Design Desk

From the Design Desk: Photography “Books” Inhabit a Digital World

Opening “spread” of Ali Bosworth’s book, Atlantic.

I was curious and excited to stumble upon booksonline.fr this week (by way of a post on Ali Bosworth on Booooooom). According to this piece in the New York Times, booksonline.fr was created by French graphic designer Pierre Hourquet.

The site minimally presents short “books” of photographs. Each book is a sequence of images put together and titled (presumably) by one photographer. They are fun to flip through. The limited amount of images is just enough for easy online browsing. The shortness of each piece allows the viewer to contemplate and enjoy the photographer’s pairings and overall ordering of pictures.

Some spreads that struck me:

From Concresence by David Zilber.

From Home and Away by Wyne Veen.

From Honey Blood by Suzanna Zak.

I’d love to hear what people think about the cover treatments. Here are a couple of examples:

Cover of Veen’s Home and Away.

Cover of Zak’s Honey Blood.

When I first looked at the site, I found the covers to be generic and I missed the use of imagery to lure me in. It’s an antithetical approach to what we do with cover designs here at Chronicle (to say the least). However, the more I flip through the books on the site, the more I appreciate that the minimal cover treatment lends to the discovery and surprise of what is “inside,” as well as creating a uniform sensibility for the site overall. I also enjoy that the minimal treatment forces focus onto the wording of the title and how the title relates to the images.

Another thing that I find interesting, and again, I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on this, is how this online format uses the conventions of books to such advantage. I am often delighted by (and purchasing) small physical books, and I find that these small digital books elicit a similar response. If they were presented differently, would they be as delightful? If their contents were dislodged from the somewhat ridiculous page turning device and grey ruled outlines of the “pages” would they feel as complete? I don’t think so. I think they would then feel like merely another collection of images posted online, a transient moment of shared beautiful pictures, subject to change or deletion at any moment.

Brooke Johnson
Senior Designer

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4 Comments

  • Marta February 27, 2012 at 7:30 pm

    Maybe I'm slightly old-fashioned, but I know that I would prefer those photos in a physical book. Looking at a photograph that is printed on paper is a totally different viewing experience than seeing them on a monitor that is lit up. I think in terms of "coffee table books" and art books should continue to exist as physical objects, so that they almost become treasures. I think the future of books is not as scary as some people make it out to be, I think that paperback books and text books should be available as ebooks, because let's face it, the quality of paperback novels has severely declined over the last few decades. But books that are have beautiful visual content and are thoughtfully designed and executed should have the honour of being treated as art objects.

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  • Thomas G February 28, 2012 at 3:35 am

    What great photos! Love your post!

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  • Brenda Biondo February 28, 2012 at 12:51 pm

    I completely agree that art and photography books [and any other visually-compelling and design-oriented books] benefit from being seen as art objects in themselves. As a fine art photographer, I've become more interested in how the book format can become part of my work, rather than just a display device for my photographs. That said, there are only so many physical books I can buy in a year, and I still love looking at photographs online, especially when they're displayed as they are on http://www.booksonline.fr. The pairing of photographs really adds to the experience. But I think I'd still like to see a photograph on the cover to give me an idea of what's inside.

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