How one man and a hyena changed the photobook
Martin Parr and Gerry Badger explain how a personalised documentary approach revitalised photography
When do you decide a particular era begins and ends? For Martin Parr and Gerry Badger, authors of our Photobook series, the choices seemed obvious. Photography and commercial printing came together in the 19th century, and the advent of the internet has caused some to question the form's long-term outlook.
So, as they make clear introduction to the new volume, "When we wrote Volumes I and II of The Photobook: A History (2004 and 2006) there was no plan to produce a third, even in the back of our minds."
Yet, rather than peter out, photobook publishing has flourished. "The advent of graphic-design computer programmes, of digital and 'on demand' printing," the pair write, "has meant that photographers have every means to publish their own photobooks at a reasonable cost."
However, the authors also identify other trends in the form. Quoting from a 1967 statement by the great John Szarkowski, then director of photography at MoMA, the pair agree that a new group of photographers had "directed the documentary approach towards more personal ends. Their aim has been not to reform life, but to know it. Their work betrays a sympathy - almost an affection - for the imperfections and frailties of society."
Szarkowski might have been writing about Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander and Garry Winogrand, yet his words apply equally to Nan Goldin, Rinko Kawauchi and Stephen Shore. Indeed, this shift of interconnectedness and a certain willingness to narrow down viewpoints, is nowhere more apparent than in Pieter Hugo's excellent The Hyena & Other Men (2007, Prestel).
"When South African photographer Pieter Hugo, who is white, photographed itinerant Nigerian entertainers in The Hyena & Other Men (2007), questions were raised about exotic voyeurism and exploiting the 'other'" the authors observe. "Yet when it comes to the issue of identity in photography, point of view matters more than ever. Hugo was acutely aware of this question, and was scrupulous in the way he went about photographing the 'Hyena men', making the photographs as neutral as possible and giving his subjects a textual voice that describes their social invisibility in their own country."
Freed up economically and editorially, photographers and publishers have found new ways to express a highly individual viewpoint, and reach a global audience. Far from being restricted to the big, arty cities, Parr and Badger have found books such as these produced everywhere, from Luanda to Bangkok. Thanks in part, though not wholly, to the advent of the internet, the authors believe these photobooks, have both contributed to and recorded a shift global photographic culture.
"In short," they write, "the photobook can be said to have been responsible for at least one conspicuous success in the ongoing story of globalization." Hence the need for this third volume.
It's a fascinating subject, particularly in Parr and Badger's hands, and one we really can't completely sum up here. To find out more, read about one of the books featured here, and take a look at the new book, which we're proud to have produced, here.