Academic journal article Afterimage

Ofer Wolberger's Visitor and the Larger Context of Self-Published Photobooks

Academic journal article Afterimage

Ofer Wolberger's Visitor and the Larger Context of Self-Published Photobooks

Article excerpt

Self-publishing and collaborative imprints are mainstream for a new generation of photographers who see the photobook as an important component of their work and as a viable connection to their audience. The range of photobooks now produced and archived in the Indic Photobook Library over the past four years highlights so many aspects of what is exciting about contemporary independent publishing: the accessibility of work that might not be seen in book form unless self-published, the creativity, the craftsmanship, the risk-taking, and the surprises by key players in this vibrant and ever-expanding movement.

Since the early days of the photographic medium and William Henry Fox Talbot's The Pencil of Nature (1844-46), the book has been an integral part of the history of photography, one that is ever more obvious with Martin Parr and Gerry Badger's multi-volume The Photobook: A History. (1) A few decades ago, the avid photobook collector could feasibly seek out all of the traditionally published photobooks each year. Today, this is. impossible. Not only has the number of traditionally published photobooks grown, but the number of self-published photobooks has exploded. It is now impossible to, keep track of, let alone buy, each one.

It was at the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center Book Fair in April of 2011 that I spoke with New York-based photographer Ofer Wolberger for the first time in person and saw his latest self-published photobook, Visitor. He had already been sending titles to the Indie Photobook Library. For a bibliophile like myself, there is nothing like the tactile experience and innate pleasure of discovering an amazing new book, and I immediately bought a copy for my own collection. Andrew Phelps attests on his blog (2) that this is probably his favorite of Wolberger's Photographic Book Project. I agree. Visitor has received some well-deserved attention. It was featured in the Fall 2011 Issue #31 of GUP (Guide to Unique Photography) Magazine, and was included in the exhibition Threefold at the Photographic Resource Center in Boston in 2011, curated by Shane Lavalette, George Slade, and myself. Visitor was an honorable mention in Blurb Books' 2011 Photography Book Now competition and is part of the traveling Indic Photobook Library exhibition A Survey of Documentary Styles in early 21st century Photobooks, as well as its accompanying catalog.

Photobook reviews are prevalent, but it is a challenge to find contemporary critiques of the photobook medium, especially pertaining to self-published titles. As photobooks flourish, there is an acute need for contemporary critical analysis and historiography of the current state of photobook publishing and the impact of self-publishing (3). In pursuit of furthering the critical discourse while exploring Wolberger's book, I had on hand my usual references: Who Cares About Books?" by Darius Himes, in Words Without Pictures (Aperture/LACMA, 2010); The Photobook: A History, Vol. I (Phaidon, 2004); now II (Phaidon, 2006) and now III (Phaidon, 2014) by Parr and Badger; Publish Thur Photography Book by Himes and Mary Virginia Swanson (Princeton Architectural Press, 20.11); Japanese Photobooks of the 1960s and '70s by Ryuichi Kaneko and Ivan Vartanian (Aperture, 2009); The Latin American Photobook (Aperture, 2011); Swiss Photobooks from 1927 to the Present. (Lars Muller, 2011); Behind the Zines: Self-Publishing Culture (Gestalten, 2011); and scholarship by Stephen J. Bury, Alex Sweetman, and Johanna Drucker. (4)

On the back cover of Behind -the Zines is a paraphrased quote by Voltaire: 'Twenty-volume folios will never make a revolution. It's the little pocket pamphlets that are to be feared." (5) This quote pertains to self-publishing today. The French writer and philosopher was not referencing the self-published photobook in his letter to Etienne Noel Damilaville in April 1766, but the written word of social thought and religious critique. Voltaire was very aware of dissemination and the proliferation of an idea. …

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