Photobook Roundtable at Focus/PhotoLA, February 3, 2019

The Panel: Khodr Cherri, Aline Smithson, Douglas Stockdale, Dotan Saguy, and Richard S. Chow – Photo © Gerhard Clausing


In spite of inclement weather (Southern California is experiencing an above-average wet winter), there was a full house at this very useful photobook panel discussion moderated by Richard S. Chow during the Focus programming this year at PhotoLA 2019.

The participants were all published authors, photographers, and a printer, sharing many years of practical experience: Aline Smithson, well-known Lenscratch Editor and mentor/teacher; Dotan Saguy, who just successfully launched his Venice Beach photobook, which we reviewed here; Douglas Stockdale, who has published/self-published a number of books and reviewed hundreds as Editor of The PhotoBook Journal, who is also a mentor and teaches workshops on the subject; and Khodr Cherri from A&I, a master printer who guides photographers through many technical aspects of producing a book.

All I can do here is highlight some of the main points that I found especially important:

  1. The photobook is an excellent platform to display your art, and it is more permanent than exhibits, and less expensive for your audience to collect than prints. It is also an effective way to disseminate photographs to a wider audience.
  2. Studying other photographers’ books and reading book reviews, such as the ones this journal publishes, can not only provide you with ideas, but also provide you with information as to what the trends are at any particular time. Also a source for book designers and book printers.
  3. There are many ways to publish your work, from inexpensive to the sky’s the limit. Artists can also assemble and produce their own work (hand-made photo art is very collectible), to “zines” that can be produced and distributed.
  4. 90% of the time the financing will come from the photographer and/or his friends; the top publishing houses require substantial advances. Exceptions are projects by well-known photographers with a strong following or featuring those who are no longer with us.
  5. Crowd-funding and pre-selling to your support groups can be effective ways to get your book published.
  6. The selections made in regard to technical details such as paper choice, printing method, binding techniques will substantially add to the success of a book project, and need to be consistent with the size of the edition as well as the book’s affordability.
  7. Distribution channels are often limited to those who self-publish, but you can manage on the basis of your own initiative (your followers, local bookstores, etc.).
  8. Mentors, consultants, designers and PR persons are the people who can take your photobook projects to much higher levels of sophistication and success­­­ than you might be able to do on your own. Some of the panelists also function in such roles or can put you in touch with such specialists that you may need.

Needless to say, the points summarized here merely scratch the surface. There is really no substitute for learning from those who have already created similar projects as to what you might want to accomplish, so seek their advice and/or attend their workshops or mentoring sessions. You can click on the links above that are superimposed on the participants’ names and find them if you wish to use their help.

Gerhard Clausing

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