The Photography Issue

ISSUE IV | November 2020

Massican Magazine

“We focus on photographers whose work we believe is important and part of the cultural conversation,” says Phaidon Publisher, Deb Aaronson. In the coming pages, Deb tells us more about what makes selecting photographers and the photographs for their books more important today than ever before.

A Q&A with Phaidon Publisher Deb Aaronson

What does a photographer or a photobook need to make Phaidon be interested in publishing it?

We’re incredibly selective about the photography books we publish these days because it’s such a challenging marketplace for them. We focus on photographers whose work we believe is important, and part of the cultural conversation.

What are the photography books in the next season people should look out for?

We have a monograph with the artist Catherine Opie and a new book with Annie Leibovitz, which focuses on the idea of fashion throughout her work. It’s an interesting project, I think, because it doesn’t only include what you’d traditionally call fashion photography but expands that meaning to include a wider range of work.

Who have been the photographers and visual artists that you really enjoyed working with over the years?

So many! Stephen Shore, Lauren Greenfield, Mario Sorrenti, and Annie Leibovitz, to name just a few. All of them have strong ideas about their work but are very collaborative bookmakers. That makes for a really interesting and rewarding process.

Photography Issue

Annie Leibovitz, At Work

One of the other big recent books you worked on was Lauren Greenfield’s Generation Wealth. What was it about her work and the projects she chooses to focus on that attracted you to working with her?

I have been following Lauren’s work for a long time and had talked about working together in the past but the timing wasn’t quite right. I was lucky in that when I came to Phaidon she was ready to work on a very ambitious book that made a compelling argument about contemporary culture, pulling together disparate bodies of work she had been pursuing for the past 25 years. It seemed to me both an incredibly powerful visual and social document of our times.

Is Greenfield indicative of a new kind of photographer who combines photographic composition and composition of philosophical thought when choosing their subject matter?

I think there has always been this tradition in photography – photographers who combine a powerful visual aesthetic with meaningful social content.

Phaidon has also recently republished a couple of seminal photography books by Robert Mapplethorpe. What was Phaidon in particular able to bring to the reissues?

We were approached by the foundation about the possibility of reissuing the books at a time when a number of other things were happening – an ambitious show of his work at the Getty and a documentary film about his life. We thought that these were important books to have in print and the revived interest in him gave us a moment when we knew there would be a lot of conversation about him and his work. The main challenge was producing these books to the very exacting standards of the foundation, and I knew that we were uniquely positioned to do that.

Phaidon has worked with some huge names in the photo world over the years Martin Parr, Joel Meyerowitz, Steve McCurry, Stephen Shore – what is the working relationship like with these old school photo legends?

Every experience is a different one, of course, but what surprised me most was how open some of them were to my thoughts and feedback. I suppose I imagined that they’d be very stuck in their ways. When I was working on a book with Stephen Shore on his photographs of Andy Warhol and the Factory, he literally gave me every single contact sheet he had made during the time period and was open to the inclusion of images that he had never even printed before! I found one of Yoko Ono that he said he had never even noticed, which we included in the book. I took it as a sign of trust and felt honored.

Is it important as these photographers grow older to protect and preserve their pioneering work and contextualise it for a new and very different generation of photography fans?

It’s funny, I always say that at Phaidon we’re not that interested in nostalgia – we’re not sentimental or precious about the past. If we want to publish older work, it’s because we think it has a pressing relevancy to now. So, to bring Stephen up again, publishing American Surfaces with a new design, additional images, and a wonderful text by Teju Cole was a way of thinking about the past in a fresh way and introducing the work to a new audience. It’s presenting the work not as an artifact, but as a living document that allows for an ongoing dialogue between the past and the present.

In This Issue