Fine Art Photography Daily

Larissa Leclair and the Indie Photobook Library

A couple of years ago, I started hearing the buzz about the indie Photobook Library, created by Larissa Leclair. I first saw the library at the Photolucida Portfolio Review last year, where Larissa had set up shop on the second floor of the Benson Hotel. I visited the library again this spring at the Flash Forward Festival in Boston, where I had more time to absorb the profound importance of this very special collection, and was not only excited by what I was seeing, but was inspired to start creating my own “indie” books, three of which were recently submitted to the library.

I have tremendous respect for Larissa and what she has accomplished. Our community owes her a big debt of gratitude for collecting, preserving and cataloguing our publications for future generations, and for taking the library on the road where hundreds of photographers can spend time with the books. This Friday, September 14th,Larissa and the Indie Photo Book Library will be at the Carte Blance Gallery in San Francisco for a Survey of Documentary Styles. (see below).  I had a chance to ask Larissa about the iPL and her interview follows.  Thank you, Larissa, for your heroic efforts and for having the foresight to create this remarkable collection. You can read more about the genesis of iPL on the Hey Hot Shot blog.

Let’s start at the beginning and understand what brought you to photography and to books…did you start off as a photographer?

I did start off as a photographer, or at least a photography student. I went to Washington University in St. Louis where I graduated with a BFA in Photography and a BA in Anthropology in 1997. I envisioned putting the two together somehow and traveling and photographing. I spent some years working in the industry in different facets, looking to find my fit. But when I went to graduate school in 2001, I made a conscious choice not to go back as a photographer. I pursued an MA at Yale and spent my time working in Manuscripts & Archives on historical photographs.

iPL at Review Santa Fe, 2011, image by David Bram

What brought you to books?

After interning at Outside Magazine in the photo department, I spent some time working for a photobook publishing company in Santa Fe, New Mexico. This was 1999. Around that time, I found photo-eye and first met Darius Himes. I remember sharing my three photobooks on the shelf with a friend from the Santa Fe Workshops. How ridiculous is that. But my personal collection of photobooks has grown from those initial books. A few years later, Darius invited me to be a contributing writer to the photo-eye Booklist and my love and interest in photobooks really took root then.

I never looked far back on my life in relation to books, but last year, Blake Andrews and I chatted about the iPL at a time when my mom had just found and given me my childhood book collection. His questions helped to spark the memory of loving to set up and play “library” as a kid. ( So depending on how we want to look at it, the Indie Photobook Library may just be completing a circle I began as a child.

The iPL at the Flash Forward Festival in Boston, 2012

You were ahead of the curve with the idea of collecting self-published, indie photo books (thankfully so). I think we can only begin to appreciate the legacy you have created for this genre of publishing. Can you talk about that?

Thank you Aline for seeing that in the collection. Begun in May of 2010, the iPL was the first independent archive for self-published photobooks being created today. Most of the collection includes books published from 2005 to the present. I am interested in collecting history as it happens rather than in hindsight and believe that this collection, and the photographers within it, will shape the history of photography and the photobook. I am also interested in the concept of an accessible archive; one that can be browsed easily online and in person giving the person the chance to stumble upon something they were not looking for.

a table of submissions…

What are the objectives of iPL?

The iPL has three main objectives: promoting, showcasing, and preserving self-published and independently published photobooks – Promoting and engaging an international audience. Showcasing the photobooks in the collection at venues around the world for people to experience them in person. Preservation as an archive for the future. Having a specific collection dedicated to these kinds of books allows for the development of future discourse on trends in self-publishing, the ability to reflect on and compare books in the collection, and for scholarly research to be conducted in years, decades and centuries to come. This last long term goal and impact is what I am most interested in.

installation at the Corcoran, 2011

How many books does the Indie Library include?

The iPL online catalog features almost 1000 photobooks, but there are more here on my desk and shelves that need to be cataloged. There is a steady stream of books that come in each week from all over the world.

one of many tables at Photolucida, 2011

How can photographers contribute books to the library?

In the spirit of DIY books, in many ways the iPL is a DIY archive. If you want to be part of the collection, you can. If you have self-published a photobook or worked with an independent publisher, please visit the iPL submissions page.

Larissa lecturing at Georgetown University, image by Roberto Bocci

How can we support the organization?

Photobook makers can support the mission of the iPL by being part of the collection and donating their books. Organizations can support the iPL by hosting an exhibition of photobooks. I’d love to share the collection in person to more countries outside the U.S. And the iPL is a self-funded project, so for those interested in supporting the project financially, there is a donate button on the bottom of the iPL homepage. Where will the library be on display this fall? San Francisco, Jersey City, Cleveland, Guatemala City, and Washington, DC (you can find the iPL schedule here)

Chinese photographers enjoying iPL at 
the Lishui Photography Festival, China
Larissa in China, image by Dave Anderson

If we are in DC, is there a way to visit the library?

Aline, you are welcome anytime! I do show the books by appointment when I am not traveling for an iPL event. Until I find a donated space for the library, the books are stored in my home office. Recently Barbara Tannenbaum from the Cleveland Museum of Art sat at my dining room table and spent the entire morning looking through books that I pulled from the collection. Thoughts for the future? Just keep on going! And finally, what would be your perfect day? I think I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to look at all these amazing books every day. A perfect day is sharing them with others.

submissions from around the world….
And finally, what would be your perfect day?
I think I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to look at all these amazing books every day. A perfect day is sharing them with others.
iPL at NYPH, image by Stephanie Obernesser
iPL at ACP in Atlanta, 2011
Some of the books going to the Carte Blanche Gallery
 The Election Project by Simon Roberts
 Concresco by David Galjaard
 Estaría bien poner un título aquí by Alba Yruela
 ODO YAKUZA TOKYO by Anton Kusters
The Story of Four Generations by Yee Ling Tang

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