In 2012 PHAIDON published Stephen Shore’s Book of Books - a book that contains all 83 books of his print-on-demand projects since 2003. Stephen Shore spent seven years producing one day editions using Apple iPhoto service. It is a simple project, but the result is some truly remarkable sequences of truly remarkable photography.
There is big woo-hah! about Book of Books, with 250 signed and numbered copies available for $2500 to the lucky collectors (mind, it is highly collectible, Phaidon says). The original layouts, including blank pages, are reproduced at actual size and organised chronologically. In this way, the collector experiences each book and the entire book project as Stephen Shore originally intended.
However, I have some questions to Steven Shore and Phaidon.
This book embraces brand new technology and brand new ways of making a book. We at Phaidon have made a true work of art in a pioneering way with one of the most important and influential photographers in the world.
I really do believe that this is a one off in book publishing and the way that it’s made and the way that this work is presented will change the way that books are made in the future. It is not only a landmark but also a benchmark against which other books will be measured. (Amanda Renshaw, Phaidon Editorial Director, on the Phaidon website)
This was not written in 2003. This was written in 2012. Today, everybody is an author: online and off-line editions of e-books and i-books are produced by anyone who owns a computer, a phone or a tablet. What is so pioneering about Phaidon’s edition?
Few would disagree that Stephen Shore is one of the most important and influential photographers in the world and that - at just over a dollar per photograph - the book might be a good deal to get ones hands on the best contemporary American photography. The book is an anthology of his day projects and it is as great as the individual books are. I fail to see the pioneering side of this benchmark landmark publishing. In fact, print-on-demand technology is not that unpopular among the artist’s books (especially photobooks) - I have used it myself. Blurb and Lulu are packed with limited and unlimited editions by names unknown as well as the accomplished ones (see Sarah Bodman’s Closure from 2009). It is also not entirely unusual for a mainstream publisher to work with an author that was self-publishing before (see April Hamilton‘s The Indie Author Guide, Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman‘s In the Lion’s Den, etc). It is less common, however, to have an artist of such recognition to be using print-on-demand technology consistently for such a long period of time, i.e. sustaining the whole body of work on the idea of an immediate book.
But what is so pioneering about Phaidon’s edition?
It is possible to make another book on his iPhoto books, but it would be very different in scope, style and extent, and it would no longer be an artist’s book. (Amanda Renshaw, Tate etc., 26)
This, I find very confusing. I suppose it raises the question of what IS an artist’s book and why should a reprint (or a second edition) not be an artist’s book. Ed Ruscha published 400 numbered copies in the first edition of Twenty Six Gasoline Stations. The second edition contained 500 unnumbered copies and the third edition - 3000 unnumbered copies. Ed Ruscha flooded the market, but the reprints never stopped being artist’s books.
Book of Books contains day projects that were conceived as print-on-demand access-for-all publications. How does this Phaidon’s edition relate to the original concept? Why didn't they produce a boxed set of the original books? What was the intention?
Even though Amanda Renshaw is very explicit about the limited and signed nature of Book of Books, I assume that sooner or later the $2500 edition will be followed by a trade edition of a more accessible kind.