Objektiv want to look closer at book production in the light of the upcoming seminar at c/o Berlin Photobooks: RESET that starts from the premise that the photo book world is in crisis. Is the photo book in trouble? After working in the Schaden bookstore, reviewing photo books for FOAM in many years, created the bookstore at LE BAL, and also published books himself, we would like to ask Sebastian Hau: what makes a good photo book? What should photographers have in mind the coming years?
Sebastian Hau: There’s not too many different answers to that, but the possible answers allow for quite a bit of differences. Of course a book has to be considered in it’s entirety, but there is a wide range between classical definitions “integrity of form and content’ and the experiments made by artists in and photographers over the last 60 years. Isn’t it all in the sequence? Once you start turning the pages, and there’s a strong feeling of relating to the images (relating in different ways of course), and a tension between the eye and the body and the sequence unrolling, not unlike when listening to a song, where you discover the melodical structure and lyrics at the same time. That’s where the comparison stops, when the materiality and design of the book come in. There is no formal theory underlying the claim that the photography book is a medium, but intuitively it feels like the right approach. A visual medium where the part of the text and language also plays an important role. This abstract description is meant to be as inclusive as possible because the experiments in form have widened our understanding what such a book is and can be in such a way that no classical framework can do it justice. People from all over the world are producing and understanding photography and photography books as a serious medium and that movement is often overwhelming, but it’s a fantastical evolution full of hope and new beginnings.
There are books I keep coming back to, as references and because a second or third reading can give new insights, is there a book (or books) that you keep coming back to?
SH: I love a great many different books for different reasons, and when I work with students there’s always a difficult question: should you concentrate on a small set of books to construct a framework or open up studies of as many books as possible ? Where as I can’t answer this question I find myself drawn to showing as many books as possible, and find that often students chose one book for themselves that suddenly speaks to them, in the most unexpected ways. I can never get myself into the desert island discs frame of mind, what selection would I take on an island, because many of the books made today do not yet aim for or achieve canonical status. It’s too easy to pick out some classics, but classics without a context don’t mean a lot either.
What I enjoy the most with the book fairs you run, Cosmos and Polycopies, is the focus on events, exhibitions and talks - that the aspect of selling books seems less important than talking about books, could you talk a little about your strategies around the book fairs you’re organising together with the respective partners?
SH: I believe in selling very much, because books, as a source of information, containers of art are exactly in their ‘democratic’ form meant to be sold and bought. The market aspect of books, often allowing to sail under the radar of high commerce is exciting. It creates a lot of precarity but it guarantees liberty. Both Cosmos and Polycopies are first of all places for people to discover and buy books. On the other hand I’ll always remember being an intern in these gigantic festivals a long time ago, and together with my partners we want our places to be as open and welcoming as possible, and try to not have a price tag on everything. And of course our events take place in parallel to Paris Photo and the Rencontres, so there’s obviously a huge discussion going on, and we just try to provide a setting where this discussion can take place. We are working with Laurent Chardon on Polycopies now, and a part from the difficult process of selecting participants, the main focus now is on creating a space where people can interact as much as they like, and stay as long as they like. The boat that hosts our event Polycopies is a little to small for that, but there’s nothing more beautiful than to step out in the evening for a moment and see so many people in lively discussion!