I remember the good old days when self publishing was for the few trail blazing individuals who, for what ever reason, produced intricate one-off photo publications or art intervention-esq newspaper print zines. The majority of photo books and zines of this early period had a specific purpose, an objective even. It appears now, that we are in some odd market saturation paradox, where the demise of main stream print media is directly correlated to the increase of individual print media. Of course there is still interesting and purpose fuelled self publications being made, as well as some truly innovative methods of production and that’s a good thing, as is the ability for artists/photographers to manifest their work in the form of a tangible physical object for consumption. However there are pitfalls a plenty with this new found sense of freedom.

To quote Uncle Ben (Spiderman’s Uncle not the Rice man) “With great power, comes great responsibility” a sentiment that should be etched on to the door of every printers in the country. Having almost total control over self publication is simultaneously it’s greatest strength and weakness. It is easy for a photographer/artist to become lost in a sense of their own self importance when producing work. Often the processes involved in making the work require long stints of solitude and solipsism. Thus believing that your methods and opinions of how something should be constructed is the only valid option is a common byproduct of working in this way. Of course editorial control is vital when constructing any coherent body of work, but often photographers/artists lack some of fundamental knowledge required when considering elements like design structure and image placement (or lack of). The sort of knowledge that comes from years of specific education and practice.

I am aware here that, no doubt I come across as some pompous arse, spouting criticism from behind a computer screen, so I want to make it clear that I can completely see the validity in self publishing, both as a vehicle for distributing work and as a outcome for a specific project. My concerns are with the abundance of these zines and publications, we really are tripping over them at every turn. The main criticism I have is that there seems to be almost no consideration as to if a piece of photographic work should be a publication or not. It takes no time to find endless advice on all aspects of self publishing, from the patronising –“you need to be aware of what type of paper you are using”– to the complex -intricacy of negative space- but rarely have I seen the same emphasis put on if the work being made should be presented as a printed publication. I spent a few days at Free Range -a graduate art and design show- last week and as expected some work was interesting and some not so. The striking thing was that at least 80% of the work had an accompanying book. It was as if producing a book was an inevitability and I don’t think that should be the case.

Another concern is about the knock on effect of the abundance of production. Generally speaking even fairly well established photographers/artists will rarely totally sell out a print run of their books. So what is happening to the thousands self published pages that nobody buys? I’m speaking more specifically here of the mass-produced Zines (obviously, blub and other print on demand outlets have curbed such wastage for some individuals). With established publishers when a selection of photobooks remains unsold it becomes non-cost effective to store them, resulting in the inevitable pulping. Smaller self publishing organisations and individuals do not have the same considerations, as they are not acting with the same business restraints as mainstream publishers, resulting in a build up of paper for the litter tray. I’ve no doubt that over the next few years we will start to see  post modern photo zines printed on discarded photo zines.

The Photo/Artist Book can be a beautiful, wondrous thing but these beauties and wonders almost always require exceptionally arduous and extensive consideration. Obviously there are those who self publish with an acute awareness of the need for consideration and collaboration, and also those who use the methods of production as a sort of interactive group project, but I fear the percentage of these, in relation to all self publishing, is decreasing.

My final point is simple, before embarking on a self publishing exercise stop and consider one fundamental component. Should this work be a publication?