The Charitable Photobook

Posted in Photobooks (general) by Alec Soth on January 20, 2010

In Martin Parr & Gerry Badger’s History of The Photobook, much attention is given to Corporate Photobooks and Propaganda Photobooks. Thinking about Sergio Larrain’s charitable photobook, I’m wondering if this might not be another interesting subset of photographic literature. Can you think of other books that would fit into this catagory?


33 Responses

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  1. Vincent Borrelli said, on January 21, 2010 at 6:19 am

    Hi Alec, The George Gund Foundation commissions a photographer each year to illustrate their Annual Report. Participants have included Lee Friedlander, Lois Conner, Judith Joy Ross, Frank Gohlke and Nicholas Nixon. A book of all contributors was published in 2002, titled “A City Seen: Photographs from The George Gund Foundation Collection.” Not sure if this is the sort of thing you’re looking for.

  2. Alec Soth said, on January 21, 2010 at 6:39 am

    Thanks Vincent. This is an interesting example in that it is a hybrid of corporate photography and charitable photography. I suspect that is usually the way it would work. There has to be bunch of other examples out there, but I’m drawing a blank.

  3. martin parr said, on January 21, 2010 at 7:13 am

    Hi Alec
    There are many examples of this, especially charities and NGOs working together. For example in the UK there was the work and book Nick Hedges did with Shelter.
    However , it is often the case that this type of work is rather formulated, and the work all looks and feels the same. I agree with Vincent that the Grund foundation books are a very good example of this can work well. Rankin did some good for Oxfam recently, but no book. Also don’t forget Magnum’s recent aids project. not bad.

    • Paul Reas said, on January 21, 2010 at 4:09 pm

      On that subject there is also ‘Positive Lives’ that was made by Network photographers in the UK in association with the Terence Higgins Trust in the early 90’s. The show of that work is still touring the world.

  4. Kirk T said, on January 21, 2010 at 7:22 am

    I have an old GM book that were given only to employees. Nothing special but contained photos of their cars through history as well as their accomplishments.

  5. re: photographica (George) said, on January 21, 2010 at 10:05 am

    Real Indians: Portraits of Contemporary Native Americans and America’s Tribal Colleges

    Although Andrea Modica does a fair amount of editorial work, she always works with the 8×10 view camera, which immediately sets her “work for pay” in a category that Alec would be familiar with. I know that she senses a difference between commissioned work and personal work, in terms of her emotional investment in the subjects, and one could say that this collection, commissioned by the American Indian College Fund with assistance from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, leans toward the formal, but there are some profound images contained in it, and certainly nothing that couldn’t be identified as a “Modica.” The book is loaded with good intentions, excellent photographs, and design that favors the latter, so well worth getting acquainted with by all the cognoscenti.

    Published by Melcher Media, 2003, with an Introduction by Sherman Alexie.

  6. Danielle said, on January 21, 2010 at 10:18 am

    there are so many. . .Magnum’s Access to Life is just one of many, but no doubt the list is ever increasing as NGOs turn into assigning bodies. . .

  7. Alec Soth said, on January 21, 2010 at 10:37 am

    Thanks George, as a hardcore Modica fan, I have seven of her publications (including her Gund commission), but missed Real Indians.

    And I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve never seen Magnum’s Access to Life book.

    This is the worthwhile thing about making these kinds of categorical distinctions, you end up finding things.

  8. Kurt Simonson said, on January 21, 2010 at 11:42 am

    Hi Alec-
    Just replied to you on Facebook, but thought I’d chime in here too. What do you (and others on here) think about books like Kids with Cameras/Born Into Brothels? I know it became a bit of a cliche trend for some people, but it did seem to do a measurable amount of good for those children and is still going. I also think of Jeremy Cowart- he is best known for his commercial/entertainment work, but he did a project with water wells in Africa called “Hope in the Dark” (which is unfortunately poorly printed), and also organized the “Help Portrait” movement a few months ago (free portraits for communities around the US). He’s just one example of younger photographers doing a lot of NGO-related work that I’m aware of (a lot of my students end up going into NGO work, so we’re all on a bit of quest to figure out how to do it with innovation rather than with pity).

    • Alec Soth said, on January 21, 2010 at 2:30 pm

      I don’t have a good answer as what might define this category. It can’t just be a book of photographs of this or that social issue. What I’m talking about is work made in conjunction with a charitable organization.

      As Martin Parr said, most of these books are pretty weak. They are usually group projects and pretty tame in terms of imagery and design. But, of course, so are most Annual Reports. I’m curious about finding gems like the Sergio Larrain book.

  9. Sebastian said, on January 21, 2010 at 11:48 am

    would books like tina enghoff, possible relatives or deirdre o’callaghan hide that can count?
    i think both were produced by instititution and photographer alike, or with funding help.

    • Alec Soth said, on January 21, 2010 at 2:45 pm

      Thanks Sebasitian. I just looked at the o’callaghan book to figure out if it fits. The book doesn’t say that it was produced by an institution or that the proceeds were going back to the Arlington House, so I’m not sure. I don’t own Possible Relatives, so no opinion on that one.

  10. Christian Patterson said, on January 21, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    “Why We Must Provide HIV Treatment Information,” with photographs by Wolfgang Tillmans:

  11. Vincent Borrelli said, on January 21, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    Here’s another example. The documentary filmmaker, photographer and humanitarian Bob Gardner, puled together a group of photographers (including Susan Meiselas and Alex Webb) and recently published a book. much of the proceeds of which will benefit the non-profit he founded, STUDIO7ARTS:
    Kenro Izu has donated a great many of his platinum prints, as well as proceeds from his books (“Light Over Ancient Angkor”) to the Angkor Hospital for Children in Siem Reap Cambodia, through his Friends Without a Border foundation.
    I’m sure there have been countless books published with partial proceeds donated to not-for-profits.

    • Alec Soth said, on January 21, 2010 at 2:47 pm

      Thanks Vincent. I guess I’m thinking less about the proceeds than about the collaboration between charitable organization and photographer. I haven’t seen the Studio7Arts book…thanks for the heads up.

  12. john gossage said, on January 21, 2010 at 3:15 pm


    I think until very recently most all photbooks have been an act of charity on the part of the photographer and the publisher.
    Just about my first book as a kid was “Atget” published by Weyhe bookstore in New York, in 1961 I could still go to the bookstore on Lexington Ave and buy a new copy for $10. They still hadn’t sold them all 30 years after publication.
    But more to the point. The first charity book I know of is ” Queen Alexandra’s Christmas Gift Book” 1900, photographs from the Queen’s camera. An English book with tipped in reproduction of the Queens pictures, published to raise money for charity.


  13. Alec Soth said, on January 21, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    Knowing you John, you have two copies of the Christmas Gift Book. Meanwhile, I’m stuck with Tipper Gore’s Visual Diary

  14. Vincent Borrelli said, on January 21, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    Possible Relatives is a great book, especially if you’re interested in the idea of ‘dying alone’ (and really, who isn’t?). Funding, however, was from arts organizations (so, don’t think it would fall into this category).

  15. Jim Stone said, on January 21, 2010 at 7:16 pm

    This may be an obvious one to all of you, but Gene Richards did a book with Consumers Union in 1987 called “Below the Line: Living Poor in America in the 1980’s.” Reproductions were more like Consumer Reports than American Monument but you can still pick up a copy for a couple bucks.

    • Alec Soth said, on January 21, 2010 at 7:22 pm

      Thanks Jim. Is the book any good?

      • re: photographica (George) said, on January 22, 2010 at 12:54 pm

        I’ve got a copy you can scope, Alec. Hardcover, signed by Gene when he came to MN Museum of American Art in conjunction with the exhibit of Below the Line there. I got to do a lecture on it.

  16. Jim Stone said, on January 21, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    If you are a fan of Gene’s work, as I am, you need to have it. It was a big project, a lot of pictures, and he is satisfyingly dependable even when he borders on the formulaic. The repros do drag it down a bit; I am sure he didn’t have any control and they didn’t even try.

  17. Vincent Borrelli said, on January 21, 2010 at 8:04 pm

    Wendy Ewald’s “Portraits and Dreams” was co-published by a community cultural center in Kentucky called Appalshop (with some funding from the Public Welfare Foundation).

  18. John Vink said, on January 21, 2010 at 10:03 pm

    My Réfugiés book published by the Centre National de l Photographie in 1994 was partly done with and for Médecins Sans Frontières.

  19. Nelson said, on January 21, 2010 at 11:07 pm

    Sebastiao Salgado’s book, Sahel: The End of the Road was done with Doctors Without Borders.

  20. Sebastian said, on January 22, 2010 at 1:32 am

    here is new york – democracy of photographs ..

  21. LBM said, on January 23, 2010 at 10:33 am

    A friend of LBM wrote in with the following:

    i’d say peter piller’s “nijverdal/hellendoorn”. the book was a collective assemblage of the hellendoorn community and a copy was given to each resident. then there’s the book lars tunbjörk did for the göteborg film festival in 2003. not sure they apply, but they came to mind.

  22. bob black said, on January 25, 2010 at 11:25 am


    this year, James Delano’s book project ‘Mercy Project’ will be published, which is what created by James to honor his sister who died of renal cancer…James selected a bunch of photogs from around the world to donate a photo on the theme of ‘mercy’…..a few of your boys at M will be in the book too….the book is being published by a major Japanese publisher…

    each of us donated a single image and all proceeds from the book will go to Hospice & Hospice Japan….

    as soon as all the details are released, i’ll let you know….it will be a terrific book and most importantly for a terrific charity…

    the awareness of helping others


  23. Jakob Thomsen said, on January 26, 2010 at 2:53 am

    I wonder if Esko Männikkö’s book “100% Cashmere” about the people employed by Ballantyne, the leading purveyors of fine cashmere, in Innerleithen, Scotland, is a corporate photobook. I think so; it’s in my bookshelves, but I’m not at home now, so … – the book seems to be published by Ballantyne themselves.

    Thanks for sharing thoughts on your new blog!

  24. wrobertangell said, on January 27, 2010 at 5:57 pm

    hi all
    here’s one that dates back a few years, a German book from the renaissance first published in 1568, could be the grandaddy of all trade publications. its called Standebach, (Book of Trades), it comes with a wood cut on each page describing a certain rank or trade and a poem below regarding the function of that trade.

  25. Peter Paul Oort said, on February 11, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    There’s a book made by Ata Kando and Violette Cornelius in 1956 For the Nationaal Comiteé Hulpverlening Hongaars Volk (National comittee to the aid of the hungarian people) published by the Bezige Bij in Amsterdam.It was designed by Jurriaan Schrofer. All the proceding were donated to””the children of Hungary”. The foto’s were made from 10-20 november 1956 at the Hungarian-Austrian border and show the miserable conditions of the hungarian refugees. A very nice book with a strong layout by Schrofer ( who did a lot of the dutch company books).

  26. Bintphotobooks said, on January 21, 2011 at 2:36 am

    I will mention a publication of the Salvation Army 75 years in the Netherlands, photography by Johan van der Keuken & Leonard Freed :

    Stoottroep van Christus. Jubileumuitgave van het Nationaal Hoofdkwartier bij het 75-jarig bestaan van het Leger des Heils in Nederland. [Photography Emile van Moerkerken, A. Verburg, Victor Meeussen, Johan van der Keuken, Leonard Freed en E. Munks.
    Amsterdam / 1962 / 72 p. / hb. / 23x18cm / 132/ portretten en documentaire foto’s / fotografen en heilsoldaten, samenkomsten, contact met mens en samenleving. – Ill. 28 b&w photographs / tekening, schilderijen, prenten, striptekeningen / cameralens, predikers, zendingsgebieden, vlag, hoofdkwartier, aardbol). / NN / Firmenschrift / Photographie – Anthologie – Auftragsphotographie, commissioned photography – Nederland, Niederlande – 20. Jahrh. / Printed by (diepdruk). – Opdrachtgever: (75-jarig bestaan). – Kenmerken van beeldverhaal en filmisch scenario. Kleine fotoseries zijn in de vorm van filmstroken gepresenteerd. Rode colorvlakken en kapitalen ondersteunen de bonte opmaak. Zes fotografen hebben ieder een bepaald facet van de internationale organisatie in beeld gebracht

  27. Bintphotobooks said, on January 21, 2011 at 2:41 am

    A famous photobook in the Netherlands : de Ramp

    THE BATTLE OF THE FLOODS holland in february 1953
    1953 Amsterdam, Holland Netherlands Booksellers and Publishers Association
    Hardcover G/NONE Published in1953 for the Benefit of the Netherlands Flood Relief Flood. Text of the English version attributed to “a British journalist living in Holland. ” laid in: folded colored map of The Storm-Tide Disaster of February 1, 1953.

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