Interview with the Jury 2017: Rémi Coignet

by Unseen July 12 2017

With the Unseen Dummy Award 2017 deadline approaching, we get to know the jury members in this series of interviews. This week we speak to judge Rémi Coignet, to find out more about his fascination with the photobook.

Rémi Coignet is the editor in chief of The Eyes magazine. In 2008 he also set up the blog Des Livres et des photos which consists of interviews and critiques surrounding the subject of photobooks. He is also the author of two books, Conversations and Conversations 2 which discuss the current state of the photobook in a series of interviews with distinguished photographers. 

Q: You recently published Conversations 2 - the second volume of interviews with artists for whom the photobook is an essential form. Were there any questions that were so significant that you came back to them in more than one interview? 
A: Yes. There’s one question I always ask, which is, “how important is the book form as a way of showing your work?” Another question I like to ask is, “do you consider your work political?” Lewis Baltz’s answer to this has always stuck with me because he said, “my God, I certainly hope it is.” In just a few words he gave both me and the reader a clear view on how he sees his work.

Q: What was the most surprising thing you learnt about photobooks in the process of interviewing the artists for your Conversations series? 
A: Most of the photographers working with photobooks emphasised how important it was for them to create a long-lasting object in a form that they decided. Unlike exhibitions that last for 2 months and are then gone, a book is enduring and can circulate easily. Talking with designers, such as Kummer & Herrman, Syb or Greger Ulf Nilson, I also learnt that they see their job as storytelling. I hadn’t thought about it like that before.

Q: Is it part of your interest as an editor and critic to see the dummies of the books you spotlight? And if yes, what is the most unexpected transformation from a dummy to a published book that you have seen?
A: I can write about a book without knowing anything about the dummy, but it’s always a pleasure to go behind the scenes of the book making process.

I like dummies because artists are able to explore their craziest ideas even if they are impossible to realise in print. I often see published versions of books that were on the short list for dummy awards in bookshops the next year. This goes to show that publishers look at dummies too!

When I speak to photographer, JH Engström, he usually has dummies in his bag. It’s interesting to me that he always has a very clear idea of how he wants the final book to be and each time the changes are very subtle.

Q: What do you search for in a book when you scout for new and captivating titles?
A: I want to be surprised. My favourite book is always the next one I discover and am excited by. I can buy a book after flicking through it for 3 minutes. Mostly though, I am looking for a universe, for a fresh look at the world and for an interesting way to tell a story.

Q: Is there a difference in how you approach photobooks as a photography writer/critic and as an individual? 
A: I’m afraid not, analysing has contaminated me. But I also buy books because they are well made and have gorgeous images. Beauty is a not something you can analyse, you just feel it.

Q: What criteria are important for you when evaluating photobooks? Are any of them more significant than others?
A: Consistency is key. It is important to me that all the elements – design, printing, etc. – should contribute to and make the best out the work. Design, for example, should have a purpose that complements the series of work that it is showcasing. If it doesn’t, then it’s just a designer’s book that uses photographs for the sake of it.

Q: Can you tell us about the last photobook you purchased for your own collection?
A: The book I’m in love with now is Ville de Calais by Henk Wildschut. It is so beautifully made and so relevant. It has taught me so much, whilst maintaining strong artistic rigor.

Q: Are you planning any interviews at Unseen Amsterdam 2017?
A: If Henk Wildschut is at Unseen it would be a pleasure to have a conversation with him!

Submit your photobook dummy to the Unseen Dummy Award 2017 here!

Deadline 1st August 2017