Photobook Phenomenon

The exhibition highlights the role of the photobook in contemporary visual culture and takes it as the departure point for a reinterpretation of the history of photography. Nine curators with years of expertise in the forefront of the photobook movement share their respective visions in a joint exhibition at the CCCB and at Fundació Foto Colectania.

Publications illustrated with photographs, also known as photography books or simply photobooks, have grown in popularity in recent years and now occupy a central place in contemporary photography.

The exhibition runs simultaneously at the CCCB and at Fundació Foto Colectania, tracing the history of the photobook from its origins to contemporary production. It does so through the eyes of nine international curators who are experts in the field: Gerry BadgerHoracio FernándezRyuichi KanekoErik KesselsMartin ParrMarkus SchadenFrederic Lezmi, Irene de Mendoza and Moritz Neumüller, who is the executive curator of the overall project.

 

The book is the natural home for photography.
Gerry Badger, photographer and curator

 

The phenomenon

Recent years have seen a period of great expansion for photobooks, which now occupy a central position in contemporary photography. Today, more books are produced than ever; they are bought and sold, swapped and collected. Independent or self-publishing of books and zines has become a high impact phenomenon in both the editorial and the artistic sector, and now, at the peak of the digital era, we are seeing a return to the printed object. For many artists, this format is not just a useful means for showing their photographs, but also the perfect space for experimentation and creativity. Added to these factors there is also a growing interest in reinterpreting the history of photography in terms of the historic role of the photobook and printed photographs, as shown by ambitious studies and projects conducted worldwide.

 

Contemporary talents

Also taking part in the exhibition are various contemporary artists who bring their own very special vision to the medium, as well as illustrating the processes of creation of a photobook: Laia AbrilJulián BarónAlejandro CartagenaJana RomanovaVivianne SassenThomas Sauvin and Katja Stuke & Oliver Sieber.

 

A photobook is a story in images.
Turning its pages is like watching a film or reading a novel.
Horacio Fernández, photographer and curator

 

 

An exhibition with over 500 photobooks

Among its many contents, Photobook Phenomenon ranges from the works of Rodchenko, William Klein and Robert Frank to Japanese photobooks, pioneers in the phenomenon. Photographer Martin Parr presents the best examples from his own private collection. A section dedicated to photobooks of protest and propaganda brings together the most radical designs. Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Gabriel Cualladó and Henri Cartier-Bresson are other names present in the exhibition, along with the latest proposals by renowned contemporary artists who bring their own very special vision to the medium, such as Laia Abril and Vivian Sassen, as well as illustrating the processes of creation of a photobook.

 

We are seeing a marked return to the printed object.
Moritz Neumüller, executive curator of the exhibition

 

The challenge of displaying photobooks

Photobook Phenomenon also addresses the challenge of exhibiting a photobook, using various interactive systems to explore and “experience” the book and the photograph from very differing viewpoints.

The show sets out to bring the photobook to a broad public; to do so, it has recourse to various digital devices and technologies, such as video and touch screens, along with reading areas and a series of parallel activities related to the communities associated with the world of the photobook. 

 

Exhibition layout

Photobook Phenomenon is divided into seven thematic sections that dialogue with each other to give us an idea of what a photobook is, from very differing perspectives. Six of the sections (plus the reading space at Beta Station) are located at the CCCB and the seventh one at Foto Colectania (Passeig Picasso, 14, Barcelona). They can be visited independently or jointly, without changing the meaning of the show.

The exhibition is organized in seven exhibition chapters and one reading space in the Beta Station of the CCCB:

  1. The Collector’s Vision. Martin Parr’s Best Photobooks
  2. Propaganda books versus protest books
  3. Reading New York. A PhotoBookStudy on William Klein's “Life is Good & Good for You in New York”
  4. Five Aspects of Japanese Photobooks
  5. Contemporary Practices + Contemporary Photobooks (Beta Station)
  6. Fascinations and Failures
  7. The library is the museum (displayed at Foto Colectania)

More information on the chapters of the exhibition in the field "Sections".

1. The Collector’s Vision: Martin Parr’s Best Photobooks

Curator: Martin Parr. Venues: CCCB and Fundació Foto Colectania.

The fifty-seven works selected by Martin Parr from his collection consisting of more than thirteen thousand pieces provide the narrative thread running through the exhibition in the two venues. Set out in glass showcases opening up the show’s seven sections, the books chosen by Parr offer a complete overview of the history of the photobook.

 

2. Propaganda Books versus Protest Books

Curator: Gerry Badger. Venue: CCCB

This section presents a selection from two genres of photobooks which are, in fact, two sides of the same coin: the propaganda book and the protest book. By means of projections onto the walls of the exhibition space, Gerry Badger presents books praising the status quo and books denouncing it, their differences and similarities.

 

3. Reading New York: A PhotoBookStudy on William Klein’s “Life is Good & Good for You in New York”

Curators: Markus Schaden and Frederic Lezmi. Venue: CCCB

This section shows, page by page set out on the walls of the CCCB, one of the fundamental works in the history of the photobook: New York, by William Klein (1956), which moved and excited photographers, editors and photobook fans all around the world.

 

4. Five Aspects of Japanese Photobooks

Curator: Ryuichi Kaneko. Venue: CCCB

Japan is the country of photobooks. In this section Ryuichi Kaneko, curator at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, focuses his gaze on photobook culture in Japan and the formats that have allowed the production of a great abundance of masterpieces.

 

5. Contemporary Practices

Curators: Irene de Mendoza and Moritz Neumüller. Venue: CCCB

The projects shown in this section are the work of Laia Abril, Julián Barón, Alejandro Cartagena, Jana Romanova, Vivianne Sassen, Thomas Sauvin and Katja Stuke & Oliver Sieber, all of them representatives of a generation of photographers who have given impulse to their careers by means of excellent photography publications.

 

Beta Station. Contemporary Photobooks 

This is a reading zone presenting photographic books published in the last two years and selected by a committee of twenty-five members from five continents—booksellers, bloggers, artists, publishers, curators and collectors—with the aim of offering a total, up-to-date overview of photobook production on the international scale.

 

6. Fascinations and Failures

Curator/artist: Erik Kessels. Venue: CCCB

The contribution to this exhibition of the Dutch curator and artist Erik Kessels has two parts. The first focuses on books and manuals illustrated by “useful photography” which has the sole aim of offering a visual explanation. The second part consists of an installation of images found in the National Archive of Catalonia, showing disasters, failures and defects.

This space has been made possible thanks to the financial support from the Mondriaan Fund, a Dutch public institution which funds projects in the fields of the visual arts and cultural heritage. The International Presentations Programme committee of this fund has supported the project because of its contribution towards recognition of Dutch contemporary art, in which Erik Kessels is a key figure.

 

Section exhibited at the Fundació Foto Colectania

Passeig de Picasso, 14. Barcelona.

 

7. The Library Is the Museum

Curator: Horacio Fernández. Venue: Fundació Foto Colectania.

This section consists of an exhibition of photography within an exhibition on the photobook. The libraries of Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Gabriel Cualladó and Henri Cartier-Bresson reveal the influence of some photobooks on their creative work. In this show in praise of the photobook, photographs and books mingle in the work of three pioneering artists.

Practical information

Activities

Contents

Credits

Produced by

Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona
Fundació Foto Colectania

Collaborators

National Archive of Catalonia

With the support of

Mondriaan Fund