Sunday, April 15, 2007

Commerce and the Photobook

I remember the offers a few months before Martin Parr and Gerry Badger's second volume of the History of the Photobook was published.

"I can get you the list. Do you want it?"

Ever since the first volume of the History of the Photobook was released people were scrambling to invest in the books featured before the prices inflated. This was a trend people saw transpire when the Andrew Roth's Book of 101 Books: Seminal photographic Book of the Twentieth Century was published. The difference was that the books listed in Mr. Roth's title were commonly known as important titles and they were already priced accordingly. His list didn't travel far off the beaten path.

Martin Parr and Gerry Badger however have travelled far and wide and apparently into some obscure territory to compile their two volumes of history.

As scholarly titles, both of the volumes are interesting, vastly informative, well written and well thought out and I greatly appreciate their existence as such.

What I see as a side effect of their existence though, is the removal of most of the featured titles from all but the few collectors fortunate enough to have vast reserves of cash and quick buying habits. This leaves many titles coveted away from people who could potentially use them as spring boards of knowledge.

I look at art books and photography books (as well as read literature) to learn something. I continue to explore my medium mainly by working as a photographer but I have also found it important to see what is happening in the medium through books. I continue to believe that photography is best experienced in book form. At least for me it is the most enjoyable form.

This is not to say that the way I use art books is more important than the way collectors do but the side effect of a $30.00 book released last year, featured in the last volume is now costing several hundred dollars is disturbing. By the time "the list" had circulated (even before the second volume was published) most of the titles were bought up or commanded grossly inflated prices. Multiple copies of these books were bought up and shelved for investment purposes and the original impetus for creating the title (to look at a body of work) is now lost except to the highest bidder.

Word spreads fast through the power of the internet as to the value of certain titles. Listings on ABE or Bookfinder become are immediate barometers of pricing. Ebay auctions featuring "Buy It Now" auctions for titles with outlandish prices place even more titles in a kind of book purgatory. There they sit...waiting.

I know there has always been a sense of this happening but the process was much slower in the past. Slower to the point that at least libraries could get copies of the books before they became too scarce. Now students or the poor but interested have to be more inventive to access and thumb copies of the coveted. We attend auction previews and when given the chance, request to see the rarest of the rare. We take pleasure in the briefest moments we are allowed to glimpse at what is being held far above our heads.

Book Available Here (Volume 1)

Book Available Here (Volume 2)