Ewa Monika Zebrowski, Le livre photographique comme espace de collaboration — Zoë Tousignant

[Winter 2021]

By Zoë Tousignant

It stands to reason that much thought, time, and energy go into the making of a photobook. Fortunately, the work that it involves is usually shared by several individuals who, each expert in their own field, contribute to creating the end product. These individuals most often include a photographer, a graphic designer, a publisher, an editor, an author, a translator, a paper maker, a printer, a bookbinder, and a distributor. The extent of the role that each of these actors assumes, however, is rarely consistent from one instance to the next, and so, with every book made the lines of such relationships are redrawn. For example, I have worked with photographers who have welcomed tremendous input from graphic designers, while others have simply needed someone to execute a pre-established design concept. The same is true even of publishers, who may see their role either as leader or supporter of creative activity.

Every situation is different; yet, when it comes to assigning a photobook’s authorship, the outcome is remarkably predictable: the author of a photobook is the photographer. “But of course it is,” I hear photographers cry in unison. “After all, it’s my book!” Although my intention is not to undervalue the thought, time, and energy invested in a book by a photographer, I nevertheless want to question this status quo in order to explore what an alternative understanding might unlock. What happens when we begin to acknowledge the parts played by all the other contributors? How does recognizing these individuals and relationships expand the way the photobook is perceived at a conceptual level and also, more simply, how it is read?

It bears acknowledging that a clear and firm designation of the author function has been a determining factor of the photobook’s acceptance as a work of art in its own right over the past twenty years or so. It is perhaps precisely to counteract the object’s authorial complexity (and perhaps also its occasional affiliation with the world of popular publishing) that the photobook’s acceptance has rested on the notion that creative genius resides in single individual. Names of photographers are what drive both the acquisition of photobooks by museums and special collections and the publication of canon-building compendiums on the genre. The situation can be compared to the field of cinema, in which the main share of creativity is conventionally attributed to the director, despite the hundreds or even thousands of people who labour over any given film. The notion of the author is a useful device that can help obscure the fact that, behind a single name, an entire industry is at work.

See the magazine for the complete article and more images: Ciel variable 116 – LANDSCAPES AS MIRRORS