Juror on the Unseen Dummy Award panel 2014, Dutch graphic designer of world-class photobooks, Sybren Kuiper, works under the moniker of -SYB-. In addition to his work for commercial clients and theatre, he has specialised in photobook design for almost ten years and has designed books for Vivianne Sassen, Cuny Janssen, Valerio Spada, and Florian van Roekel, among others. He talks to Unseen about the design aspect of making a photobook.
As a graphic designer with a specialisation in the design of photobooks, you often work with photographers to realise their ideas. Can you tell us more about this process?
Actually it is always the same and always different. I always try to find out what the photographer wants to achieve with the book, what emotions or message they want to convey. After that I always ask for an opportunity to present an edit/editorial set-up/design without knowing what attempts the photographers have made themselves before. That is not because I think I can do it better, but it is for me the best way to react as directly as possible to the photographs themselves. If I do it right, I come up with something that the photographer couldn't have thought of alone. If I don't do it right and the photographer doesn't like my proposal or doesn't see him or herself reflected in the design I start over.
Most of the time after they have explained to me what they didn't like about the first proposal I know what to do for the next one. And so every step of the way the photographer reflects, gives feedback, brings in ideas (and throws some of mine away) until we have a final edit and design that they are happy with. As I always say I don't work for satisfied clients but for happy ones. In the end it is their book and not mine. This way of working is pretty much the same for 80% of the cases. Sometimes though there are photographers with very strongly developed edits before they contact me and of course, if they want me to, I can help them to make that stronger and sharper. The process is always different because every photographer is different as is every project.
Do you have a personal interest in photography and photobooks?
I have a personal interest in making them, not so much in reading them.The more books I design the less I seem to feel the urge to look at work of others. Too much bias.
Martin Parr selected Viviane Sassen's Flamboya among the ten best photobooks of the last decade. What makes a compelling photo book?
First and foremost, the photographs. After that, and with a big distance, the execution of the book itself. You need both, though, for an excellent book. If the design of the book reflects the photography or, even better, enhances it, you can say that a photo book is compelling.
What do you look for in a photobook?
A story. This story can be big and global or it can be small and personal, but I like to help to tell the story and help the reader to feel the emotions that belong to that story.
What do you think the future holds for photobooks? What do you hope it holds in store?
We will go all digital for sure, but photobooks especially will endure a bit longer. Photobook lovers make up a relatively small group of connoisseurs that value the physical qualities of the printed book probably more than in other fields of bookmaking.
Thank you Sybren, we look forward to welcoming you at Unseen.