Photo book advice from Shelley Jacobson

Photobook New Zealand 2016 is just around the corner now, so if you're not situated in Wellington, now's the time to book those flights or plan that road trip to get to the March 11–13 event. In the lead-up to the festival, we caught up with Shelley Jacobson — who will be speaking at the event — and heard her thoughts on the medium of photo books.

D-Photo: What is it about the medium of photo books that you like, and why do you think they’re a good way for photographers to showcase their work?

Shelley Jacobson: As a reader, one thing I love about a well-conceived book of any genre is that it transports me to a world of the author’s making. As an artist, I see the artist-book form as a powerful and versatile vehicle through which to resolve and disseminate my work.

Shelley Jacobson; Cascade cover (published 2015 for Open Book)

How exciting is it to see an event like Photobook New Zealand come about? What do you expect people who attend the event to take away from it?

I think the organizers have shown great dedication in the development and launch of the festival, and I’m looking forward to multiple events in the programme. I expect it will be a great meeting place for people involved in photo-book publishing and I hope it will initiate others into this scene too.

You’ll be speaking at the event. Can you give us a bit of an insight on what topics you’ll be covering and what messages you hope to leave the audience with?

I’ll be speaking about Open Book, a travelling photo-book show I’m coordinating, which will be making an appearance at the event. I intend to discuss my motivations for the project, some of the books created for the show by participating artists, and the ongoing considerations of book display as we move between quite different gallery spaces.

What has been your personal favourite photo-book purchase that you have made?

Of late I’ve spent much more time poring over books in libraries, shops (including a shop I used to work at), and in digital form online than I have the ones in my own possession. So, to redirect the question, I’d say that publishers who test my resolve to not go into debt for my book habit are Mack, Steidl, and, my online favourite for this week: Van Zoetendaal.

Shelley Jacobson; Surface Expressions spread (published 2015)

Can you please tell us about the variety of photo books you have produced? When did you publish your very first one and why?

I’ve always been more interested in reading books than viewing exhibitions, and looking back it seems a logical progression for my own creative practice to have headed in that direction. I’ve produced printed catalogues in the past, but the first project I consider to be a proper artist book is very recent: Surface Expressions (2015). In the book I was able to draw out themes of the project though the inclusion of found text, tracing the history of the subject location from the late 1800s to the present day. The found text originates largely from popular media sources and consequently the book design draws on newspaper design motifs of the early 20th Century.

How do photo books help in the professional/commercial realm?

By day I work in publishing, not as a commercial photographer. My own books are best described as the final outcomes of my creative practice. But, my work in publishing (spanning editorial production, design, and digital accessibility) and my book-making do feed into one another.

If you could give one piece of advice to a photographer who is considering publishing a photo book of their work for the first time, what would you suggest?

  1. Become acquainted with people who are already publishing books [that] you admire, and convince them to let you assist with projects. Even setting my paid publishing work aside, I’ve learned a lot by observing and participating in other people’s production processes.
  2. There is nothing wrong with starting small — in print run and materials. My books to date are certainly modest in this regard. Seeing a publishing project through from start to finish (from concept through to distribution) offers plenty of scope for learning and for preparing you for your next publishing project.

If you'd like to learn more about the Photobook New Zealand 2016 event, visit photoforum-nz.org, and if you'd like to see more of Jacobsen's work, visit shelleyjacobson.co.nz.