Over the weekend I thumbed through Rolling Stones 50, a book put together for the recent 50th anniversary of the first gig by The Rolling Stones. I say I thumbed through it - but I was hooked. There was minimal text, intro pages for the four remaining fulltime Stones and then captions. Still, I read it all, I looked at every page. I took in every photograph.
Now, you'll know I'm a fan of The Rolling Stones because a) I've mentioned them a bunch of times throughout the life of Blog on the Tracks and b) most recently I gave you 50 reasons to love The Rolling Stones and possibly, c) as a result of that post you heard me talking about The Rolling Stones on Radio Live with Wallace Chapman.
Anyway, point is - I'm a fan. I've seen the band a couple of times, I own all their albums, I've grown up with their music. I've collected a lot of books about The Rolling Stones. So this book was probably always going to be for me, right up my alley and all of that.
But I wondered as I flipped through this book a couple of times - sure to take it all in and it's a fairly weighty tome, 350 pages or so, big, big pages filled with beautiful photographs - whether photo books are popular anymore. Are they? I'm curious to know what you think.
As a young eager reader I was thirsty for knowledge, I lapped up whatever I could find. Biographies, photo books, there was no Wikipedia and no Google Images. It was about the music - absolutely. So the best bet, always, was the actual music - but as I built my tape collection and then my record collection and then my CD collection, and then again my record collection, there was always supplementary reading required. Liner notes might only get you so far. Trips to the library were required (and they continue to this day) and bargain-hunting on those awful trestle-tables as well as importing expensive books, exclusive customer orders. Twice in my life I have worked in a bookstore in something closely resembling a job - so that was dangerous for the book-buying addiction.
But the photo book serves some other purpose beyond offering information - it's like the band T-shirt or a poster on your wall, it can be shelved alongside other books but often it's the coffee-table book, or one of; it's part of you announcing that you are a fan. It sits on your coffee-table announcing itself, reminding you that you're a fan, publicising it to whoever passes by.
Many years ago I had this Daniel Johnston book on the coffee-table in our lounge. And when a friend visited - a very keen Daniel Johnston fan - he assumed that I had selected this book off the shelf to tempt him, he figured I was playing to his hand. In fact it had sat there for months, gathering a bit of dust before I finally got to reading it.
Sometimes the photo books are about the photographer - more so than the musical artist - sometimes it's both (as was the case for me with Andy Summers' book of Police tour photos). Last year I was sent this book of Lady Gaga photos by Terry Richardson. It didn't move me in any way, I certainly couldn't move past the inertia to write something about it. But the guy took some great photos; I could admire the aesthetic. I just didn't care enough to write about it. And you could certainly see why an artist like Lady Gaga might be the subject of a photo book - just as Madonna was back in the day (back when she was relevant).
I've loved so many photo books over the years - but I figure they're (mostly) a thing of the past these days. A band like The Rolling Stones is perfect - still - for the format. It's a way of putting together a visual history, and a band needs to actually have something of a history for the visual element to be of interest. And I wonder if we really care enough these days. Can't you just go to Google and look up old images, or check out somebody's cleverly ironic Tumblr blog?
I still have a few photo books that I haven't really looked through in any great depth. And that's why I still have them. I'll get there one day. And hopefully I'll enjoy it.
Last weekend with the Stones was great - at one point I watched the Sam Hunt documentary while flipping through some of the images in the Stones book. Later I put on my favourite Rolling Stones album (for now) and thought again of how much this band has meant to me.
So, yes, the book caught me at a weak moment - a sucker for the anniversary given I've spent so much time with this music - but I'd absolutely recommend it. To anyone, in fact. Unless of course you hate The Rolling Stones. Or photo books.
Beyond that I'm keen to know if you were ever a fan of photo books. Do you still buy them? Or do you read them when they're on someone else's coffee table only? And what are your favourite photo books? Who paid the money for the Madonna Sex book?
Do you think that we'll see less of the expensive photo-journals in this era of publishing? Is there little point when there are so many online archives? And are you happy to pay the price for a large book of beautifully produced photographic work - or has this never been a focus for you, never been part of your music fandom?
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