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The photobook as a mobile exhibition

Photobooks can be complex things. They are more than just books of pictures. They make an artistic statement. The editor decides on the selection and sequence of the images and determines their size and arrangement. What is also important is the combination of typeface, graphic elements, paper, binding and cover. Once a photobook has been printed, its composition cannot be changed. An exhibition, on the other hand, can be modified any number of times: after the opening, for example, or when it is moved to a different site. Curators value this flexibility. Artists often don’t. For them, the photobook is a guarantee that their artistic statement will remain unchanged, wherever and whenever their book is read. In addition, it is simpler and less expensive by far for a compact photobook to travel than it is for a complete exhibition. Seen in this manner, the photobook is itself a mobile exhibition.

When it is kept in a display case, however, a photobook is comparable to Snow White in her glass coffin: beautiful, but not vital. In order not to destroy a photobook, curators usually frame photographs from the book and hang them on the wall. As a result, exhibitions are dominated by individual prints. All attention is focused on them. But the photobook as a whole is the actual work of art. Its special effect can only unfold if it is held in the hand or if fundamen- tally new forms of presentation can be found.