Wednesday, 25 March 2015

the photo book

The photo book has evolved quite rapidly since the invention of the photographic process and I am going to explore a few below. From the worlds first right through to a project that we worked on together. The photo book maybe associated now with a soulless print on demand generation of book making but the photo book has an interesting past and is still can be very interesting now.

'Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions'  - cover detail A

The worlds first photo book created between 1843-1853 was 'Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions' by Anna Atkins. It is made up of a series of cyanotype prints where dried algae are placed directly on the cyanotype paper. Paper coated in water soluble iron salts when exposed to sunlight form a compound know as Prussian blue, hence the blue image created.

'Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions'  - page detail A

"The difficulty of making accurate drawings of objects as minute as many of the Algae and Confera, has induced me to avail myself of Sir John Herschel's beautiful process of Cyanotype, to obtain impressions of the plants themselves," 1.

'The Pencil of Nature' - cover detail B

The first photographically illustrated book to follow this was 'The Pencil of Nature', 1844- 1846 by William Henry Fox Talbot. Set up as a commercial exploitation to encourage the widespread distribution of large editions of photographic prints. The 'Pencil of Nature' contains 24 plates with a brief text for each. 2.

'The Pencil of Nature' - page detail C

One artist that most of us will be familiar with for his photo books is Ed Ruscha. He is probably responsible for bringing the popularity photo books to the world of book arts. Rejecting the tradition of the handmade limited edition these books are mass produced simple and in large repeated editions. 3.

'Twentysix Gasoline Stations' - cover and page detail D

Heres a short video of Ed Ruscha taking about his photo books. E

Lastly I would like to mention the visual essays that we worked on together as part of 'codex: between this and that'. Here we used the idea of the photo book and combined images together that created a narrative which relied on the form of the book to convey itself. The images we chose would not work, or at least not be so successful if conveyed in any other way. The book holds the narrative of the imagery and conveys our thoughts in a visual way.

'codex: between one hand and another.' F.




Wednesday, 18 March 2015

→ from book to film to book in a fanny dance


(…) as we begin to read, a temporal process commences, which in addition to the two dimensions of surface and to the dimension of space—we think of the body of the book!—brings the fourth dimension of time. One of the essential characteristics of time is that the direction in which it moves is irreversible. (Hoculli, 1996)


When the moving image was first invented there was a tremendous excitement about the possibilities of the new medium. It was a spectacle on par with the magic shows. Georges Méliès produced The Haunted Castle and A Trip to the Moon. Lumière Brothers produced Le Squelette joyeux and Spanish Bullfight. Watching those films it is easy to see what the joy and the fascination were all about. It was "the cinema of attractions", as Tom Gunning called it, full of "visual delights…surprises…displays of exotic, beautiful or grotesque…or other sorts of sensational thrills “ (Abel, 2005)

Those early short films - each only about 4 minutes long - certainly used and explored the moving image with imagination and dedication of Caractacus Potts. The idea of film as a non-narratative medium (or where story-telling takes a secondary role) resembles a form of an artist's book, which excites the reader with form and content, rather then the verbal story on its pages (symmetry Nr1): a short blast of unfolding enjoyment.

The adjective “well-thumbed” tends to suggest a certain monomania regarding a text (Farry, 2015)
As soon as producers realised that longer films meant bigger profits, narrative cinema was born: Cinderella (Georges Méliès) and Alice in the Wonderland (by Cecil Hepworth and Percy Stow) were among the first to be made. 
The parallel between book and film goes beyond a direct book adaptation. Like film, codex is inherently sequential by it's structure: there are pages (film frames) and pages (film frames) and pages (film frames) that require time to ingest in a linear order from 1 to X hundred. (symmetry Nr2). McFarlane, in contrast, compares book to a literary narrative, distinguishing word as the smallest unit in the sequence. He rightly points out, that we do not watch film frame by frame as we read novel word by word. The comment would still stand even if comparing film/frame structure to the book/page structure. However, the principle of linear time-based sequenciality remains.
Like oral or cinematic narrative, it (literary narrative) can only be "consumed", and therefore actualised, in time that is obviously reading time, and even if the sequentiality of its components can be undermined by a capricious, repetitive, or selective reading. (Genette, 1980)


Film editing process requires patience, stamina and precision of a typesetter, as I realised when editing between one hand and another. It was an illuminating experience, that had me appreciate  links between book and film production and  possible transitions that I had not yet considered.

When looking for more specific bridges between the two areas, I found that most conversions between the mediums happen in reference to their inherent sequentiality (symmetry Nr2). Flip books are the ones that came to my mind first. (Is it a film? Is it a book? Is it a toy?) Flip Books ! Un livre, un pouce, un film is probably the most remarkable project of them all. The film (which was screened at this years Pages book fair), includes an anthology of 300 activated flipbooks from Pascal FOUCHÉ’s collection (France - 2007). It traces the history from the XIXth century to today and it is subdivided into categories, such as dance, animals, artist's books, publicity, etc. Remarkably, there is "no dialog, no music, only the characteristic "flip" sound, in Stereo Dolby , wow !" 

The film certainly sounds fascinating - just like the whole business of flip-books. I will be coming back to the subject very soon.

The video below does not come from Flip Books ! Un livre, un pouce, un film - I found no quality images of the project online. This video is a credit to the amazing Flipbook Collector on YouTube - great channel!


Flip Books ! Un livre, un pouce, un film is a professional documentation of 300 books. But there are also documentation works of individual artists: artist's who work with all kinds of books (not just flipbooks) often resort to video to record their work. Because it is time-based. Personally, I like how our George documents his works. His videos and their presentation maintain the character of his books: they are a good step above a tipod+flipbook set-up. Below is an illustration from to every action there is a reaction. Take time to look at his other book videos. Immaculate.

And here is the most obvious work of them all. DOT (DOT: The book as a video and DOT: The book) The video is a sequence of digitally reproduced letterpress prints, produced in the typography workshop of the University of Arts in Braunschweig, Germany. The pages were collected and bound to three (almost) identical books. The project’s subheading refers to this coexistence of print and digital video.

It is an interesting project which requires spotless skills of a typesetter and a video editor. I loved the experimental idea of it, however - as for the rest - it was somewhat underwhelming. I wonder what Romano Hänni could have done with the video!

(…) as we begin to read, a temporal process commences, which in addition to the two dimensions of surface and to the dimension of space—we think of the body of the book!—brings the fourth dimension of time. One of the essential characteristics of time is that the direction in which it moves is irreversible. (Hoculli, 1996)


Visual books use even more cinematic features: such as panning, flashbacks, eye-line matching, etc. I was also going to include video poetry (I did, in fact, and I deleted), photobooks and animation (flipbook linked), and then I realised that I was digging too deep and this whole blog post was getting out of my hands. So I stopped. Leaving some great subjects and artists to tackle next time.


Abel, Richard (2005) "Cinema of Attractions." Encyclopedia of Early Cinema . New York. p. 124.
Buchan, Suzanne (2013) Pervasive Animation. Routledge p. 63
Chilyan, Tagui (2011) The Development of Narrative Film. Hitrecord:
Genette, Gerard (1980) Narrative Discourse. New York: Cornell University Press. p. 34. 
Hochuli, Jost & Kinross, Robin. Designing books: practice and theory. Hyphen Press. London,1996. p.12 
Farry, Oliver (2015) "The crack of the spine: why do we find wear and tear in books so comforting?". New Statesman: Feb 19, 2015 
McFarlane, Brian (1996) Novel to Film: An Introduction to the Theory of Adaptation. Oxford: Clarendon Press.


Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Thermal Printing - Immediate, but ephemeral

Choosatron. Image credit:
Recently on Silvio Lorusso’s excellent Post-digital Publishing Archive I came across Jerry Belich’s fun crowd-funded project ‘Choosatron’ – a wi-fi connected thermal printer that generates a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ story before your eyes through choices you make at cross-roads in the text. There’s something very appealing about the thought that the story will only physically exist (in printed form) through the active reading process; the more of it you read, the more of it you will actually own. Looking at my own shelves, a lot of the volumes would be much slimmer if they contained only the pages I had actually read!

I wonder whether owners of the Choosatron will keep the stories they have read, so they can re-read them in future? One interesting tension raised here is the permanence of this ‘instant-book’, as thermal printing tends to last a couple of years before either the print fades or the paper darkens. If the reader wanted to keep the text, one recourse might be to take the advice of the National Archives of Australia and make a high-quality copy of the original on archival paper, after which the “thermal paper copies may be destroyed as a normal administrative practice.” An novel, but fairly short-lived project which was more social and immediate was Little Printer - a cloud connected printer that printed instant messages, news articles, weather reports and other bits and bobs.

Hello Little Printer, available 2012 from Berg on Vimeo.

Several artists have used the properties of thermal printers to interesting effect. Time Axis by Miu Ling Lam was an installation in which a camera continuously printed photos from the environment it was installed in - the prints however would begin to darken and disappear almost immediately after printing - almost like a reverse Polaroid.

Another artist using thermal printing is Annie Abdalla, whose book A Love Story in 51 Transactions is a story told through sales receipts.

A Love Story in 51 Transactions. Image credit:
It’s easy to see how such a cheap, immediate and seemingly permanent thing could be the basis for so many playful and creative ideas.


Monday, 9 March 2015

GUEST POST: 'In Peril on the Sea' Curating Books - Roberta Vacca

I’ve loved books since I was very young. From the bedtime stories read by my mum, growing up and learning to read until I became one of those crazy lectors that won’t be able to detach from a good story even when they're walking on the street.

Books for me have always been a form of art that I wanted to protect, investigate and eventually show to an audience.
At the beginning of October 2014 I started a MA in Curating, where volumes have had an important role in many different occasions, giving me the opportunity to connect and understand this realm more deeply.

Our course has given us the possibility to challenge ourselves in a well known gallery environment, such as Chelsea Space in Pimlico. The first project we undertook was “Works from the collections #1”, where our task was to use objects from the university Special Collections to create an environment in the entrance space of the gallery directly connected to the exhibition in the main gallery space “Bill Jubobe, Bob Cobbing” (19/11/2014 – 19/12/2014), a retrospective on Bob Cobbing’s works and editorial practice.

Deciding to be part of the Books and Texts section, I had the chance of discovering wonderful works, such as Toom Tragel Baldessari sings LeWitt (2009), transcription in musical scores of Baldessari's singing Sol LeWitt's notable statements or the amazing futurist images on the front cover of the first edition of Blast Magazine (1914-1915).

The decision revealed itself a challenge, having us moving from an initial idea of reproducing Cobbing's “Better Books” shop in the small entrance space, with volumes and copies of works freely given to the public visiting the exhibition to read and consult on site to a more secure use of vitrines and protective cases for the books and magazines chosen.

"Work from the collections #1", photo credits Yang Chen, 2014.

The question aroused whether books enclosed in vitrines could be appreciated and loved by the audience fully and the answer is still open. Being so personally connected to the volumes themselves and the feel of them in your hands, I personally disagree with the choice we made, because it gives just a partial feel of what the artworks are. Unfortunately most of the times we have to compromise for the sake of the works themselves and choose to show them confined in display cases, maybe negotiating to leave some of them open, or in the case of the magazines partly or fully unfolded, to show to the unaware visitor the beauty of their inside world.

Part of the class collaborated with Clive Phillpot on the exhibition “In Peril on the Sea: Sailing Ships, Stormy Seas” (28/01/2015 – 20/03/2015). Here two books: Helen Douglas Unravelling the Ripple (2001) and Elisabeth Tonnard Oceanus (2007) were dismantled to create a unique, complete image, in a shape which meant to reproduce the waves of the sea during a tempest. In this case all was left to the imagination of the curators that created a new display, different from what the original artist idea was, opening the work to new possibilities and interpretation even for the artists themselves.

"In Peril on the Sea: Sailing Ships, Stormy Seas", photo credits Gabriel Loy, 2015.

Our next challenge will be once more connected to book art, in this case in the form of sketchbooks of the British theatre designer Jocelyn Herbert.

(Roberta Vacca)

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

marbled pages

Vintage 19th c. marbled paper, Gloster pattern. A

Continuing my theme on printing techniques and methods of production I'm going to write about marbling. While being beautiful it is also really interesting and most of us I imagine are familiar with seeing it as endpapers in books. 

Marblers at work and illustrations of marbling equipment. B

The basics of marbling is to float coloured inks on water and then manipulate them into a pattern. Paper is then applied to the surface of the water and a print is taken.

Two pages of waka poems by Ōshikōchi Mitsune (859?-925?) C

One of the oldest examples of marbled paper is from this manuscript. Here are two pages of waka poems by Ōshikōchi Mitsune (859?-925?). 20cm height, 32cm wide. Silver, Gold, Color, and ink on suminagashi paper. From a copy of the Sanjurokunin Kashu or "Thirty-Six Immortal Poets" kept in the Hongan-ji Temple, Kyoto. It was presented to the Emperor Shirakawa on his sixtieth birthday in 1118 C.E. 1.

An early possible reference to marbling is found in a compilation completed in 986 CE called: 文房四 Wen Fang Si Pu or "Four Treasures of the Scholar's Study" edited by the 10th century scholar-official 蘇易簡 Su Yijian (957-995 CE). 
This compilation contains information on inkstick, inkstone, ink brush, and paper in China, which are collectively called the four treasures of the study. The text mentions a kind of decorative paper called 流沙箋 liu sha jian meaning “drifting-sand” or “flowing-sand notepaper" that was made in what is now the region of Sichuan. 2.

Sheets of silhouette and marbled papers from an Album Amicorum, Prague 1600. D

Fast forward to the 17th century and marbled paper comes to Europe through travelers from the middle east who collected marbled papers in books called 'Album Amicorum'. These albums acted like scrapbooks or travel journals and contain a wide variety of Turkish of Persian marbled papers. 3.

Album Amicorum of Marcus Conrad von Rehlingen E

The art of marbling became increasing popular by the 19th century and books were published exploring this art form like: Charles Woolnough's: The Art of Marbling (1853).

The Whole Art of Marbling as Applied to Paper, Book Edges, etc. Charles W. Woolnough, 1881 F

As well as its purely decorative use marbled paper has some interesting and creative outlets in book arts and in literature. One most famous one is Laurence Stere's 'The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman'. One marble page appears in the book. This mysterious page at the time must have been sensational. In 1759 peoples contact, especially in Britain to marbled papers would have been very limited,  'commercial production in England did not begin until the 1770s' 3.

The marbled page from the first edition of Tristram Shandy. G

But the marbled page has significance to the book, in the page opposite sterne tells the reader that the next marbled page is the 'motly emblem of my work'—the page communicating visually that his work is endlessly variable, endlessly open to chance." 4.

Various editions of Tristram Shandy, showing the variety of the marbled page. G

In each edition of the book the marbled page is different. "Each marbling is unique, as is each reading of Tristram Shandy. It is fitting that your copy of Tristram Shandy is different from mine, since your subjective experience of the book is different." 5.

For more information on the variety of marbled papers visit: who hold a great digital resource of marbled paper types. 



1. Chambers, Ann (1991). Suminagashi: The Japanese Art of Marbling. Thames & Hudson
2. Su, Yijian. (2008). Wen Fang Si Pu. Shi dai wen yi chu ban she
3. Wolfe, R. (1990). Marbled Paper: It's History, Techniques, and Patterns: with Special Reference to the relationship of Marbling to Bookbinding in Europe and the Western World.
4. Sterne, L (1759) The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman
5. De Voogd, P. Laurence Sterne, the marbled page, and ‘the use of accidents’,” in A Journal of Verbal/Visual Enquiry


B.  l'Encyclopedie of Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d'Alembert. Vol. IV p. 275-6 (1768).