Interview with PBN juror Whitney Lawson

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juror lawson Interview with PBN juror Whitney Lawson

Photography Book Now (PBN) juror Whitney Lawson has taken some interesting twists and turns with her career. After graduating from Yale, she worked in the photography departments of both the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum. Whitney is now the photo editor at Travel+Leisure magazine, and we’re delighted to have her curatorial and photo-journalistic eye among those reviewing our 2011 PBN submissions.

Read on for Whitney’s insights into great travel photography, stellar photography books, and her favorite photography blogs.

Blurb: How do you know when you’ve come across a photography book that falls into the “really great” category?

Whitney: I’d say that a successful photo book really takes me down the rabbit hole of an artist’s vision of the world, and it gets me to see the world as he or she sees it.

Blurb: Do you have any advice for photographers working on book projects?

Whitney: My advice is a bit specific to those working in travel: don’t give yourself extra points for images that were taken in exotic or far-flung places.

Blurb: What is a favorite photobook that you own or have seen from the last few years?

Whitney: Some all-time favorites: Robert Frank’s The Americans, David Hilliard’s Photographs, the Scalo book on Francesca Woodman, William Eggleston’s Guide, Nicholas Nixon’s The Brown Sisters, the Scalo book on Seydou Keita, David Hockney’s Cameraworks, Bill Owens’s Suburbia.

Some recent books include: Jan Von Holleben’s Dreams of Flying — I bought a bunch and gave them as gifts — Penelope Umbrico’s Photographs, and I love the American Photography annuals.

Blurb: What is the most exciting aspect of the photography scene right now? How do books tie into that?

Whitney: I would say that the most exciting thing going on right now is a dialog between technology and the handmade. I love that Lomography, large-format cameras, and a lot of antique techniques are having an interesting resurgence. In many ways, the low-tech wave is being supported by technology, like all of the Holga and Diana groups finding each other on Flickr, or like the Hipstamatic app on the iPhone. It leads to a lot of cool Frankenstein situations of old and new.

I see this dialog all around me in different media, and I think it is really exciting. In a way, self-publishing a book online is an expression of this. It’s handmade, but made possible by technology.

Something else that I think is exciting that is happening in the world is that curating — filtering out the noise — has become even more important than it used to be, and is becoming more democratized. An art book is the ultimate curated experience. So, in my eyes, an art book is simultaneously very old-fashioned and also very modern.

Blurb: What do the best photography books have in common?

Whitney: This sounds super literal, but the best books use the printed page for what it is. It is not a screen. There is not light shining through it. A photography book provides big, beautiful spreads. It is something you can keep. It is something you interact with physically. It is something you generally look at in “lean-back” mode, as opposed to “lean-forward” mode.

Other than that: good design, cool pacing, and surprises.

Blurb: What travel photography book has stood out to you in the last three years? What was it about it that intrigued/amazed/inspired you?

Czech Eden by Matthew Monteith — I wrote about it for Travel + Leisure; Niagara by Alec Soth — he is a maker of gorgeous books; Gidropark by Yelena Yemchuk — this book was so specific to its place.

Blurb: In your mind, what sets a great travel photography book apart from a great travel photography spread in a magazine?

Whitney: Great travel photography transports you there — really takes you there — no matter what medium it’s published in. That is a constant. But books and magazines are different in their relationship to time. Magazines have a moment of relevance, and then they go stale. Books are more permanent; they live with you. Magazines contain ads, which books do not. I think with a book, you can just get that much more immersed. Magazines are a little bit more didactic — they give information, and there is generally a correct way to consume them, which is front-to-back. But with a book, you can browse, you can wander, you can look at it back to front… there’s no right or wrong. In some ways, magazines provide information, and books can ask questions.

Blurb: What photography blogs do you like/follow?

Whitney: I might get kicked off this panel for saying this, but I secretly love the Drudge Report. That guy is a really interesting photo editor!  He sort of zigs when everybody zags. I also love The Photography Post, A Photo Student, Women in Photography, Julian Richards, too much chocolate, I heart photograph, Jen Beckman, A Photo Editor.

Blurb: Any words of advice for anyone thinking of entering Photography Book Now 2011?

Whitney: If you have a personal photography project that you’ve been obsessed with for a while and that keeps you up at night, I’d try making a book about it. It sounds like the kind of thing I would like.

Blurb: Thanks, Whitney. Here’s to lots of those projects becoming beautiful books for PBN 2011. Friendly reminder, Blurbarians, the submission deadline is July 14. Someone has to win $25,000. Why not you?

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