The success of a photo book is subjective but at the Australia & New Zealand Photobook Awards the guiding principle is the “fitness for purpose and audience” for every element of the work: the photography, the design, layout, sequencing, text, typography, cover and format. An engaging visual narrative and originality of the concept and design are also vital.
To guide you in the creation of an award-winning photo book we’ve curated some comments from the 2018 judges of the Australia & New Zealand Photobook Awards, that may help you avoid some pitfalls and inspire you to consider some elements for your own publication.
Anita is founder of Auckland-based independent antipodean photo book distributor, Remote Photobooks. She believes the the success of a photo book is found in the artist’s motivation or concept behind the work; the photographic content and making sure the body of work is properly exhibited; and the creative collaboration between designer and artist to heighten the viewer’s experience.
Her favourite photo book is No More No Less, a collaboration between artists Kensuke Koike and Thomas Sauvin, published in 2018 by Jiazazhi Press. French artist Sauvin received an album of photographs taken by a Shanghai University photography student in the early 1980s. New silver prints were made from the negatives; Japanese artist Koike then created careful reinterpretations of the portraits with cutting tools and adhesive.
No More No Less features a paper slipcase holding 48 pages and 26 prints. Each print is in its own sleeve so you can pull it out to view Koike’s cutting artistry. The designer Yinhe Cheng heightened the physicality of the book and prints by making a removable slipcase and individual page sleeves. It’s a successful photo book because of its combination of design, tactility and deconstructed photographs.
Kriselle Baker of independent Kiwi publisher Baker Douglas is particularly interested in the use of text in photo books – a topic that always inspires much debate during the Awards judging! Should it be included and if so, how much?
Over the years, there has been a consistency in the judges’ opinion. Those most versed in fine art and reading imagery didn’t feel the need for text, but if the aim of your photo book is to appeal to a broad audience who are likely to be unfamiliar with your work, text is helpful for providing context and guiding readers into your work.
Kriselle believes that if your audience is coming to your work cold the very best thing you can do is to put it in some kind of context. A well-written piece of text can enhance the appreciation of an artist’s work enormously. For a young artist it also adds an element of credibility – if this writer, whoever they may be, has taken the time to consider and write about your work then perhaps I should do the same.
A great example is 2018 finalist work Six for Gold by Jake Mein, published by Bad News Books. The essay didn’t seek to explain the work but rather gave you a way in. It explored one idea in a sophisticated way. Any old text of course won’t do, it needs to be well-considered and well-written.
I see text in a photo book like dialogue in a film, sure you can look at the images without the dialogue but a lot of the time you’re not going to understand the narrative and the end result can be dissatisfying or frustrating.
Six For Gold is also a brilliant title. It’s enigmatic but not too clever and it inspired a lovely moment of recognition for me when I reached the end of the book and realised the title had come from a nursery rhyme. Drawing on text from a nursery rhyme was meaningful, as it dove-tailed into the ‘coming of age’ aspect of the book.
A book’s title can significantly direct the shape of a book in the same way it has for exhibitions where curators start with a title then pull the exhibition together as a direct response.
Please also spell check your text. Textual errors signify that you don’t care enough about the work to get it right.
Teun van der Heijden
Teun van der Heijden of Amsterdam-based design studio Heijdens-Karwai, was our 2018 international judge. He is also a key figure in the world of Dutch Photobook Design, so it was no surprise that he was drawn to the more creative designs. Teun felt that those produced in a classical, traditional way (as per the American Photobook Design style) were not as successful with pairing and sequencing of photos.
Like Tokyo-based photo book consultant and mentor, Yumi Goto of Reminders Photography Stronghold, he feels that playfulness can offer more potential to some stories. For this reason he was a fan of the winner of the Student category, ROYGBIV by Kira Sampurno. He felt that the tangible 3D nature of the work and the folded pages contributed greatly to its success. At the same time however, he warns that tactile elements and physical features are wonderful but they don’t ensure a great book.
Don’t just add physical elements and gimmicks without consideration. You need to ensure that the format of your work is in keeping with the subject and purpose of your book, and the choices you make for the size, format, cover material, finishes and any complementary ephemera are meaningful, and add meaning to the work.
Teun’s main request is that photographers get help from photobook or publication specific designers. While photographers may be familiar with composing images within the frame of a photograph, this doesn’t necessarily translate to composing double page spreads and a narrative over a series of pages. This expertise is the domain of layout designers.
In conclusion, we’ll leave you to dwell on two particularly poignant comments from our judges.
“Second Sight [the 2018 Photobook category winner] is a great example of how a photo book doesn’t have to be over designed to make a beautiful story with visual flow.”
– Teun van der Heijden, Heijdens Karwai
“The edit is a key factor, less is always more!”
– Anita Totha, Remote Photobooks
Enter the Australia & New Zealand Photobook Awards by 15 January 2020
If you’re feeling inspired, visit anzphotobookaward.com for the Award criteria, entry details and past winner’s gallery complete with comments from the judges.
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