Tag Archives: David Maisel

Why Artists’ Books if You’re a Photographer?

I am often asked the question, “Why books? Aren’t you a photographer?”

First I explain what an artists’ book is and then I begin to list why I chose to make them: the intimacy of holding a book, the way I can design the pacing, order and interaction with my images in a way that display on a wall can’t be achieved. I’ve always had a ready list, but the answer came to me most clearly and succinctly when I recently saw this Sunset Magazine cover that had my photo on it. Oh, not really my photo, but a near twin to one I’d taken. The photo, taken in a meadow in Lassen Volcanic National Park, is just one of many that I’ve taken that look pretty darned similar to photos I’ve seen in advertisements and magazines. I love to photograph outdoors  and so do many, many other photographers.

My Photo:

Sunset Magazine Cover:

I realized at that moment exactly WHY I choose to make artists’ books. I can take photos, great photos, and so can a lot of photographers. But only I can combine photographs, words, a chosen book structure and raw materials to create a particular artists’ book. No other artist will create that same pairing and that makes my work unique to me in a way that I’m not sure a straight photograph can anymore.

I think photographers are exploring this dilemma, largely created by the near universal presence of high quality digital cameras,  in many ways – the return to popularity of large format, toy and specialty cameras; the use of alternative processes, composite photography and staged photography; and the medium of artists’ books.

In fact, I think this is the difference between photographers and artists who use photography. Many of my favorite artists are good examples of this:  Brian Taylor combines alternative processes with beautiful framed book formats; Jerry Uelsmann is a master of composite photography – all done in the darkroom; Andy Goldsworthy’s photography serves to document his ephemeral artwork; and  David Maisel’s photography documents “the complex relationship between natural systerms and human intervention.”

Are you a photographer? An artist? Why do you make artists’ books?