As Apple’s “Shot on iPhone 6” campaign is promoting smartphone images at billboard size, social media photography is blowing up as a subject for publishers. Work popularized on Instagram shares shelf space with images found in museums, and more and more titles aim to help photographers of all experience levels get the most from their devices.
Social media might seem to be an odd source of inspiration for a serious art book, but one of the more prominent titles in the fall catalogue from AmMo, which publishes the work of revered photographers like Howard Bingham and Edward Weston, is The Instagram Book, Vol. 2 (Oct.), a collection of photos taken by amateurs as well as pros. It’s the follow-up to 2014’s The Instagram Book: Inside the Online Photography Revolution.
“We wanted people who had unique things to say about photography and why they were doing it,” says Steve Crist, publisher of AmMo. (Crist is also the co-editor, with Megan Shoemaker, of The Instagram Book.) “The cover image [of the first volume] is from a physician in Singapore—he’s a doctor working in an emergency room and doesn’t consider himself a professional photographer, but he made a compelling image that captured the spirit of what we wanted.”
These days, when everyone has access to a camera at all times—and the ability to instantly publish high-quality images—amateurs are gaining sizable followings, and they’re catching the eye of prestige publishers.
“More people take more photographs now than at any previous time in history,” says Bridget Watson Payne, senior editor of art publishing at Chronicle, who edited This Is Happening: Life Through the Lens of Instagram (2013). “That means, on the one hand, that we’ve become more voraciously interested in learning how to make our pictures better, and, on the other hand, we’re becoming ever more accustomed to looking at photographs for pleasure.” She says that, for this reason, the readership of photography books is expanding.
At the end of April, Chronicle will publish See San Francisco: Through the Lens of SFGirlbyBay, by blogger Victoria Smith (aka SFGirlbyBay). Smith—whose success is representative of visual artists in 2015—enjoys a sizeable readership for her lifestyle blog, which often features photos taken on her iPhone. Her work is shared across social media—109K people follow her on Instagram—and attracted interest from editors. (For more on social media celebs, see “Camera Ready.”)
While a typical book of fashion photography features runway shots or professionally styled photo shoots, the just-published Designers on Instagram: #fashion (Abrams, Apr.) aims to balance high style with the accessibility of social media. Created by the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the book collects Instagram images taken by some 200 professional designers, selected by their peers, and includes photography from the Instagram accounts of Kate Spade, John Varvatos, Rebecca Minkoff, and Diane von Furstenberg.
Abrams senior editor Rebecca Kaplan, who oversaw the production of the book, sees the social media connection as a way to make Designers on Instagram more approachable for readers than traditional collections of fashion photography, like Abrams’s previous collaborations with the CFDA (Impact, 2012, and The Pursuit of Style, 2014). She says that the book will invite readers—even those already familiar with the designers’ work—“into their world in a different way.”
When AmMo’s Crist was an editor at Taschen, he edited The Polaroid Book (2008), which paid tribute to artistic achievements in a format typically associated with hobbyists and amateurs. He sees the growing acceptance of mobile photography as similar to the acceptance of Polaroid photographs as a legitimate form of art. “Like Edwin Land, who built the [Polaroid] camera that made photography more widespread in the ’70s, Instagram deserves a lot of compliments for letting everyone take photos,” Crist says.
Some outlets see the expanding conception of what constitutes book-worthy photography as also changing the profile of the typical photography-book buyer. For example, MOMA Retail, which consists of the five MOMA design stores and bookstores in the U.S. and Tokyo, as well as an online store, usually doesn’t carry how-to books but makes occasional exceptions for impulse buys. Norman Laurila, book manager for MOMA Retail, gives the example of 104 Things to Photograph (Chronicle, 2014), which he says has been doing brisk business at $16.95, as opposed to the $30–$70 price shoppers generally expect to pay for a conventional photo book in the store.
Roly Allen, publisher of Ilex, which Octopus acquired in December 2014, says museum stores are ideal outlets for photo books. “You catch people when they are feeling inspired and creative, and the smartphones in their pockets are the easiest way to express that,” he notes. “A book that takes advantage of that moment can really fly out of the store,” Allen adds, citing 2014’s Social Photography, by Daniela Bowker, as one such title.
Meanwhile, sales for art, architecture, design, and photography books are up. According to Nielsen BookScan, almost seven million units were sold in the category in 2014, a 4% increase over the prior year. AmMo’s Crist says that an expanding market for photo books helped drive sales of The Instagram Book and earn it distribution in youth-oriented retail outlets like Urban Outfitters. He hopes for a similar reception for The Instagram Book, Vol. 2: “It’s a photography book for non-photography-book people. For me, the best thing would be for people to pick it up and it would empower them to take their own photography more seriously.”
Abrams’s Rebecca Kaplan agrees, and she believes that readers “who may not have been interested in photography books in the past now have more exposure everyday to this art form,” which means that mobile-photography books “are just adding to that accessibility and interest.”
At the same time that publishers are accepting Instagram posts as material worthy of serious consideration, they also are introducing instructional books aimed at helping both hobbyists and professionals to improve their photo skills—not by buying pricier cameras but by rethinking the way that they use their phones.
The iPhone Photographer, recently published by Amherst Media, is a portfolio-style book by Michael Fagans. Each of 60 main images is presented on a two-page spread, with text explaining how to use apps in order to add creative color effects, simulate photographic emulsions, and so on. In August, the publisher will release iPhoneography Pro, by commercial photographer Robert Morrissey, which explores the basic functions of an iPhone camera, as well as apps and advanced techniques.
Frank Gallaugher’s The Photographer’s iPad (Ilex, Oct.) shows photographers of all skill levels how to get the most from their tablets. Gallaugher, who is also senior specialist editor for Ilex, says the book’s goal is to map out a “fundamentally useful workflow” to guide photographers through creatively editing and securely sharing their work.
Other books focus on advanced smartphone functionality. The Art of iPhone Photography (Rocky Nook, 2013), by Bob Weil and Nicki Fitzgerald, includes explanations of almost 100 photography-related apps, along with in-depth tutorials on landscape, architecture, and street photography. And The Mobile Photographer (Amherst Media, 2014), by Robert Fisher, focuses on how to enhance smartphone photo shoots using GPS, remote triggering, and weather apps available on Android phones and tablets.
This Android-focused title also points to the fact that, while Apple products get much attention, opportunities are ripe
beyond that popular brand. Educational publisher Peachpit, based in San Francisco, has found a niche by publishing photography books for Android users, such as Colby Brown’s Android Photography (2013). “Android handset makers have tried to differentiate themselves from Apple with the quality of their cameras,” says Peachpit publisher Paul Boger, adding that “Google has, through its devices and services, done a really nice job of nurturing the photography community.”
But Peachpit does not eschew Apple altogether. The Photos for OS X Book, by Jeff Carlson (May), shows readers how to shoot photos on iOS devices, as well as how to edit, store, and share images. Boger sees these how-to books as offering specific instructions and more general inspiration for photographers. The proliferation of Instagram and other visual social media platforms, he says, has made aspiring photographers as concerned about learning “to take ‘cool’ images with whatever devices they have and share them with friends” as they are about mastering technical skills. In addition to addressing traditional technical concerns, Carlson’s book provides details on how to share images across social networks.
As the line between professional and amateur photography blurs, publishers will continue to find new opportunities and new audiences. “We really are all photographers these days,” says Chronicle’s Payne. “I’m excited about how democratizing that is. It brings way more people to the party.”
Below, more on the subject of photography books.Camera Ready: Photography Books 2015