From photobook to photobookwork: the early stages of photographic narrative in book form

Activity: Academic Talks or PresentationsOral presentationResearch


It is now widely known that the first six decades of photographic practice were shaped by the continuous development and improvement of photographic printing methods. However, the impact of those printing codes upon photographic illustration in book form have rarely been discussed. As argued in this paper, the continual development and discovery of printing codes, in particular photomechanical printing processes, not only shaped the material relationship between photography and the page, but also conditioned the emergence and maturation of photographic narrative in book form. Until the development of halftone printing in the late nineteenth century, the production and design of photographically illustrated publications was defined by the impossibility to fully integrate letterpress and photographic printing. Although amply featured in books, tipped-in photographic images were, in most cases, interleaved at a later stage of the volume’s production. A process that, as argued in this paper, impeded the full development of the cumulative and relational visual narrative this essay associates with photobookwork (Sweetman, 1985, 1986) practice. Although halftone printing did transform visual narrative in photographically illustrated cultural magazines, it did not generate a universal transformation of the illustrated page. Fine art photographic publications, in particular Pictorialist photobooks and magazines, for instance, reluctantly embraced this new form of photographic reproduction. This paper attempts, therefore, to examine the causes behind this discrepancy by looking at how the mechanical nature of halftone reproduction transformed visual narrative in cultural magazines and simultaneously ossified photobook practice until the materialization of the photobookwork format in the early 20th century.
Period18 Jun 201819 Jun 2018
Event titlePHRC Annual Conference 2018
Event typeConference
LocationLeicester, United KingdomShow on map


  • Photobook
  • Photographic History
  • Printing Technology
  • Photobook History
  • Visual Narrative
  • Photographic Narrative
  • Halftone
  • Rotogravure
  • Photobookwork