A frequent question I ask myself is what makes a book presentation of photographs different than viewing them in a gallery setting or on a computer screen. What is it about the book that continues to capture photographers' attention as a means to convey their images? The history of the photobook could easily be told from the library's collection. Over the years, we've collected "traditional" photobooks with straight forward sequences of images to recent works that push at the format's limits, testing how a book can function as a communicator of images and information and more self consciously as an object (art or otherwise) and sometimes simultaneously functioning on all levels.
George Tice's new book, Seldom Seen, which the library recently acquired, continues Tice's longtime relationship with the book. Published by Brilliant Press, its quadtone images reveal such depth that, as Tice discusses in a recent video, you might mistake them for silver-based prints, ie "real" photographs. Tice also reveals that when he's engaged in a photo project, the work is intrinsically tied up with thinking about how his images will play out in book form.
Bryan Schutmaat's new book, Grays the Mountain Sends, also new in the library, features the familiar territory of somber portraits and landscapes of small-town American West, especially mining towns. Yet the book offers a few surprises that tease it into the realm of an art object. Its metal binding suggests ore or perhaps the rails of a mining car, and its tightness makes the reader flip the pages rather than linger on a spread (the book will not lie flat). The book requires that you handle it in order to take in its contents. Alternating landscapes and portraits are interspersed with coal-colored sheets that seem to force a retinal reset, serving as a pause between sections. These features married with the images give the viewer a multidimensional experience.
Each takes a different approach to the book format, yet both communicate with equal power. You can experience both in the reading room starting next month.
Samuel Duncan, Library Director