Excerpts from Photographers’ Sketchbooks

Recently I have been looking at some of the practitioners included in Photographers’ Sketchbooks. Below is a selection of them, taken after my first look at the book a couple of days ago.  They each hold a particular interest to me – either because of their practice or their methodology. All of these practitioners will be influential as I consider various vernacular methods to display my current work.

Hong Kong based Michael Wolf .

Wolf collected cheap toys that were made in China. He travelled for 30 days and visited dozens of flea markets. Afterwards, he visited the factories where they were made, and photographed the workers.

(McLaren and Formhals, p. 294)

Buenos Aires based Irina Werning.

Werning’s viral project (Back to the Future) was created using vernacular and found material. She uses repeat photography methods, finding the human subjects in old photographs and getting them to re-stage the image, keeping clothes, layout and background as close to the original as possible. She searches for props, clothing etc online and anywhere else she can. If she’s unsuccessful in finding something then she makes it herself.

(McLaren and Formhals, p. 286)

Christopher Agou, French photographer.

Making a book dummy in 2010-11, Agou printed the images on heavy matte paper and bound them using an accordion fold technique. He uses the word maquette; I understand this to mean ‘sketch’ or ‘model’.

“The making of a maquette takes place in steps: determining the editorial content, sequencing the photographs and creating layouts in order to enhance the ‘heartbeat’ of the work.”

His work Looking for Words “explores man’s relationship between an unambiguous truth in the fast-changing environment of present-day China”.

(McLaren and Formhals, p. 18)

Jessica Backhaus, German photographer.

Sequencing her books is central to her practice; as the edit allows the images to express “her inner stream of consciousness”. 

She relies on methods such as arranging the printed photos in albums. Experiments play a key role too, by throwing many photos onto a white sheet to “see what happens”.

(McLaren and Formhals, p. 38

Robin Cracknell 

“Traditionally, keeping a diary has been a highly private endeavour, never to be shared with the outside world. But in the age of social media, people are sharing more and more private details from their lives. ” 

He creates notebooks that are beautifully designed, so that the viewer wants to engage with them.

“Flipping through them is like peering into someone’s memory and trying to decode its significance. Cracknell’s notebooks teach us that the capriciousness of memory can be beautiful, even if we’re not sure why we remember what we remember”.

(McLaren and Formhals, p. 74)

Zhang Xiao, based in China.

He has exhibited hundreds of payment envelopes which have been given to him for journalistic work. Onto these envelopes he has printed the photographs he has used in the articles.

“His series ‘Envelopes‘ … is an exemplary tale of how a photographer can find new meaning in the pictures taken during the daily grind of grip – and – grins and minor celebrity affairs that photojournalists cover in order to pay the rent.”

(McLaren and Formhals, p. 300


McLAREN, Stephen and Bryan FORMHALS. 2014. Photographers’ Sketchbooks. London: Thames and Hudson