A Talk with Book Addict Markus Schaden

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What book started it all and made you fall in love with books?

That’s a very difficult question. In terms of photo books, I would say Chargesheimer’s “Cologne Intim“. I met the book in a rare book store in Frankfurt in 1986 during my book seller education and schooling. I fell in love with the book. It was a great photo book about the city of Cologne. I canceled my plans to move to Berlin because of it.

This first photo book changed my life. It was the book that started it all. It’s an important one.

Do you consider books to be a passion? an obsession? a hobby?

Books are my life. Books are such an important medium. You can feel everything with them. I think for myself, I’m passionate about the quality of photo books.

Sometimes books kick you, they make you nervous, they make you worry about things, or fall in love. All sorts of emotional and intellectual impacts are possible. Quality is in a good handcrafted printed book, but the content also has to have an impact on me – it’s the combination. Even when reading a good fiction novel, it’s not only about the letter type or the nice leather binding or the paperback edition. What makes you crazy, in a good way, is a well made book that supports the content.

What’s your relationship to books?

I’m not so much a collector. Through my long life connected to photo books, things have always been up and down. Sometimes you want to build up a collection. I think it is important to live with books for a while, so they have a chance to influence you, because you cannot do it in one day or one week. You need maybe a few years. Then you also think ok, I need some new stuff. For example I had this big Japanese collection, but then one day someone was interested in it. At first you worry about letting it go, but in the end it’s not a big problem. You can let go. If you have it, if it has an impact on you, you can let it go. Sometimes you miss things, but I think it’s like kids – when they grow up and leave the house, it’s ok. You have a life, you miss them, you’re happy when you see them again. It’s a rather personal relationship.

Building the Photobook Museum

What is the PhotoBook Museum and how did it get started?

It’s a tribute to the central medium of photography. The PhotoBook Museum includes all that a normal museum would – it will exhibit, it will pay tribute to collections, and showcase what’s possible in the book medium for the photography world. This also means it will change peoples point of view on things. Books are very important for photographers, and they should be exhibited to educate, to show people the book medium, the photo book.

The industry is still very much focused on the printed book, as a central medium, and this is what I want to change. We need to expand how you can experience a book, since books can be experienced in many ways. We will do photo book studies, take books apart and put them on the wall, and study what went into each step and each decision.

There’s a four step master plan for the PhotoBook Museum right now. I started the whole thing after closing the Schaden.com bookstore, so this is a new challenge. There are a lot of festivals and museums around, but there is no photo book museum, so my team and I decided to make the first. We’re doing a lot of things backwards! We didn’t look for a permanent residence first, that is step 4, it’s at the end. Our plan is to start with a prototype expo this year somewhere in Cologne, in a big old factory hall. We are going to feature around 25 exhibitions, photo book studies, replicas…whatever a conventional museum has.

The opening week, August 19th to 24th, will include guests and photographers, and the show itself will run until October 3rd when we close for winter. We will set up an online edition so that people can join and have access worldwide. In 2015 we will have a cargo edition, so the PhotoBook Museum will be packed, put into shipping containers and start on a world tour. So, it will be a mobile museum. I hope this will be interesting for festivals, for locations, for temporary shows. Then finally we will hopefully set up a permanent residence, but let’s see. It’s a plan.

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The photobook market today: is it dead?

It’s not dead. It’s very much alive. The problem is that it’s a little bit too nervous right now. I think we’re in a critical time where a lot of things are changing and shifting. The whole publishing industry needs new ideas, new ways of distributing, everything.

The photo book market is run by a lot of complicated details, like funding for books, financial backgrounds, editions, etc. So, there is a kind of a missing gap or a missing link; there is a very active photographic crowd who love to produce, love to make books, and on the other side there are a lot of crazy photo book nerds, collectors, lovers… but this is not enough. So I have the feeling we have to open the PhotoBook Museum. It’s an opportunity for a new audience, new people who like photo books who aren’t collectors or photographers. We need readers who are in it for the pure joy of it.

So, as I said before, the market is kind of nervous, sometimes overrated, but it depends on money, on the circumstances in the publishing houses, and the fact that sometimes they can’t make or don’t want to make a 2nd edition. Some photographers don’t want more editions, they see value in seeing their books being sold for high prices on Ebay or wherever, or traded. It’s good for the now, but not for the long run. It’s not only the limited edition, or the collectors, that should drive up the value of the book.

There will always be a need for collectors, but one note on this: collectors for me, a collector, need a special idea about what to collect. They need a subject or theme – this is important. It doesn’t mean you’re a collector of photo books if you buy 5 photobooks a month. That’s not becoming a collector. It’s a misunderstanding people have. People just buy and think “Oh, I’m a collector.”

What do you wish were different?

I would love if it were a little more relaxed, but the market is also driven by one important aspect: nearly nobody is really making money, not the photographers, not the publishers, not even the book sellers I know. It’s all about surviving, everybody is kind of depending on money from something outside. On one hand, it’s also nice, because if you’re not in a big money business you have a lot of passionate people around because they do it for love and not for money, but for sure everybody has to make a little bit of money to survive. For sure it’s a big non-profit thing, and the risk to lose money is high, so we have to step out of this. Only a new and bigger audience can help us out of this. It’s a little bit of a dead end road.

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What’s your favorite photo book?

Difficult question. I have a lot of darlings. But there are also a few…it’s hard for me to give a recommendation.

Of all time?

At the moment. Or is it always changing?

For sure it changes. The one that’s on my nightstand, that I carry all the way from the office to home and back and forth, for sure it changes. It depends a little bit on which subject I am busy with. If I could only take one to an island… hmm….

Top three.

I can’t say. There are a lot. For sure there are some classics I would never miss. It’s all about what I love. I was very much in love with the Eggleston “Guide“, I love the book. There are a few Japanese books. I love Robert Adams “What We Bought”, also Anders Petersen’s “Cafe Lehmitz“. I also love the books we’ll be showing in the PhotoBook Museum.

There are a few new ones too. I’m still impressed by Ricardo Cases “Paloma Al Aire“. Mostly I love the simple things, and also a few forgotten books. I love the mixture between architecture and people. These are my personal darlings. I won’t tell you the rest, otherwise their prices will explode!

I can’t fully explain why I love a book or not, it’s difficult. Sometimes you don’t know why something grabs your attention.

Do you have time to read?

I’m definitely busy, but for books I have all day. As a bookseller, you build a kind of a special network in your brain. It’s like a big matrix, like a mapping system. Sometimes one book leads you to another, and another, and there are books that open doors to a whole range of other books. If I think of “What We Bought”, for example, by Robert Adams, it’s like opening a galaxy: there’s Anthony Hernandez, Alec Soth… I love the photographers who are always busy with books!

I also have most hated books, which are maybe brilliant but I could never really fall in love with them, like Michael Schmidt’s “Waffenruhe“, which is a great book.

So I have a very personal relationship with books. Sometimes you’re so much in love and then it becomes like in normal life, where you find new friends. But look here at the library (gestures to his library). I’m still excited about new American color photography. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, Stephen Shore was very influential.

I’m not missing special photobooks, but I’m missing special content. For example, I would love to see more books about food, eating, dining, about this subject. There’s only a few books about this. There are more movies about the culture of dining. It can be about restaurants, cooking, whatever. There’s the Araki book “The Banquet” which is maybe the most important one, but I would love to have more. So there are still a lot of photo books to be made in the future.

Which photo book would you love to own, but cannot find?

There are a lot, because there are a lot of good photo books that are in libraries or private collections that are impossible to find. What makes me most nervous is there being so many good photography books that we even don’t know about. There is a Latin American one, for example, there is one about Brasilia that is impossible to find. I’ve never seen a copy. I don’t even know what the content is. I forget the name, it’s somewhere in my notes. So there’s always something. But I have to say there are a few in Latin America. It’s not often that I want to own it, this is a little bit old school. Sometimes I just want to see it, I want to first look at it. It’s always a nice thing when you get in touch with a photobook which is totally unknown and you’re surprised. I know there are a few around.

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Why are dummies important?

They’re the test version, the experiment. Dummies are kind of like the matrix of a photographers work. Working a dummy before you produce the edition is quite important. You can really put together all the details, and figure out the combinations, like editing photos, sequencing, context, whatever, so the dummy is the perfect object for this.

How do you organize your bookshelf (if at all)?

In a very personal way. It is a mix between connections that I made in my own studies and my work. Connections are very special because they’re personal.

I love, I have to say, I love a collection by country, because each country has a special design, a special kind of photography. I have the Dutch, the Japanese, the Americans, the German, and then a few more. It’s also nice to mix it up sometimes, and make sure the new come in. At home I have only around 100 and they are all signed.

Tell us about your personal library.

I reduced my home library by a lot. I sold a lot of stuff. I wanted to try to keep it at a low number, like a few hundred. Sometimes it needs to be cleaned up a little bit and have a fresh start. So at home, maybe the personal copies. It’s nice to look over at the Petersen’s that are all signed. I love to have them dedicated to me, so you can’t sell them. For me, signing is like becoming really mine. It’s also like a personal history, and not a value object.

Markus Schaden is a book addict who lives in Cologne, Germany.

The PhotoBook Museum is currently being built. You can help support the museum here.

Building the Photobook Museum

(Pictures © Thomas Bregulla and ceiba)



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2 thoughts on “A Talk with Book Addict Markus Schaden

  • Bill Hess

    I think we have here a photo book lover to stand alongside Eva. I enjoyed the article and learned a few things but it made me feel a little bit jealous and frustrated. Ah, to have the money, space and time to collect photo books and then to divide your life up between pouring over them and making them yourself….

    I would be interested to know how Markus Schaden views photo books done exclusively for the iPad or other electronic media. Photo books that will never be printed on paper…