I bought two books on Friday (a common practice I try to do once a month), Christopher Payne's Asylum and Andrew Moore's Detroit Disassembled. I have mentioned both of these fine photographers here and here before and just love the work I have seen on line. I got both books wrapped which is always nice as there's nothing worse than a damaged book, besides, why did I need to look through the book when I'd seen most of the work anyway.. A swift espresso and an eye for ladies in their summer dresses later and I was on my way home with reading glasses at the ready.
The first one I unwrapped was Detroit Disassembled. But what was this? The layout was utterly horrific. Full bleed here, white borders there, with no sense of uniformity whatsoever. Its a right flaming jumble. But far worse was that all that richness of colour I had talked about and use of 10/8 appeared to have vanished. This could be one of two things, The reproduction which would account for the images apparent flatness, or may be the images has been 'turned up' a bit when they were digitized for the web. We all know about an image looking different on line because its basically backlit like a transparency. But these images had gone from glorious to mediocre in print.
The second unwrapping was brought equal dismay as I viewed another jumble of what appeared to be a very strange edit. The book had all the same problems as the previous one, flat looking images with colours not as zippy as the web images (nice cover and text though with an excellent essay by Oliver Sachs).
I must stress that this is not a critique of the work of these photographers. The work is superb on both accounts. This is a critique on the crossover between web imagery and book publication. I dont want to look at work on line, go out and buy the book and then be disappointed by simple things like editing and perhaps bad reproduction. Had it been the other way round (bought the book and then looked at the work on line) I would not be writing this post. The first impression still holds true here and lets not forget it.

Let me also say this. I suspect, although I may be wrong, that if someone is publishing their own book (and a mighty well done if you are), dont think you can edit the thing as well, it just wont work as you end up selecting all your favourite images in no particular order and are blind to any kind of outside viewing content. But of course this only counts if your book is for a wider audience, if its not then I will shut my face.

All this left me questioning the ethics of books and websites. I do not consider websites to be the cream of a photographers talent. Surely a book is still the ultimate goal for a photographer and therefore it needs to be the best it can be especially when everyone has a website these days.
Personally I like prints and I like books. I like reading about photography and believe that a photographers monograph is a precious and collectable thing that will stand he test of time when a new i-Mac looks like an Atari Games Console.

I have lost my way a bit on this particular post but what should remain clear is that we cannot judge a photographers work by looking at images on line that are smaller than their negatives.!

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