Delphine Bedel–the founder of META/BOOKS–talks about the photobook’s transition into the digital realm. Daria Tuminas interviewed her for Unseen.
Unseen: You founded META/BOOKS, a publishing house and research platform. What was your motivation?
Delphine Bedel: I founded my first publishing project in 2009 to promote a new generation of photographers, artists and designers. It started as an education project, a publishing house and research platform. I work at the intersection of visual culture and technology. Interested in digital publishing, I founded META/BOOKS in 2014. The name derived from metadata and books. Meta/books is a space for experimentation. We develop cutting-edge publications, workshops, education projects, lectures and exhibitions. We work with art, and design academies and leading art institutions. Meta/Books also promotes a new generation of women photographers. In photography and all publishing medias, their underrepresentation is still striking. I recently published ’Out of the Blue’ by Virginie Rebetez and ‘A Plastic Tool’ by Maya Rochat.
Unseen: You teach at the Design Academy Eindhoven and at the Piet Zwart Institute at Rotterdam. How are students experimenting with the design and publishing process? Could you share examples of recent experiments?
Delphine Bedel: I teach publishing in various art and design academies across Europe for 10 years. As self-publishing become more mainstream, institutions want it to be a part of their curriculum. In the Netherlands, there is a long tradition of experimental publishing and photobooks. We are quite privileged as printers and design studios are eager to innovate. There is a lot of room for experimentation. Students come from all over the world to study here, and their contribution is essential.
My students work together as an editorial board. The aim is that they experience all the roles involved in publishing, from concept, design, production and distribution. They work collectively, and on individual projects. At the Piet Zwart Institute, we launched the first Master programme dedicated to Experimental Publishing. During the first semester, the students worked on scarcity. They created a board game in the form of a book and the reader had to decide whether to preserve the book or dismantle it to play the game. I also teach at the Design Academy Eindhoven. For the Master Information Design, I developed an experimental framework for students to publish their M.A. theses. The results were stunning.
Unseen: Your PhD research at the University for the Creative Arts (UK) focused on photobooks. Can you tell me why you worked on this subject, and the questions you raised?
Delphine Bedel: The focus of my thesis is ‘Publishing as Artistic Practice — From Print to Software Culture’. We are in a moment of cultural and industrial transition from paper to corporate software culture. A book, or a photograph, is no longer a page or a print — it is lines of codes. Newsprint and books were historically the predominant method for presenting and circulating photography. With the release of the first higher resolution camera phones in 2010, all this changed. By 2014, there were more photographs published online in one year than in the whole history of photography. Dissemination became mainstream.
Everyone’s a photographer, everyone is a publisher. Self-publishing responds to a sense of urgency and limited means. Communities are building online and offline, redefining the boundaries of the medium. Publishing is the new home studio–versatile, portable and accessible, providing a community in print. New modes of production, appropriation, distribution and collaborative practices appear. That is my research’s focus.
Unseen: You’ve given many workshops on various types of publishing. How do you define e-publishing, and how do you think digital publishing is affecting the photobook world?
Delphine Bedel: This is a crucial question. As digital culture becomes a pervasive presence in every aspect of our lives, we need to invent new tools and new modes of circulating knowledge and information. Online projects like @everydayafrica and @womenphotograph are remarkable, and startups like @EyeEm, are breaking new ground. Although the digitisation of the film and music industries occurred 15 years ago, the digitisation of books only started recently. Not without paradoxes, the photobook relies on the existence of both print media and digital culture to exist.
Digital photography is ubiquitous from social media to images made by machines–such as drones, satellites, etc.–but the digital photobook barely exists. Are e-books not the right technology for photography? Will artificial intelligence provide more influential tools for publishing photography? This is the track I foresee. There is a certain irony that while the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, is working on ‘space tourism’ for 2018, we are still figuring out how to publish a digital photobook!
Unseen: What would you say is the most important part of the process in creating a book?
Delphine Bedel: Every aspect is crucial — the project, the team, the editing, the budget, the timeline, the distribution, the readership.
Unseen: As a design editor and publisher, you collaborate with artists to support in the visual realisation of their idea. What is the most important feature of this collaboration?
Delphine Bedel: Trust, and a good concept.
Unseen: Is there a photobook in your collection that you often return to?
Delphine Bedel: Diane Arbus’ Magazine Work, published by Aperture. Throughout her career, Arbus was making a living as a press photographer. It is one of the rare publications that reflects on her writings and her keen sense of humour, and what made her work so groundbreaking. Her experience of working for magazines contributed to her style, her technique, and her way of thinking about photography. She became a prolific press photographer for a time. She could write her own articles and captions to publish with her images. Such editorial freedom that was exceptional. The relation text/image interest me. It might not be a photobook by today’s standards, but this book remains influential in my work as a photographer and publisher.
Unseen: What book are you working on right now?
Delphine Bedel: Together with the designer Noemie Vidé, we are working on a series of publications based on my archives as a photographer, curator and publisher. It will be a series of 10 books, over 10 projects that span over 10 years, titled The Live Archive. I will publish the series in paperback, and digital formats, to make it accessible and affordable. We will present the project during Unseen. For another project, I want to investigate the use of artificial intelligence in publishing.
Unseen: What criteria are important to you when evaluating a photobook? Is there anything significant that you are looking for?
Delphine Bedel: The main question for me is always: why publish? What is the sense of urgency of a project? Does it have to be a book? Depending on the geographical or the political context where one is working, there could be a scarcity or an abundance of resources, and it matters to take this into account. The artist Erica Overmeer made photobooks using only one image, and they are amazing. Other artists, such as Batia Suter, may need a thousand images to tell their story. When a project becomes public, as a book dummy or in its final form, it has the power to change the way we see the world. One page at the time. Why publish? To share knowledge and experiences, to come together, and to invent a future together.
‘Interview with the Jury 2017: Delphine Bedel’, first published online by Unseen, September 01, 2017, on the occasion of the Unseen Dummy Award. Unseen invited her as a jury member. Watch the ceremony: The 2017 winner is Małgorzata Stankiewicz with “Cry of an Echo”. The book is dedicated to Białowieža Forest, the last primeval forest in Europe, which can disappear from the face of Earth by human’s fault. “Internal Notebook” by Miki Hasegawa, revealing the subject of domestic abuse, was awarded a Special Mention.
Delphine Bedel is an artist, lecturer, and publisher based in Amsterdam, founder and creative director of META/BOOKS. Daria Tuminas is an independent curator and Head of the Unseen Book Market.
Delphine Bedel is an artist lecturer and publisher, founder and Creative Director of Meta/Books in Amsterdam.
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