An act of analog rebellion

“In a world of deafening images, the quiet consolations of photobooks doom them to a relatively small, and sometimes tiny, audience. Photobooks are expensive to make, and they rarely recoup their costs. They are in this way a quixotic affront to the calculations of the market. The evidence of a few bestsellers notwithstanding, the most common fate of photobooks is oblivion. But it is precisely this labor-intensive and fiscally-unsound character that allows them to sit patiently on our shelves like oracles. Then one day, someone takes one of them off the shelf and is mesmerized by the silent and unanticipated intensity. (The experience of reading a novel, by contrast, is not so silent, for the reader is accompanied by the unvocalised chatter of the text.)

Time with a photobook is a wander off the beaten path, and hardly a day goes by that I don’t reach for one. This enjoyment cannot be dispatched with a “like” button. The photobook won’t send you ads based on how long you linger on a given page. It doesn’t track you (no one knows, for sure, how many times I have looked at Guido Guidi’s Tomba Brion). It is resistant to gossip and allergic to snark. Sitting with it, you have to sit with yourself: this is a private experience in a time when those are becoming alarmingly rare, an act of analog rebellion in an obnoxiously digital world. Sure, one could look at a sequence of pictures on a digital device, but to do so would be to indulge a poor facsimile like frozen pizza, instant coffee, or artificial flowers.”

- Teju Cole, In Praise of the Photobook, 2020.

Originally published 30/12/2020