Innovative photobook designs this year

Copyright Todd Oldham, Bedrock City, 2008, courtesy AMMO books

I have been thinking about Joerg Colberg’s post about a lack of “cutting edge” photobooks, while I am working on my list of best photobooks in 2009. Joerg states “…there isn’t much of a variety in photo books…the format itself is so conservative”. I think that for a mass-produced book, that is for a run of 500 books or more, that there are some innovatively designed books, not necessarily “cutting edge” designed photobooks. Of course, “cutting edge” is also a pretty subjective qualification, as is innovative. In this case, I am considering the photobook design to be inclusive of the layout, materials of construction, printing, binding and presentation.

In my opinion, if you are truly seeking some “cutting edge” book designs, I think you will find them in the category of an artist photobook, which are usually hand-made, and very limited in the quantity produced, ranging from one to perhaps ten. These can be very amazing and brilliant. But they are not (currently) the focus of this blog.

So I have come up with my short list of innovative photobooks that were produced in quantities of more than 500 that I have seen this last year, although they have not have all been published in 2009. Regretfully, and maybe to Joerg’s point, it is a short list of three; Todd Oldham’s Bedrock City, Lee Friedlander’s New Mexico and Jim Goldberg’s Open See. I have published reviews of two, and I have a pending review of Goldberg’s photobook, which I may still complete before the end of the year. BTW, I also believe that an innovative book design can not be accomplished at the expense of the photographs and the photographer, that the book design should complement and enhance the photographs and your experience.

Number one on my list: Todd Oldham’s Bedrock City. Perhaps this book benefits from the whimsical design style of Oldham, who is probably better known as a designer than a photographer. The outer wrap, which incorporates a belly band by how it is folded, is very unusually for a book cover, incorporating a map of Bedrock City. The interior photographs are all printed without borders, but the photobook has bound in the back four perforated cardstock postcards that you can actually mail to friends. These two elements enhance the experience of “visiting” Bedrock City. I have not reviewed the other Oldham books published by AMMO, but I suspect that they also have similar innovative elements.

Number two on my list: Lee Friedlander’s New Mexico. The interesting element to this book is the photobook’s binding. This creative element was deigned to incorporate the theme of Friedlanders project, as interrupted by the Radius Book design team of Skolin + Chickey, who are also principles of Radius Books, along with Darius Himes. Since I almost applied some book binding glue to “fix” this book, is a testament as to how unusual this book’s binding was, which does complement the interior photographs.

Number three on my list: Jim Goldberg’s Open See. Although I have not finished my review of this book (numerous unanswered requests to Magnum for interior images has left me a little frustrated – UPDATE now resolved by creating my own illustrative images), I found that the binding of multiple books within a book, is an innovative process to compartmentalized and differentiate the subjects within his larger project. You have to physically move from book to book, which interrupts the flow mentally and visually, to understand the context of this body of work.

Best regards, Douglas Stockdale

Copyright Lee Freidlander, New Mexico, 2008, courtesy Radius Books

Copyright Jim Goldberg, Open See, 2009 courtesy Steidl

3 thoughts on “Innovative photobook designs this year

Add yours

  1. I’m curious if the add-ons in the Oldham book made the reading experience itself awkward at all. I would love to see more books like this, but I’m kind of wary of how these things might actually detract from the actual purpose of the object.

    I saw the Goldberg book and I have to say that while the work was fascinating, I’m not sure I’d call the design truly innovative. The thinness of the outer box also made putting all the volumes back in a little difficult… It’s so hard to talk about general innovations without talking about very specific objects and problems!

  2. Jin,

    The add-on’s to the Oldham book do not create an awkardness, the dust cover can be left folded as a thick cover to this softcover book. The post cards are inside the book, as I unfolded the dust cover and pullled open the post cards to illustrate the elements in this post.

    For the Goldberg book, the outer sleeve is a medium weight paperboard, and mine already has a torn corner only after a few uses; realitivily fragile.

    Innovative does not mean robust, and Goldberg’s book of four in one is a bit unusual. Overall, not a lot of books that I can point to as being “innovative”. I’ve been told that there are more innovative books being printed in Japan, but I do not have very good visibility to what is being published there, so I reserve comment for the moment.


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