Self-published photo books go from last resorts to treasures at MOMA

Andrew Miksys

Andrew Miksys

The books, Phelan says, are “the closest you can get to the actual product," the experience of looking at a work of art the way the artist envisioned it. And getting that experience takes some doing: The majority of his books are issued in limited editions that are sometimes hand-numbered or signed. That makes them fetishized works of art in and of themselves, and they're snapped up in practically no time.

And why? Because they're self-published. While book publishing in general is ailing, self-publishing is thriving — even though it still has something of a bad rap in the literary world, an option of last resort for those who couldn’t get their book past the traditional gatekeepers.

“And yet here in photo books, particularly in self-published photo books — we have this incredible oasis where it’s flourishing,” Phelan says. “Books sell out in days sometimes, not even in weeks.”

That’s right, self-publishing is hot, so hot that Phelan helped create the first international self-published photography book prize, the Anamorphosis Prize. Entries have already begun streaming from all over the world; the first package Phelan opened contained a book about spaghetti Westerns from Italy.


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