Is photography better viewed in book form, on the wall, on the Internet or elsewhere?

Contribute to a series of on-line discussions and debates related to this year’s Deutsche Börse Photography Prize. Have your say on photography.

Is photography better viewed in book form, on the wall, on the Internet or elsewhere?


Editing, scale and context can dramatically change the way we view and experience photographs. The book form – one of the oldest ways of disseminating images – allows the photographer to determine the sequencing of her or his work and creates an intimate one-to-one relationship with the viewer. The gallery wall opens up endless possibilities in terms of size, scale, display and interaction with the work. The Internet can circulate images to far larger and wider audiences but can also restrict its viewers to looking at work on a small, plastic screen. What do you think is the best way to view photography and might there even be other possibilities?

7 Comments on “Is photography better viewed in book form, on the wall, on the Internet or elsewhere?”

  1. 1 gwyneth morgan said at 6:25 pm on February 11th, 2010:

    It depends entirely on the photograph or photographs. Some work needs the scale to have the impact. Some work needs to be seen all at once for impact, rather than across a series of pages. So showing the work in an exhibition makes sense.

    But so much work would be better in book form than as a series of small prints on the wall, as long as they are printed well. Photography is a robust medium but its printing in books needs to be handled sensitively. For example, I think Donovan Wylie’s Maze series works better in book form – the repetition of the spaces in the prison, page after page.

    I only use the internet for quick reference but not really for ‘looking’ at work in any depth or detail. It’s really not an ideal way to look at photography, in my opinion…

  2. 2 David Valentine said at 12:45 pm on February 12th, 2010:

    Regretably I was unable to view the exhibition as I am disabled and unable to climb the mountainous staircases…
    perhaps when the gallery is next refurbished our needs will be considered

  3. 3 Tim Forrest said at 9:20 pm on February 17th, 2010:

    Instinctively, photographs should be reproduced in as many different ways as possible. Personally, I prefer to see them large and well lit in a gallery. While each image may tell a story it can also work collectively like a series of phrases.
    The context that a designed space can give helps to contrast this story against the normal or lift it over distractions. I was reading recently about how a Kandinsky exhibition really worked in the spiral spce ofthe Guggenheim.
    But, recently I came across a photo story (notes from the underground) on Burn magazine’s site that was set to music. This showed how the internet can add multi-media experience to the good
    In book form, design and curation are really important – good critical essay can add so much to the experience. The letter Avedon wrote to his father about portraiture is at the front of his portrait book and it added a great deal to the images.
    So, in summary I’d say the more the merrier. A medium doesn’t fail per se, but the execution within the medium should definitely add something otherwise, purist or not, you are denying context.

  4. 4 Charles Naylor said at 9:14 am on March 12th, 2010:

    Any photograph hung on a wall is going to be influenced by those around it. So I think for most photographers work the images need to be seen in the context they were intended. Usually as prints hung on a wall. That said there is no real reason for a book not being a close second place to a gallery, especially as it provides a means of seeing the images after an exhibition has gone. And they can also be referenced at a later date to remind one of the work. I think there has to be a problem with viewing images on the internet, when they are so often shown in an inappropriate context, or without the other images that explain what the work is about far better than any supporting words could. Also a photograph is based on the idea of seeing reflected light, a computer screen is projected light, so you are never quite going to see what the photographer originally viewed in the back of his camera.

  5. 5 Rowan said at 9:05 pm on March 16th, 2010:

    My answer to the headline question would be this: “Yes”. Photography can be changed by the way in which it is viewed, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing – each of the above contributors make valid points about the nature of an exhibition versus books, but in the end the fact that photography can be effectively viewed in any of the mentioned contexts is one of its main strengths.

  6. 6 melr said at 5:24 pm on March 23rd, 2010:

    I agree about photography being versatile and its ability to function in any context but most photography, for me, is best seen in book form – where you can have a one-to-one, contemplative and perhaps even repeated relationship with the images.

  7. 7 ian russell said at 1:29 pm on April 14th, 2010:

    The thing I find about displaying on the web is it improves bad photography. I think this is largely due to it’s luminosity aided by the monitor and also it’s resolution affected by scale.

    In reality it depends on the size of the image. Books are good if the printing is of quality and the images are near full size, otherwise you need the real thing on a wall. I don’t see how you can beat the real thing.

    Of course, then it depends on the exhibition space. It’s more complicated than we think….