Photobook Deceleration

Photobook Deceleration

I never felt an urge to collect stuff until I discovered the photobook. Over many years I did occasionally buy books of photographs. (For you who are curious about the difference between a photobook and a book of photos, David Campany explains). On a whim I picked up Andrew Roth’s The Book of 101 Books: Seminal Photographic Books of the Twentieth Century at a local store which specializes in architecture titles. Non-collectible titles such as the Time-Life Library of Photography provided hours of looking at photographs, as did John Szarkowski’s book of that name. I bought a Tom Baril book. A friend gave me Robert Adams’ Denver after my first gallery show, one of my prized photobooks. But I was no collector.

I don’t recall why I became curious about the current value of Denver and other books. An internet search astonished me. “Look at this,” I told my wife. “I bought {fill in the blank} for $x, and it’s now selling for $4x!” “Sure,” she replied, “if someone will buy it.” Since diving into photobook collecting, I’ve heard this reminder often.

Now a collector, I know acquiring books as an investment is a fool’s errand. Besides, the collector is motivated by the object itself.  If the monetary value of photobooks in his collection dropped, he would likely still seek out and buy. At least that’s my experience. On the other hand, should the value of my soiled and chipped copy of Irving Penn’s Moments Preserved soar into the thousands, I still would not part with it. That book has an unmeasurable value to me.

Soon downsizing will put a dent in my book collecting.  My wife and I are moving into a space with less room for books, perhaps enough to accommodate my modest collection, but not many additions.  As limiting as space is in our new home, the bigger problem is one that has dogged me from the beginning. Which books should I buy and which should I let go?

No International Center of Photography, no Dashwood Books, no Space Corners, no Arcana Books on the Arts, no Tipi Bookshop of Brussels or Tokyo’s Sokyusha Photobook Store. Where my wife and I live no place where one can page through more than a smattering of photobooks, look at their design, feel the paper, see the printing, examine the bindings. The alternative, of course, is the internet. Photobook groups and webstores post offerings which provide partial views of books. Much is lost in translation.  I envy those who can peruse the photobooks they are considering buying.

Surveying my collection, I find early buys weaker than the more recent.  I’ve honed my choices through trial and error and with the help of Tom Claxton, Colin Pantall, phot(o)lia, cphmag, Collector Daily and others who share their thoughts on the internet. Still, there’s an element of chance in buying without first having a book in your hands. Photobooks that critics loved and collectors praised have left me cold. Other books that escaped the critics’ notice have moved me beyond my expectation. Which books should I buy and which should I let go? Living in a small space will require making choices more deliberate. Though chance may play a greater role, work that amazes will continue to come my way.