The Photobook

[November 23, 2021]

By Louis Perreault

Opening a photo book means delving into a multidimensional offering. All of the images and the conceptual structure of their sequencing, as well as the materiality of the book and its graphic design, affect how we handle and perceive it. Our relationship with the works found within it is private, personal, individual – a relationship that is built over the long term, as we look at the book again and again.

Artists and photographers have been producing books for a long time. In recent decades, however, how they are produced and distributed has changed a great deal. Artists’ reliance on publishers has faded away, because self-publishing, with the creative freedom that it offers, has become an attractive avenue. A wealth of specialized publishing houses have also sprung up, providing a variety of approaches and more competitiveness, leading to greater creativity. In short, books – as supports for artworks but also as artworks on their own – are having a new heyday, despite the current generalized dematerialization of cultural consumption, which too often takes place through digital media.

Since March 2020, a number of books produced in Quebec have drawn my eye. The artists stood out for how they formulated their artistic proposals through their book, even as opportunities (already rare) to have an exhibition in a gallery were considerably reduced. The books that will be presented in this series are notable, in my view, for their exploration of the potential offered by this form of dissemination to construct a significant artwork that is neither documentation, which exists primarily elsewhere, nor a simple vehicle with neutral meaning. In each case, it seems to me, the work that the book contains reaches a new dimension in terms of the relationship that emerged between the images, the layout, the material conception of the book, its size, and the chronology of reading imposed from page to page. These essays are, in a sense, an invitation to make reading a photo book an engaged and critical act, spurring readers to return to their own bookshelves with an attentive eye and, I hope, new enlightenment.

Louis Perreault lives and works in Montreal. His practice is deployed within his personal photographic projects and in publishing projects to which he contributes through Éditions du Renard, which he founded in 2012. He teaches photography at Cégep André-Laurendeau and is a regular contributor to Ciel variable.

See the series on photo books by Quebec artists