Chris Boot is executive director of the Aperture Foundation, one of the most important organizations devoted to photographers. He’s also one of the jurors for Photography Book Now 2011 (PBN). He talked with the Blurberati about his favorite photography books and the differences between choosing work for Aperture’s publications and PBN.
Blurb: Tell us what makes a great, successful photography book to you.
Chris: Aside from the photographs — clearly critical! — a good photography book needs a strong clear concept and/or narrative. Good design is important and a good title helps. For a photography book to be great, something about it has to be strikingly original, so that it pushes the language of bookmaking, or of photography, forward in one respect or another. That’s really hard, but what’s the point of trying to do something that someone else has already done before?
Blurb: Do you have any advice for photographers working on book projects?
Chris: I could spend a day answering this question! If I were to pick on one thing, I’d say: Make sure the purpose of the book is clear. When I pick a book up while judging the awards (and this is the same for anyone else encountering the book, without the benefit of the author’s presence to explain it), I need to be able to get its purpose within a few seconds of having it in my hands. If its raison d’etre isn’t clear within that time, I probably won’t remember it.
Blurb: Are there curatorial differences between selecting work for a photography book and selecting work for an exhibition?
Chris: Well of course a book might be a record, or catalogue, of an exhibition, but most great photography books are something different. They have their own logic; they offer a unique experience of a body of work, a particular physical form. The choice and sequence of pictures, as well as the manner in which they are framed (by words, design, all of which are different from an exhibition) will involve a set of different decisions.
Blurb: How does selecting work for Aperture’s publications differ from selecting finalists for PBN?
Chris: When Aperture is considering a book to publish — let’s say in this case we’re looking at a book pitch — we ask questions including “why us?” and “what’s the market for it?” — questions I will be blissfully free from while selecting finalists for PBN. Other questions we ask will be the same: “Does this book contribute something to the genre?”; “Is it original?,” and “Do I want to own it?”
Blurb: How does seeing so much photography at Aperture impact your own work?
Chris: There’s so much good photography around now. The bar has been raised very high. Sometimes the volume of good work can feel overwhelming. This contributes to clarifying what our job at Aperture is — amongst other things, it’s to weed out what we think matters more from what matters less. Our criteria for what matters is going to be different from other institutions, and other people’s, and the volume of good work around forces us to focus on this too. We have to distinguish ourselves by decisions of a particular character.
Blurb: Thanks, Chris. We look forward to seeing your picks, as well as those of all the jurors, for winning PBN books.