Last November, photographer Joachim Schmid took a critical stance on the notion of the „best of“ lists of photobooks usually circling the press at the end of every year. Half-way through this new year, we thank him for republishing this article on our blog, allowing for a critical rethinking of current approaches to photobooks. Read what he had to say:
„So-called photobooks have been the hot shit for some years. Part of the culture around this phenomenon are the best-of lists compiled by experts every year. Magazines and book dealers regularly ask influential photographers, writers, curators, collectors, and any other type of expert for their opinions about the best books of the year. For unknown reasons I was one of the ones who was asked this year. Here’s my reply to the prompt:
Thank you very much for your enquiry. I know I should feel honoured to be regarded as one of the experts on photobooks, but let me be honest: I am rather confused.
First of all, I have to admit I don’t understand much about photobooks, or even worse, I don’t even know what a photobook is. I know, people tried to establish definitions but the ones I know seem to be rather useless. I do more or less regularly look at books, and some of the books I look at or I buy do include photographs; some of them do contain nothing but photographs, but I would not necessarily call them photobooks. Some of the books I look at or I buy are about photography and not all of them include any photographs. Are these also photobooks? To make things worse, some of these books are not explicitely about photography but I think I learn a lot about photography by reading them. Things are complicated. „Photobook“ is not a very useful category.
Secondly, I take the liberty to remind you that it’s mid November. The year is not yet over, and I very much hope more wonderful books may come out in the upcoming weeks. I may be wrong of course but I simply cannot compile a best-of list before the end of the year. It does not make any sense, and it would seem unfair to all books I have not yet seen. In addition, things are even more complicated because I do not store my books in the sequence of appearing or acquiring. Frankly, I often don’t remember when I got a book. It’s not very important whether it was this year or last year. To make things even more complicated, many of the books I buy throughout the year I find in flea markets. For me, these discoveries are as important as any newly published book, and I would include some of them in my list of the best books of the year. This is not what you mean, right?
Thirdly, I have to admit I don’t really follow this photobook frenzy. I spend more time making books than looking at books or reading blogs about books or studying lists of books. When I saw the shortlist for a photobook award recently I noticed that I don’t know most of the books listed there. I know a bit about books and about photography but I am certainly not a very knowledgable expert when it comes to international book business; pretending to be an expert and highlighting a few of the few books I know might seem a bit ridiculous if there are more books out there that are supposedly so good and I never heard of them.
I also have a problem with the required number of books. Why ten? I may only know of three great books I came across this year, or there may be a dozen of them. In my opinion there are good books and not so good books, to put it in friendly terms. I might be able to name the books I appreciate for various reasons but it does not make any sense to do this by limiting myself to a number. There may be only six books and I don’t understand how I could possibly mention another four only to meet your expectations. There may be more than ten and I don’t know why I should leave some of them out for the same reason. There are good books and there are not so good books. Any other differentiation is pointless. The number of good books may be interesting but limiting the selection to ten does not make any sense. At all. Last but not least, I take the liberty to remind you that it is not the experts’ job to boost the sales of books. I understand you wish to offer books to people who may respect the opinion of so-called experts. That’s your business and there’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s not my business.
With best regards,
First published in November 2015 on Joachim Schmid’s website Fotokritik
Joachim Schmid is a photographer with an expansive oeuvre that includes many publications as well as thorough written explorations of the medium and its contexts.
Find books by Joachim Schmid at artbooksonline.eu