This thesis revolves around the question of how readers perceive structural unity in photobooks. The question is approached through attentive description and analysis of three contemporary American works – Collier Schorr’s Jens F. (2005), Nan Goldin’s The Ballad of Sexual Dependency (1986) and Christian Patterson’s Redheaded Peckerwood (2011, 2012, 2013) – which all rely on journeys conducted by the photographers.
The project is premised on a conception of the photobook as a network of interconnected nodes. A photobook network, the argument goes, is realized as a work of art when a reader combines the system’s components into a meaningful order. Given the photograph’s heterogeneity and ambiguity, there is, however, more than one valid way of ordering a photobook’s components. In order to approach a photobook’s higher level of meaning, readers are thus required to recombine and reread the work multiple times.
As the photobook is inherently complex, readers are generally unable to explore every possible way of combining its components and hence each of the individual readings that constitute the network. Nevertheless, readers still recognize the photobook as a work of art, and thus as a structured unit. The thesis demonstrates that such perceptions of structural unity are enabled by patterns that provide the rereading process with predictability, which allows readers to imagine the nature of readings not yet conducted.
This thesis also challenges the conception of the journey motif in contemporary photobooks as a manifestation of a turn towards the private self. By drawing attention to each photobook example’s particular pattern, it is demonstrated that the works allow for reflection on the subject’s extension into a physical, social and cultural realm, and thus for a relational conception of what it means to be human in the network age.