by Eleonora Milner

© Owen Simmons (unknown photographer), 'The Book of Bread', Maclaren and Sons, London, 1903

The exhibition Photobook Phenomenon, presented simultaneously at the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB) and Fundació Foto Colectania in Barcelona (18 March - 27 August 2017), offers new perspectives on the importance and impact of the photobook in the visual culture of our times. It reclaims the role of the photobook today at the same time proposing a reinterpretation of the history of photography by focusing on the role of the photobook and of printed photographs, tracing a path that leads from its beginnings to contemporary production.

A kaleidoscopic view of nine international curators (Martin Parr, Gerry Badger, Markus Schaden, Frederic Lezmi, Horacio Fernández, Ryuichi Kaneko, Erik Kessels, Irene de Mendoza, Moritz Neumüller) present seven thematic sections. The exhibition starts with the best photobooks according to Martin Parr and continues with a selection of books of protest and propaganda, bringing together more radical designs. The Martin Parr section presents a historical timeline of 57 masterpieces, chosen from his collection. As a photographer, Martin Parr is a collector of images, both his own and those of others. They give an overview of what this medium is capable of, in terms of story telling, design, production techniques, versatility of use, and of course, photographic quality. Face of our time: 60 portraits of German people by August Sander and Bilder by Hans Peter Feldmann are other of the names present in the show, alongside the latest offerings from renowned contemporary artists who bring authentic vision to the medium, such as Thomas Sauvin, Laia Abril and Vivian Sassen with an illustration of the processes of creating a photobook.

© Thomas Sauvin, 'Xian', 2016

© Jana Romanova, 'Shvilishvili', 2015

Section three examines William Klein’s New York: "Life is Good & Good for You in New York", a seminal work in the history of the photobook. Only a few years after its release in 1956, Klein's book on New York had already achieved the status of a landmark publication. The book manifested a metropolis that was no longer a container for the anonymous masses but a stage for individual stories and real persons. The Library as Museum interweaves the books and photographs of three pioneers in promoting the photobook: Álvarez Bravo, Cualladó and Cartier -Bresson. Section five is given over to the Japanese photobook, pioneers in the phenomenon.

'Reading New York'. A PhotoBookStudy on 'Life is Good & Good for You in New York' (1956) by William Klein

In the history of photography, assessment of the photo book's place is a relatively recent development which, in great part, can be attributed to the Japanese photo book. One might event venture to say that the Japan is the country of the photobooks. The production of modern photobooks first started in the 1920s and 1930s, which is in sync with the rest of the world. After World War II, democratic ideals predominated in the social climate of Japan so the exhibition of original prints was somewhat frowned upon. Indeed, once a photograph was reproduced in any publication it could become co-owned property of the people because this was part of the country's 1950s or post-war zeitgeist. Accordingly, while exhibitions and photobooks were tandem productions in the west, in Japan, only the image in its reproduced state was deemed worthy of consideration. This difference has become a defining characteristic of Japanese photography and it fostered the conditions for ushering in the golden era of photobooks, particularly in post-war Japan from the 1950s through to the 1970s. The Japanese section focuses on the forms of photographic expression and on the photobook culture in Japan and how it was supported in various ways to produce such a bounty of masterpieces. What meaning do these objects have and how do we go about reading them?

© Masao Horino, 'Camera Eye x Steel Construction 1930-1931', Mokuseisha Shoin, Tokyo, 1932

© Magazine 'Chuo-koron', Chuo-koronska, Tokyo, August 1959

The sixth presents an installation by Erik Kessels. The last section offers a collection of the best photobooks of 2015 and 2016, and seven projects by seven contemporary artists.

© Erik Kessels, Terribly Awesome Photo Books, 2017

The exhibition 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 exhibition create a dialogue that give us the broadest possible idea of what a photobook is.

A photobook is a work in itself. A book in which photographs construct the narrative and respond to an original concept. A choral work involving design, graphics and typography, the sequence of the images, the maquette and the text, that is, a series of qualities of concept and the material nature of the object. 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, 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. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue with texts by the curators and the expert Lesley A. Martin, who contributes a taxonomy of the contemporary photobook.