Tuesday, 9 December 2008
Photography, book covers and Captain Beefheart
In November, Aida Edemariam wrote this story on the dumbing down of book covers for marketing purposes, so reducing the integrity of the book and the author
The idea for the article came from a talk given by Margaret Drabble. Drabble said that publishers "...have not asked me to dumb down ... but I have a feeling there's a problem. I write literary novels but I can sense my publishers have difficulty in selling me as a genre ... whether in literary fiction, or women's fiction or shopping fiction."
The story led to a book redesign competition run by Bookninja. Never one to miss a trick, the Guardian had their own competition, Guardian Book Cover Redesign Competition. The results of both competitions are shown here ( I love Annie Proulx - is that quote on the cowboy book for real?).
The dumbing down works both ways though, and photographs are also dumbed down by being on the cover of books. This Larry Sultan image ( from Covering Photography, a site that shows book covers featuring famous photographs - via Buffet) on the cover of Douglas Coupland's All Families are Psychotic, is a case in point.
Perhaps overexposure or trying to make everything showable, or sellable or affable or conceptually viable compromises photography in a more absolute manner than we imagine - maybe we should all take Mark Tucker's advice and make more Fuck You work "...where you put it all on the line and say "This is who I am.""
Anyway, I think the no-money-in-the-art/photography/magazine-world will help people do this and not focus on the money, the exposure or the show to the exclusivity of all else, returning it to the more poetic place where it truly belongs. It might also help us be more critical of both our own work and the work we see. My friend Tadhg ( who has recently become a father and so has more pressing priorities than the latest typographical survey of family, factory or food) wrote to me yesterday to say, "When you see so much photography you start to look at the more obscure work, which may actually be rubbish, like a musician who starts getting into Can or Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica."
It's supposed to be the other way round, but Tadhg's idea is the more you see, the less discerning you become - and I can appreciate that. Which begs another question, what is the photographic equivalent of Captain's Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica?