The photobook

A visual experimental space

Original exhibition

08 October 05 December 2021

Curators : Anne Lacoste with Zoé Isle de la Beauchaine
in collobaration with Lucien Birgé
Production : Institut pour la photographie 

A book of photographs is an autonomous form of art, comparable to a sculpture, a play or a film. The photographs lose their photographic nature as objects “in themselves” to become the components, expressed in printer’s ink, of an exceptional creation called a book“*. 

Publishing was the main form of distributing photography until the medium became a mainstay of museums in the second half of the 20th century. From the mid-19th century, the photobook has been the focus of a constantly renewed creativity thanks to the ongoing developments in printing, which have allowed for a wide variety in print qualities, and lowered the costs of reproduction. 

Lucien Birgé’s library, which includes more than 25,000 international works dating from the end of the 19th century to the present day, bears witness to the rich and varied history of photographic publishing. It includes all the uses and forms of photography, from commissioned work to propaganda, and from the dominant documentary genre, to formal and creative approaches. 

The prospect of this exceptional donation to the Institut pour la photographie provides an opportunity for a series of exhibitions devoted to this privileged form of photographic distribution. Unlike print, the challenge of the book lies in its overall coherency, to affirm an author’s purpose and offer the reader a particular experience. The selection of images, their sequencing and layout, the placing of the text, the choice of graphics and typography, the quality of the paper and printing, the format, the binding, and the cover are all aspects to be considered in the process of design and production. 

This exhibition, produced after the first donation of 2 053 books in 2020 and complemented by loans from the collector, features a selection of books by iconic and less well-known authors, concerning the task of sequencing and the layout of photographs. An author or his graphic designer has a vast field of action –from the choice image formats to their arrangement on the page – to guide our reading of individual images and arouse our constant interest. 

*Ralph Prins, in conversation with Cas Oorthuys in 1969, quoted by Mattie and and Rik Suermondt, in Photography between Covers : the Dutch Documentary Photobook After 1945, Fragment Uitgevererij, Amsterdam, 1989, p. 12.