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An Extravaganza of Photobooks
By Nick Bowman
Posted on 10/5/2021 11:00 PM
With the Society’s theme of photobooks, it was good timing to see how four members have tackled the subject and provide inspiration for other members.

The four speakers were Chris Box, Ilya Fisher, Hilary Barton and Margaret Marks…in our new hybrid meetings Ilya and Hilary spoke on Zoom with Chris and Margaret making their presence felt in the hall.

Chris kicked off explaining that he had five motivations for creating his books:

- A sense of disappointment when he sees boxes of unloved photos at markets
- Stephen Poliakoff’s ‘Shooting The Past’ TV drama, first shown in 1999
- Inspiration from children’s books which drag the reader into the story
- Blip – the daily photo platform which has helped create a diary of photos
- A feeling that he hadn’t asked his father enough, so the desire to have a record of the past for future generations.

Two of his books marked anniversaries – his 70th birthday (below left), and his wedding anniversary, whilst the other two were created with his grand-daughter in mind. His searching for his book about fairies culminated with his grand-daughter finding the two fairies featured in the book actually on the Christmas tree – the ultimate in immersive photobooks (the draft book for next Christmas on dragons below right). Chris also gave us a quick lesson on Photoshop and how to ‘cut out’ images to be used in other photos. He likes the Bonusprint software for creating his books.


Sadly this was Chris’ last time with us as he has moved out of London. Chris will miss you and look forward to a visit in the future.

Ilya has impressive credentials with a couple of books purchased by the British Library. We all sat in awe as she went through her experience of photobooks (printed and hand made), zines and digital books. Ilya uses Blurb for printed books and her ‘Real Estate Opportunities’ book cost just under £32…yet as a magazine it was just £3.99. She also mentioned Solopress, a small printing firm, who printed 50 copies of one book for just £180 – this was created in honour of her step-mother, a well-known artist when she died. Some of us had been lucky enough to hear Ilya talk about her hand made book ‘Excuses’ previously (below left). It features stitched text and features her series about unravelling…it’s a marvel to see the creativity that has gone into this.


She suggested we look at Lewis Bush’s work for how to create zines…and in fact four of us who attended the zine and book making course at Morley College had already experience of Lewis Bush and his technique of creating one out of a single sheet of A4 folded into 8 pages….well worth searching out (above right). Her recommendation for online zines is…with the special bonus that their software means that when you turn the page you actually get the sound of a turning page.

Hilary’s interest in photography and making photobooks started at the same time eleven years ago when she went on a voyage to the Antarctic….a photographer gave lessons on board which Hilary obviously enjoyed as she has produced many, many books. Initially she compiled books simply from the photos taken on her ventures, but more recently has researched the places before the visit so she has an idea of what she wants to photograph, and the book she wants to create before she starts. This came in particularly on a trip to Greenland with its many social and economic challenges, as illustrated by photos of abandoned footwear when people are ‘encouraged’ to move from their traditional homes to urban centres (below left).


Her pace of creating 2-3 books a year changed dramatically during lockdown when she started creating at a breath-taking rate of one a month with the subject matter of the birds and animals in her garden and surrounding Oxfordshire. She was also encouraged to sign up for The Open College of the Arts BA in Photography. Subsequently she has created a book using a Photo-Finish camera (above centre)…of which we need to find out more as it produces stunning abstract images (these are the cameras that are used to confirm who won the Grand National or the Olympics 100m race!).

Hilary is less impressed by the cost and quality of Blurb’s lay-flat books, so the less said about that the better…generally she exports from Lightroom’s Book module direct to Blurb with excellent results. She too has created a hand made book, with photos inspired by the French architectural photographer Eugène Atget…it looked beautiful to us all (above right).

She also took a moment to tell us about two RPS book projects – one about the area around Crossrail, and the other looking at edge-lands which has also involved Natalie, Alan and Susi. Both provide examples of how to manage a collective project – the use of a project manager and Zoom meetings for progress and mutual support and discussion.

Margaret was our last but not least speaker, giving us all a humorous and engaging review of her various ventures in photobooks. Adventurously she has used Blurb, Bonusprint, CEWE and an unnamed German photobook producer, so in that sense has the broadest experience of all. Her first photobook was a present for a friend featuring ‘Seventy Dogs or More’. My personal favourite page was the one that featured the rear ends of dogs as they walked away from her (below left), but the whole book was a lovely idea. ‘Upminster Observed’ is a showcase of Margaret’s style of photography which I’m sure has inspired Martin Parr…her photos of what might initially appear to be ordinary bland scenes in fact show the quirks of life around Upminster and so become engaging, worthy of our extended consideration (below right).


She showed two books from a trip to China (below), explaining that she hadn’t really been satisfied with the first one so re-did it. It’s a fascinating historical document from 1975 as Chairman Mao was still in charge and Western visitors were practically unknown at the time. Margaret explained the ‘first edition’ was created using Bonusprint, but she felt that the second version for which she used CEWE gave more flexibility and a better quality end result. A lesson Margaret wanted to impart was that you don’t have to use all the designs available in any of the software to get a good result.


So an excellent evening with four very different speakers with four different approaches which should inspire us all.

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