eye is just a half mile from my home (a fortunate situation), I spend hours looking through the stacks of new books. For some this might be a boring activity... for me it is an absolute delight.
Now I also spend hours on the net with an equally voracious appetite to discover new work. There are many marvelous and hugely talented photographers who may never publish, although I wish that more could publish (even using POD as it emerges).
I really don't see that printed photography books will disappear... in fact, my own research indicates that there are more titles being released than ever... not all will make a splash, nor will all make a profit.
But the many new options for publishing that are becoming available will continue to give many talented artists an opportunity to show their work even if that work never reaches a gallery or a major publishing house.
Most of us already know that not all fine art photographers are well represented in the still limited fine art market, but they still wish to show their work - whether it be in a self published book for limited distribution to a few friends and admirers or whether it is on the Internet in digital form where many more people might see it than if it were in a major gallery.
In fact, many emerging photographers are finding an opportunity for success with the addition of the Internet to their printed portfolios. And POD books are offering an opportunity to them that did not exist just a few years ago.
The digital music industry has shown us that self published work need not be an inferior product. In fact, the music industry has grown exponentially with the myriad of channels open to composers and music makers. And some of that creative work rises to the top and sells more copies than might have been sold through traditional channels.
I plan to keep on collecting books from the major publishers and from niche publishers like Photo-Eye. I am one of those collectors who found the new very limited editions of Photo-Eye Editions to be very exciting and well crafted (and desirable)... have bought their first release and am paying off a copy of the second release. These are beautifully crafted books (and portfolios). They set me back a few dollars to be sure, but some treasures are worth the investment... and some treasures like these are worth passing on to future generations.
Radius is another one of those niche market publishers who have caught my attention, and many of their books are now in my collection. The quality of the work makes them very desirable to this collector and book lover.
Perhaps the industry is changing and perhaps some photography books will find their way to reading devices instead of being issued in a paper edition. These reproductions on a digital screen may never rival the original prints or reproductions in book form, but they give us an alternate way to exhibit (or enjoy) the work.
But as long as beautiful books are being made, there are many of us that will add the best of them to our lives (and to our collections).
Will I spend $50.00 to $200 for a book when I can see the same photographs on the Internet... you betcha... and one form of media will supplement the other....
Personally I encourage photographers to use all forms of media to share their work. And I encourage collectors to use and enjoy all forms of media.
The more sharing the better.
Our artists have to eat, to pay the rent... and some just want to share the work no matter if the sharing brings them a living or just brings the thrill of creative effort shared with others.
So yes, I am only a small fish in the book collecting world, but there are many others like myself who get their kicks (and pleasure) from spending hours in a bookstore, hours at home surrounded by a collection of brilliant publications, and who supplement their interest through online discoveries each and every day.
I will keep on buying books because I love them... and I will follow the best of them on the Internet as well... and maybe even purchase a few future releases to enjoy on some type of portable reading device.
And frankly I will continue to look for talented photographers on Flickr, since I believe that being a purist is the quickest way to lose sight of an art form that is in transition.
Photographers have dozens of new ways to show their best work and not be limited to a book or to a gallery....
And those of us who cherish the work in any of its forms will continue to support them.
Is there a future for photography books? Is there a future for fine art photography in all of its emerging forms?
Check out what other book lovers are saying about the Future of Photography Books on the Resolve Blog .