“Although we live in a digital age there is more attention for the paper photo book then ever before. The paper photo book represents solidity, something we can literary hold on to. It is a tangible object and, despite being a reproduction, it has the aura of the original object, in this case the photograph. The contemporary photo book can be seen as a visual novel. It is with this in mind that graphic design agency Heijdens Karwei designs their photography books”, -Teun van der Heijden and agency Heijdens Karwei.

Presenting an exclusive Photo Book Workshop, we’ve decided to discuss photo book publishing issues with one of the workshop tutors, an acclaimed photobook designer Teun van der Heijden

  Interrogations from Donald Weber on Vimeo.

1. Teun, photographers call you one of the best photo book designers. Could you tell us how you started to work with photography and what exactly your agency Heijden’s Karwei is doing?

Heijdens Karwei started out as a regular design agency. We used to work a lot for NGOs, Sandra, my wife and business partner still designs the monthly magazine of Amnesty International. We started working with photography around 20 years ago. The World Press Photo foundation was searching for a new designer for their yearbook. Together with the Dutch publisher Sdu they organized a pitch. Four design agencies where asked to design a new concept and we won. That was the first time that I made a photography book. The photographic edit was done by an editorial team of which I was part of. The other editors where so experienced and fast that I understood that I needed to know more about photography, so I started studying it. Heijdens Karwei designed a lot of photographic catalogues at the time – which was wonderful, but you always work somehow distant from the photographs. I wanted to collaborate directly with the photographer, be part of the actual storytelling. Working on Diamond Matter by Kadir van Lohuizen gave me that opportunity. People noticed the book and therefore photographers started contacting me. Doing Black Passport with Stanley Greene was really important for me and later Interrogations by Donald Weber.

2. During latest years, we’ve seen an exponential growth in the number of photographic books. Photographers publish more and independently – why so?

We live in a digital age. The virtual world is very visual and fast. It has many advantages, knowledge is accessible with one click, we are connected to the rest of the world. “We may not know where we are going anymore, but we’re going to get there a whole lot faster”says Douglas Rushkoff in his book ‘Present Shock’. We all become overwhelmed until we learn to distinguish between data flows that can only be dipped into, and data storage that can be fully consumed. We need stories that can be fully consumed, stories that we can contemplate to. We use the visual language more and more. Within this visual language the photo book represents contemplation, the photo book is a visual novel.

 3. Do you think a figure of a photo book designer is necessary or a photographer can produce his book alone?

I believe that a photo book should be made for the reader and not for the photographer. Therefore it is wise for a photographer to collaborate with a professional who is not emotionally connected to the work. This professional can be a designer but also a publisher, curator or writer. Sometimes it is best to work with a full editorial team, but the best books are made out of a strong interaction between two people. Every now and then, though, a photographer does it all by him or herself and creates a wonderful book.

4. You teach a lot all over the world! Your 6-day course (next June in Rome together with Jan Rosseel) is called “Photo book: going beyond the form”. What should photographers expect from a bookmaking workshop?

We will look at all the aspect of book making:

  • Concept development, editing, compiling, who is the target group, balance between text and photos.
  • Design aspects like form, size and dimension, choice of paper, use of color and typography
  • Technical aspects like printing, binding and wrapping.
  • Publishing aspects like financing, distribution and promotion.

5. If we are not mistaken, you have met Jan Rosseel at one of your workshops that he attended as a student and then you’ve started to work together on his book? Can you tell us about this collaboration? 

I did not meet Jan during a workshop but at a portfolio review. The Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague, where Jan studied at the time, organized this review. Jan was not one of the photographers I reviewed, but some of the reviewers that saw Jan’s work mentioned that his story had serious book potential and, I believe, my name was mentioned to Jan. So we met after the review.

6. What are the basic ingredients for a good photographic book? What are the first steps that a photographer should move if he/she wants to transform his/her work into a photographic book?

Basic ingredients are: interesting story, good edit and sequence, original book concept. The first step is to find out how unique your story is. Either it is a story that is not told before or you tell the story as it was never told before.

7. And once the dummy is finished, what are the options for the photographer to get his book ‘out there’?

Nowadays most of the PR and promotion of the photo book is done directly by the photographer, even when there is a publisher involved. Make a video of the book, even better make a book trailer. Use social media. Visit photo festivals and photo book festival. Make sure that people who blog about photo books get to see your book. Having an exhibition surely helps selling the book. Give lectures and presentations about your story. Make it personal!

8. What’s the future of the photographic book?

The more virtual our lives become the stronger the need for tangible objects. The paper photo book has a great future.

Teun van der Heijden was interviewed by Dario Bosio
and Yulia Tikhomirova (YarT Photography). ©All rights reserved
Teun van der Heijden is a graphic designer and owner of Heijdens Karwei, a graphic design agency based in Amsterdam known for the design of award winning photography books as Belgian Autumn – Jan Rosseel, Via PanAm and Diamond Matters – Kadir van Lohuizen, What We Wear – Pieter van den Boogert, Interrogations – Donald Weber, Black Passport – Stanley Greene, Rape of a Nation – Marcus Bleasdale, Latitude Zero – Monique Stauder, War Porn – Christoph Bangert and recently Gold Coast – Ying Ang. Since more then ten years Heijdens Karwei designs the World Press Photo yearbooks and exhibitions.