This interview further continues a series of Q&As that focus on the contemporary photo book. For this post, we asked Yannick Bouillis, the Director of Offprint Paris, to answer 5 questions about photo books.
Offprint Paris, 2012
1) What, in your view, do photo books contribute to the culture of photography?
In the 20th century, photo books contributed enormously to culture: they actually helped structure the rise of (art) photography. It is pretty much obvious that the history of photography as a professional activity, and as an art practice, starts from the two following frames of reference: professional publications (news media, advertising, fashion publications, company books) and photo books (more precisely authored practices). I even wonder sometimes what people consider the subject actually is when they talk about “photography” disconnected from the publishing media. Probably vernacular photography… which seems more relevant to sociology.
Vincent Debanne’s Battleship
2) How do you define your role within the growing and changing field of photo book publishing? What are you trying to achieve?
I represent an “art publishing fair”, a term I have used since 2011, realising that I am interested in art (contemporary art, graphic design, photography) and that I am also not interested in a specific frame (the “book”) but in all the frames of reference for art (books, zines, vinyl records, magazines, websites, blogs…). Perhaps I should get rid of the word “fair” since Offprint is very much about emerging practices around art, and very little, to be frank nothing at all, about business. Offprint, much-like NYC Book Fair, is not money driven: it just simply encourages avant-garde participants a chance to get some money back to cover the expense of practicing, publishing and curating.
3) Do you read online photo books and what might the future hold for this method of digitally distributing books?
Square balloons! You can digitise photo books for archiving and educational purposes. I think it is a great activity, and absolutely a necessity. A digital photo book for contemporary practice is a website. What I look at daily. That’s it. People producing digital photo books believe they are going to adapt photography to new technologies, but they might overlook the fact that new technologies have killed photography (as a professional activity). Digitisation of media – the shift from printed news and fashion media to online media – is not in need of “photographs”, but of videos. No one cares about photographs anymore – screenshots and postproduction are enough. It’s quite a lot of fun to be honest, photography was getting totally boring. Fortunately some “photographers” react and start playing with images under the regime of the Internet: net art, videos, hacking…
4) Which book do you feel most precisely demonstrates what publishing photo books is about?
It is difficult to say; i must say that I make no concession in selecting the publishers at Offprint. Most of the participants’ publications are very interesting, even if I do not like them all. One can’t. I appreciate different aspects of a book: sometimes the concept, sometimes the graphic design, sometimes the whole… I saw some weeks ago Lucas by Eric Stephanian. Heartbreaking. And before that I bought most of the books by Norman Ogue Mustill, a Beat generation artist from the 60’s, who is amazing.
Eric Stephanian’s Lucas
5) What kind of a relationship do you strike up with the artists or book publishers that you work with?
I must say I do not involve myself in what they do nor what they believe, even when selecting for Offprint. I only have to deal with what is done. But I must admit that from the many people who are rejected from participating in Offprint (there are 4 times more requests than places available), 70% remain unselected not because they lack talent, but because they lack knowledge: they still need to know about a few things regarding their work and the publication process… Sometimes it is poor graphic design; sometimes the editing is bad; sometimes the typeface is wrong; sometimes the website is crap; sometimes the statement is unclear. You feel there is “something” from most of the people applying (the people who do not belong to this world do not apply) but it is just somehow not enough. They should do a masterclass to make their work complete, but each time I try to explain why I do not select a publisher, I never get any “patient ears” (Nietzsche) just “noisy voices”.