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