Book Market Statements: Olivier Cablat

by Unseen September 11 2017

Since the 2017 editions of Unseen Book Market and Photobook Week Aarhus take place during the same weekend, we are launching a joint discussion on the role of the photobook market today. The project Market? What Market? is kicking off with a series of three entries on Unseen Amsterdam’s website, written by guest contributors Gerry Badger, Olivier Cablat and Sebastian Arthur Hau. Conversations surrounding the issues raised by the authors will continue during the roundtable discussions in Aarhus and Amsterdam, and all content will be made available to download in an online booklet after the main events, including additional unique materials by Natalia Baluta and Carlos Spottorno.

Details for the simultaneous roundtable events are as follows:

Photobook Week Aarhus
Getting It Out There: Publishing and Distributing the Photobook
Fri 22 Sept

Unseen Book Market
Making, Sharing, Selling: The Photobook Market Today
Sun 24 Sept

In this feature, Olivier Cablat takes the stand and shares his views on the evolution of the photobook in the digital realm.

The term photobook was never used prior to the year 2000. This is an observation that David Campany confronted us with in 2012 in his essay The Photobook: Whats in a Name?

In 2004, Martin Parr and Gerry Badger co-edited the first volume of The Photobook, A History, an anthology of books from the 20th century that all represent the emergence of publications containing printed photography in the field of Art History. The Photobook, A History was following other attempts of the anthologies of the same kind, for example, Horacio Fernandezs Fotografía Pública: Photography in Print 1919-1939 or Andrew Roth's The Book of 101 Books: Seminal Photographic Books of the Twentieth Century. However it was quite different from the predecessors, in the sense that it was created by main players in the field: photographers, authors of several theoretical and photographic books, and prominent photobook collectors. Traditionally, recorded history is realised by an historian, just as a photobook is supposed to be published by a publisher. But in recent years, the roles attributed to professionals in the realm of photobooks have started to change.

Indicated by the 3 letters D-I-Y, Do It Yourself refers to the possibility of breaking the professional mould, encouraged by online blogs and new digital techniques. A few decades ago, a photobook collection like Martin Parrs was only made possible through years of travelling, sifting through hundreds of libraries and flea markets. Now, with platforms like Ebay that also give a feeling to the collector of being a gold digger finding treasure, products from all over the world are accessible in a few seconds.

The reasoning of Marshall McLuhan seems clear with an example of the Photobook: each new technology creates an environment, perceived firstly as corrupted and degrading, but then transforms its predecessor into an art form (from Understanding media : The extensions of man). The photobook was a form from the past that was not even been clearly identified. And in a period of less than 15 years, it came into existence and then became a traditional art form.

The 21st century bookmaker can consult blogs, online bookshops, tutorials and forum discussions. They can design their books with software, send a layout by e-mail, understand screen colour proofing, present it on social networks, and announce and distribute it on their personal website.

All the factors that have contributed to this new wave of self-publishing come from countries all over the world. Traditional codes were broken, reappropriated and re-used in books of all sizes and formats. This explosion of different publishing practices operates in several realms, such as self-published books, micro-editions, or books by smaller publishers experimenting with news ways of conceiving, producing and distributing publications. The digital space has not only strengthened the growing interest in this traditional and polymorphic object, the photobook, it has also assisted several generations of artists with breaking down the limitations of their reach.

I am one of these artists.

When I was ready to publish my first photobook in 2009, I didnt think any editor was ready to invest in an unknown 30 year-old photographer experimenting with documentary and found pictures. But I was also convinced that if I wasnt happy with how things were done, I would just have to invent a way to do it myself. I made my first photobook Galaxie (White Press) using a printing technology called Print On Demand (POD), with allowed my team to digitally print a small quantity of books and repeat the process bit by bit. Each book was more expensive compared to purchasing one in an edition of a few thousand made all at once, but we were able to make the edition possible with a reasonable investment and without the help of any institutions. The photobook then became my preferred art form, and each one of the books I create supports a specific relation with the digital. Enter The Pyramid (RVB Books, 2012) was created using found images from the internet; Fouilles (Filigranes, 2013) was made by mixing different kinds of images, such as animated gifs and Google street view captures with my own pictures. DUCK, A theory of Evolution (RVB Books, 2014) extended the reading experience into augmented reality 3D content.

As for many artists from my generation, the digital helped me become published, and assisted my experimentation with an art form that was previously reserved for a small number of artists. The software facilitated an understanding of different types of professions, new printing processes permitted the production of a small quantity of books within a reasonable budget, and the Internet gave me the opportunity to access knowledge that would take several lifetimes to research in the analogue world.

As the first artists deliberately using the book as an art form in the 60s, everybody can now feel able to master the whole process of publishing, from design to distribution, with the help of their computer and thanks to a technology which contributed to write a new page of Artist Book History.


Olivier Cablat is an artist, photographer, teacher and Artistic Director of Cosmos Arles Books with Sebastian Hau. His research and projects have been presented at institutions such as Le Bal, Fotomuseum Winterthur, Images Vevey Festival, La Panacée and Les Rencontres de la Photographie. He published 12 photobooks between 2009 and 2017 with publishers White Press, Filigranes, RVB Books, and as a self-publisher. Since 2015, he has been pursuing a practical and theoretical doctorate titled Digital and Photobooks at the Scientific and Arts Laboratory at Aix-Marseille University.