Paleolithic cave paintings: ABC (Artists’ Books Cooperative) on the photobook

This interview further continues a series of Q&As that focus on the contemporary photo book.


The Photobook and its moon E-Book seen from planet Photography on July 19, 2013.

1. What, in your view, do photo books contribute to the culture of photography?

Photo books are a small part of the wider genre of artists’ books, which have been an essential part of our culture ever since the invention of the printing press. But the culture of photography is vast and universal and in relation to it, the photobook community is a mere particle floating in space. Rather than contributing to the culture of photography, we’re witnessing the conscious development of a photobook market that’s working hard to establish its experts, idols, and judges. It’s a dead-end that will eventually murder what could have been a force for good. It doesn’t have to be this way.


Map representing the viral transmission of Hermann Zschiegner’s print-on-demand book ’25¢’ across the internet in October 2011. Red lines represent links between web pages in Asia, green for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, blue for North America, yellow for Latin America and white for unknown IP addresses.

2. How do you define your role within the growing and changing field of photo book publishing? What are you trying to achieve? 

Many of us are interested in print-on-demand publishing. Print-on-demand liberates artists from the oppressively expensive and laborious demands of traditional photobook publishing. Print-on-demand is fast, cheap, and light. It exists outside the power structures of publishers and distributors. Few people take it seriously and we are one of the few. We’re not interested in what the books smell like, how they’re bound, whether they’re embossed or printed on the finest papers on Earth. Those are luxuries we can live without. We’re interested in raw ideas and there is no better transporter for a great idea than a book. A single book if needs be. And with the internet, the ideas in that single book can go viral and reach millions in a split second. No need for proposals, book dummies, meetings, bank loans, trucks, boats, trains and planes to ship hundreds of kilos of heavy books across the world into warehouses and bookshops. A powerful idea expressed in a collection of pictures bound together for the price of a meal and placed online can bypass all of that.

As for the cooperative, we attend book fairs, curate exhibitions, work on projects and talk on an online forum where we discuss all aspects of making and proliferating work. We live in different countries and some of us have never met each other or even know what other members look like. We’re not even sure if some members are real or fictitious. We fall out – sometimes spectacularly – and we collaborate – sometimes spectacularly.


The earliest known reference to a print-on-demand book is visible beneath the Large Black Stag cave painting in Lascaux, France. Black spots, believed to represent the number of people exposed to the single book, have been carbon dated at 30,000 years old, suggesting the painting was produced some time during the Upper Paleolithic Age.

3. Do you publish online books and what might the future hold for this method of digitally distributing books? 

We’re all involved in publishing the idea of a book online. That is to say, each of our artists presents their book in some form of digital format that exists online as well as in physical form. That doesn’t mean it has to be an e-book. It could be the book presented as a video trailer on Vimeo, as a single line of text, a performance documented, an essay, a series of stills, or as a downloadable pdf file. The book exists in physical form and in conceptual form. It travels further and quicker as an idea than as an object. In the future, photography will outlive the photobook, images will outlive photography, and ideas will outlive images.


ABC [Artists’ Books Cooperative] is an international group of artists seeking to create, engage, and communicate on issues concerning self-publishing. Group interactions are centered on book fairs, exhibitions, and our online forum, where we discuss all aspects of making and proliferating work.

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