Above: A display table of photobooks on sale in an arts bookstore in Prague, 2018. Credit: Oscopic.
Speaking in March 2018, Londoner Will Self said, "I think the novel is absolutely doomed to become a marginal cultural form, along with easel painting and the classical symphony. And that’s already happened! I’ve been publishing since 1990, so I’ve seen it happen in my writing lifetime. It’s impossible to think of a novel that’s been a water-cooler moment in England, or in Britain, since Trainspotting, probably ... I think the novel is in freefall [ODE: a rapid decline that cannot be stopped]."
Something very similar is happening to the photobook.
The status of the photobook is changing--it is getting transformed by the Internet. The market for the photobook is dwindling in the Internet Age. The issue for the prospect photobook purchaser is: where does this book fit into my lifestyle? As a leisure activity flicking through--or leafing slowly through--a photobook is an activity that is quite similar to being on the Internet. (The photobook user is indeed "browsing" through the book, no?) Only, in many ways it is not as appealing as surfing.
The photobook has always had a certain special reserved place in the home of the culturally aware (or wannabe culturally aware) person: on display in-a-stack on the coffee table. This segment of domestic real-estate still exists, but it has never been reserved only for photobooks--any visual-led books which can signify that the dweller is informed on aesthetic matters battle it out for placement in this space. And this function as a cultural ornament cannot possibly save the printed photobook from the onslaught of the Web.
In any arts bookstore one enters these days the photobook is on offer and on sale at reduced prices. The Golden Age of the photobook is long-since over, that is sure. For me, the Golden Age begins with Frank's The Americans, in 1958, and ends around 1996 with Tillmans's first book, and Billingham's Ray's a Laugh.
It is a shame for all who loved photobooks, but this is the price of progress. The photobook was a twentieth century phenomenon.
(17 March 2018)