Naked bound with Dust Jacket, Laura Braun, Metier, copyright 2013
Okay, for some of you I’m guessing that the title of this post might not be exactly what you were expecting, eh?
For some time artist, photographers and graphic designers have been pushing the conceptual design envelop of a photobook as an integral extension of the published work. Thus questioning how a published book should be designed and constructed as to how the resulting object might possibly expand/extend the narrative.
As the traditional photobook becomes morphed into a contemporary photobook, how do we describe the changes that beget the new look and function?
One aspect of the book’s design that has been getting some attention is focused on the spine, the section of the book which holds all of the signatures (pages) together. In the past, the spine had elaborate covers and enabled the publisher to identify the book title and author to allow recognition on the book seller’s shelves. Now book designers have been allowing the spine to be unconcealed, or naked bound as Laura Braun describes in her book’s description and the underlying reason for this post.
My first brush with this open spine design concept was in 2009 with Lee Friedlander’s photobook New Mexico, which the open spine was described as revealing the book’s skeleton (I have since found out that this book design style is call Tape Binding). In an exchange with Darius Himes, who was a principal of Radius Books and the publisher of Friedlander’s book, he stated discussion in response to my question;
No, you’re not going insane. The book is a very intentional object: no end-pages, the book block “sits” against the raw book boards, naked and exposed on the rough terrain of those boards, if you will. The back of the book block is secured to the back board as a structural device. This very raw object is clothed in a very elegant dust-jacket with a debossed and duo-tone printed, inlaid image. Again, the effect is a raw object clothed with elegance (kind of like New Mexico and Santa Fe itself). So, no, the book is not supposed to have front end-pages and the spine is not meant to be glued to anything…. you’re seeing right to the skeleton of a book.
In retrospect, I guess I should have paid closer attention to Himes description of this design (…naked and exposed…) and probably Braun’s description for Metier would not have struck me as it did. I have deferred to calling this spine design an open thread stitching and included this in my photobook definitions (sidebar).
Since 2009, I have seen this open thread stitching become more common. I will admit that I am unsure why some book designers have included this particular aspect in their book design perhaps other than gain some attention as the open thread stitching did not see pertinent to the published work. Perhaps it is the cool thing to do for a book. I prefer to think of how form follows function. You should have a reason for ever aspect of your book design; paper selection, layout, text, captions, sequencing, binding, etc. if you desire to present a cohesive concept.
Okay, that said, I will readily admit that there are some interesting aspects of Braun’s naked bound book Metier worth discussing. First, the dust jacket conceals the open thread stitching, thus he book’s design concept is not blatantly revealed but you have to remove the jacket to find out that her book is naked. hmmmm, perhaps I need to think about that aspect a bit more…..
Up until recently, the open thread stitching also included a layer of glue to finish the binding, while Braun’s naked bound does not. As a result, her photobook’s binding is more vulnerable to handling and damage. Early books were notorious for the spine to break which resulted in the pages falling out, which is why the spines were glued after stitching to further reinforce the spine. One result of not having any reinforcing glue is that it allows her book to fully open into a lay flat condition. A wonderful attribute to aid the reading of her photobook.
The second subtly, but more apparent as the reader spends time with the book, is that she has selected multicolored threading for her naked bound book. Thread color is usually selected to appear close to the page color so that the thread does not compete with the interior images and text. In Braun’s book the variety of brightly color thread is hard to miss and the color shifts though out the book. Thus Braun’s book is naked bound with a delightedly colorful flair.
So from time to time I will spend a little time discussing contemporary book designs as another aspect of this blog.
Update: The awesome photobook designer Sybren (-SYB- ) Kuiper pointed out to me that the book design above also falls into the book design category of Swiss Binding: The book cover is not attached to the face top edge, completely detached from the text block. Accordingly, I have added this to the blog sidebar of Photobooks: definitions and terms.