Photo books and storytelling: Ying Ang's views on photo books as a medium

With the inaugural Photobook New Zealand festival fast approaching (being held on March 11–13 in Wellington), we took the time to catch up with a few of the speakers who will be presenting at the event. Ying Ang shared her thoughts on the importance of the photo-book medium with us and what she'll be discussing during the festival.

Ying Ang, Gold Coast

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?

Ying Ang: Photo books allow for a pace of storytelling that strikes a halfway point between watching a film and reading a novel. You usually encounter the narrative in a quiet and solitary space, which creates a mood of intimacy and, for me, I like my stories to be read that way. 

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?

Photo-book festivals are incredibly exciting, especially in New Zealand and Australia. The photography community is spread far and few between in this part of the world, and any opportunity to bring us together in engaged conversation is a wonderful and special thing. I expect the attendees to gain some real-time experience and knowledge in the dynamic world of publishing as it stands today, as well as meet some interesting storytellers!

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 talking candidly and openly about my own experience with publishing, and the way that I've navigated the world of photo books, using specific examples of my own work to illustrate everything from consulting on other people's projects, to small-press zine publications. I'll also be talking about how working in the book format has changed the way I've viewed the power of narrative photography and the importance of having a story to tell.

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

Very hard to say, but one of my favourites was very early on in my photo-book life: Sabine by Jacob Aue Sobol. It was the first book that broke a few rules in what I had defined as the ‘photo project’ and I relished it. I learnt that you could use words with photos in a way that worked, and I also learnt that there is a great power in telling your own story.

Ying Ang, Gold Coast

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 have worked on several projects in different forms of publishing, but my first major investment in photo books was Gold Coast [pictured above]. I published that book in 2014 and felt very strongly about the work, and therefore felt like I needed to produce a work on a scale that reflected how important I felt the story was, in a personal, social, and philosophical way.

How do photo books help in the professional/commercial realm? Are they helpful to show potential clients to give them an indication of the quality of work you are producing?

Photo books work as a flywheel to lend purpose in a variety of ways to engage with the photo industry at large. You can use them as material for talks, panels, and exhibitions. Publishing also demonstrates a high level of dedication and production skill that is inherent in producing a well-thought-out book. Many people also get wind of a book project and talk about a book project more than a project that they can just view on a website. There's a gravity to it that lends a seriousness to the project that other media don't have.

Ying Ang, Gold Coast

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?

Get a good book designer. However hard you've worked on your craft, someone else has worked just as hard in the craft of design. There's a lot more to it than you can imagine.