Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Straws in the Wind

I'm a bit of a photo-book enthusiast, and when I come across a photographer I like, I tend to watch for and snap up anything they publish in the way of books and exhibition catalogues. Other enthusiasts don't need convincing that regularly dropping £20 or £30 on a book is a worthwhile activity (it's cheap compared to heroin or fast cars), but even regular folk sit up and listen when I take them on a tour of It's rare for quality photobooks to depreciate in value, and not uncommon for them to add an extra zero. Like any other form of gambling which is not purely chance-based, you just have to study form and stay ahead of the game. There's really no point at all in buying into Cartier Bresson, for example, and Martin Parr peaked a decade ago, but [name withheld] is a sure thing. My principle is that I always only follow my own taste and I never buy books at collector's prices, only at the published price or as lucky second-hand finds.

One of my enthusiasms is Susan Derges, whose camera-less imaging of water at night is a shining example of quite how delightfully inventive, dedicated and slightly deranged you have to be to achieve true originality in a saturated market. Her publications have been few and rather special, so when I spotted a recent catalogue for an exhibition at the Purdy Hicks gallery in London, I was straight on the phone. When I received it today, its heft, paper, print quality and binding seemed strangely familiar. After a minute, I spotted a familiar blue logo on the title page and the penny dropped: an up-market London gallery is now using Blurb to produce its catalogues!

I'm not sure whether this is an endorsement of Blurb, or an indication of hard times in the gallery world; a bit of both, probably. Now, I knew some well-respected and much-published photographers like John Gossage had experimented with Blurb and Lulu, but this is different. I'm also not sure what I think about it. It's a straw in the wind.

Obviously, Blurb books produced by you or me have a certain fantasy element to them, like toy money. Who wouldn't prefer to be published "properly" by Nazraeli or Dewi Lewis? But once the likes of Susan Derges also start to become available "on demand" via the likes of Blurb, then the nature of the game starts to change. If nothing else, we're all keeping classier company.

But, clearly, if the gallery (or fellow artist Christopher Bucklow, who seems to be acting as the "Blurbarian" in this case) pulls the plug on its availability, it will immediately becomes a "collectable", whatever its humble origin. Wouldn't it be ironic if that disposable, democratic, Web 2.0 ethos served to generate a new source of ultra-rare collectors' pieces, printed in tiny editions? Not sure what I think about that, although I'll have no complaints if, in time, my £17 purchase adds a zero in value...

Talking of straws in the wind, can't you just see the tumbleweed blowing down "Engineers' Row" now that all the students have gone home?


Mauro Thon Giudici said...

BTW lists a "Story of Art" (ISBN: 0714815233 / 0-7148-1523-3) by E.H. Gombrich for 1$. Even if Gombrich historical approach may raise some doubts regarding the method (mainly in the section of the past century) at that price it's a no-brainer. Thanks Mike.

Anonymous said...

check out ingleby gallery's publication of susan derges 'azure' - £10

Mike C. said...

I've already got "Azure", but thanks for pointing it out, Anonymous. My favourites are "Woman Thinking River" and "River Taw" -- both beautifully-produced exhibition catalogues which are now quite difficult to find.