Post contributed by Lisa McCarty, Curator, Archive of Documentary Arts
Over the past three years the Archive of Documentary Arts (ADA) has focused on building its collection of photobooks. The ADA is most interested in photobooks in which images are the primary content, or are considered co-equal with a text. Much like artists’ books, photobooks are conceived as artworks in their own right and can be considered art objects. Photobooks are often the primary medium for a series of photographs and as such, attention to the interaction between form and content, as well as the relationship between text and image, are central concerns to the artist.
Photobooks first emerged soon after the advent of photography in the 1840’s. Anna Atkins’ handmade book Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions from 1843 is credited as the first book illustrated with photographs and William Henry Fox Talbot’s Pencil of Nature followed soon after in 1844. Since the nineteenth century, photobooks have proliferated as a medium which allows for artistic exploration and as means to circulate photographs to a wider audience. Today artists continue to make photobooks both in small editions by hand or using print-on-demand services, and at a large scale, most often through partnerships with academic and independent publishers.
In the 2016-2017 academic year the ADA welcomed over 100 photobooks to the collection. This included historic and contemporary photobooks by individual artists such as Zalmaï Ahad, Barbara Bosworth, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Petra Barth, Andre Bradley, William Christenberry, Masahisa Fukase, Juan Giraldo, Meg Griffiths, Gregory Halpern, Justine Kurland, Susan Lipper, Mary Ellen Mark, Paula McCartney, Cristina de Middel, Nancy Rexroth, Alec Soth, Matjaz Tancic, Mickalene Thomas, Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb.
All ADA photobooks are available to researchers in the Rubenstein Library.