What makes a great photobook? The American photographer John Gossage’s definition is as good as any: “Firstly, it should contain good work. Secondly, it should make that work function as a concise world within the book itself. Thirdly, it should have a design that complements what is being dealt with. And finally, it should deal with content that sustains an ongoing interest.”
The writer and curator Gerry Badger has summoned these words in his introduction to The Photobook: A History Volume III, co-edited with the Magnum photographer Martin Parr. The book is an indispensable resource for publishers and photographers – or anyone with an interest in photobook culture. Following on from the previous two editions, also published by Phaidon, Volume III brings the series up-to-date with its examination of the decades around the Cold War, the new century and the Internet – a history of the present moment in photobooks.
Featuring spreads and images from over 200 publications, this epic book on books is a highly subjective survey, not a plotted history, and it’s all the more invigorating for it. The selection has been broken down into nine thematic categories: propaganda, protest, desire, society, place, conflict, identity, memory and the medium itself.
Including contemporary classics such as Christian Patterson’s Redheaded Peckerwood, historical masterpieces like Shikishima by Tamiko Nishimura, as well as some hitherto unknown titles by anonymous photographers – for example, Work and War in Spain, published by the Spanish Embassy in London in 1938 – it encapsulates the collective concerns of photobook makers, while also facilitating a broader discussion on contemporary photography.
Taken as a whole, this series is not just an important addition to the canon of photobook history, it has become the canon itself. And although volume III is billed as the final instalment of Phaidon’s seminal trilogy, it is hard to believe that we have heard the last on the subject from Parr and Badger. In this golden age of photobook publishing, and as previously hidden histories continue to emerge, the possibility of The Photobook: A History Volume IV must surely – and hopefully – be orbiting their imagination.
For more information or to order a copy visit phaidon.com
For more in the PICTURED series, search @tags pictured