By Chiara Caratti, photo editor at Yourpictureditor
A mix between secret garden and fetish passion, photo books are quite unique objects. They are the highest narrative form of photography, very close to literature and even more close to poetry. They open the door to the most hidden and intimate sides of photo stories, they capture you to the extent you want them straight away in your home in that special corner of the bookshelf.
Magnum and ICP dedicated a whole day seminar last June to deepen the history and the present of photo books, showing how the photo book market is becoming increasingly relevant.
Of course Martin Parr was there, as he is considered one the most influential people in raising awareness about the photo books culture, being himself an avid collector, publisher and co-author of the three-volume books The Photobook: A History. Tate Britain just acquired the photographer’s collection last year, making accessible to everyone his collection of up to 12.000 photobooks built up in 25 years.
Hong Kong contributes to the photo books rise with the fourth edition of HK Photobook Fair 2018, right in the middle of the city art week. YP has the pleasure to interview Mark Pearson, ideator of the fair, publisher and founder of Zen Foto Gallery in Tokyo, to discuss the photo book culture in Hong Kong and in Asia and what it takes to create a photo book with a solid identity.
What is the idea behind HK Photobook Fair and why did you decide to organise it?
I wanted to create something new for Hong Kong that enriched the cultural life of the city. Having a gallery and photobook publishing business and enjoyed photo book fairs in Tokyo, Paris and Kassel, I hoped that the Hong Kong Photo Book Fair would be enjoyed by many people.
Are there any recurrent themes in the books showcased at the fair?
The theme of the fair is the Asian photobook. We aimed to include as many participants in our fair from the broad Asian region, and most of the participants to date have been from Hong Kong, mainland China, Taiwan and Japan. But there is a very wide range of styles of photography from the various publishers, from super high-end artist books to independent publishers, hand-made books and zines. There is something interesting for everyone.
Are there any particular photo books you would like to recommend?
Each book, each publisher has its own merits and particular style and appeal, so it is unfair to select only a few. But, as examples, we have the recent prizewinner from Japan, Aya Fujioka’s Here Goes a River, published by AKAAKA. From Hong Kong we have brownie publishing with Paul Yeung’s Yes Madam, Sorry Ah Sir. Another Hong Kong related book is the quirky and beautiful Chai Wan Fire Station by Chan Dick and published by Case. And you must see Chan Wai Kwong’s mind-blowing hand-made books.
In the digital era, how is the photo book market evolving in Hong Kong and Asia?
The digital era began with digital cameras and has accelerated with phone cameras so that more photographs are taken each year than ever before. Photography is increasingly a part of everyday life and used as a form of personal expression through all forms of digital media.
This does not mean that the book is superseded. Rather, it creates a bigger awareness of the potential for the book form. There is no substitute for the artist’s images printed on the right kind of textured paper, in a well-designed and finely bound real book! A very recent example is the collaboration between Jan Kallen & Michel Eisenlohr Here/Not Here, beautifully designed by Renatus Wu.
However, most photo books sell no more than a few hundred copies, and this is therefore not a business that is commercial for bookstores or amazon. It is a world of afficionadoes who are passionate about what they do. The books are hard to find, so you can probably only ever see them at the book fair, and you will always discover something new there. If you do buy a book, you will be one of only a few people in the world to own a copy. Keep it and it will almost certainly be worth more than you paid for it, one day.
A book can be a beautiful object, containing marvellous discoveries. The photo book will live forever, even as it does evolve!
What is a good photo book, which characteristics does it have?
A photography book needs to be held in the hands as the pages are turned and we feel the texture of the paper and appreciate the images, their layout and sequencing. This allows the artist, the editor and the designer to communicate something significant to us without words; whether a message, a plea, or an experience.
What can the Western culture learn from the Asia one and vice versa, how can the Western tradition enrich the Eastern one in the photo book field?
There are a myriad of influences and of sharing of ideas. As I visit book fairs in Asia and in Europe, I see wonderful books and ideas from all parts of the world. They are an inspiration to me and I hear that Asian photo books are similarly an inspiration to others. For example, last year in Paris I enjoyed books from Ukraine, Turkey and Uzbekistan. This year in Hong Kong I am looking forward to seeing our special guest Foto-Feminas, a Hong Kong based collection of female photographers from South America and the Caribbean.
HK Photobook Fair 2018: March 30 – April 1
Hong Kong Arts Centre, B2, 2 Harbourview Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong
Credit photo: “Here goes the river” Aya Fujioka, publisher akaaka-sha, 2017
Mark Pearson was born in New Castle, England, in 1960 and moved to Japan in 1981. He founded Zen Foto Gallery in Tokyo in 2009, specializing in Asian photography. Both a photographer and an art collector, Mark Pearson promotes historical and contemporary works by Asian photographers introducing innovative photographers to an international audience through Zen Foto Gallery and photobook publications. He currently lives in Hong Kong.