Christophe Agou, Looking for Words  Image credit: ©2014 Christophe Agou

Christophe Agou, “Looking for Words” (© 2014 Christophe Agou, all images courtesy Thames & Hudson)

Some photographers take relentless notes in pocket journals, others share their discoveries in real time on Instagram. The two methods are different approaches to the contemporary photographic process, which is the subject of a new book, Photographers’ Sketchbooks, by Stephen McLaren and Bryan Formhals.

The volume, published this month by Thames & Hudson, features 49 international photographers contributing rare looks at the evolution of their projects. The term “sketchbook” is used here as a broad embrace of any piece of the preparatory process: contact sheets, book proposals, film negatives, zines, pinned prints, and scrawled text — all are assembled in a compendium that goes behind the scenes of professional photography.

Courtesy Thames & Hudson

Cover of Photographers’ Sketchbooks (click to enlarge)

What’s most interesting about Photographers’ Sketchbooks is how it bridges the analogue and the digital, both of which have a firm place in photography today. Australian photographer Trent Parke hauls around a 35mm scanner, a machine he used to make a rudimentary dummy of his trek across his country, captured in the monograph Minutes to Midnight; while Sicilian photojournalist Mimi Mollica takes down detailed story narratives by hand alongside his Hasselblad shots. Kentucky-born Stacy Kranitz is as much a historian as an artist; for her series on Appalachia she spent years photographing people in the often stereotyped region, as well as collecting text from a local newspaper and other artifacts of the place, making her studio into her own “museum and archive.”

Others, however, like Peter DiCampo, embrace social media as their “sketchbook.” DiCampo co-created Everyday Africa, a project that has 10 photojournalists sharing images of daily life on the continent shot on their iPhones. “Often my work as a photojournalist seems surprisingly, even dangerously, predetermined,” DiCampo says in Photographers’ Sketchbooks. “We know the story we have been sent to cover, and we edit ourselves to tell the story even as we shoot. But when I remember I can shoot without a theme, the other photos I am making simultaneously — on a silly phone with a silly app — begin to feel more honest.”

Photographers’ Sketchbooks offers not just insight into these private work worlds, but also a reflection on how practitioners are incorporating collaboration and the public through new technology. “The digital age and the internet have opened up many opportunities for photographers to share new and unfinished projects from their sketchbooks publicly,” the authors write in one of the book’s essays. “While it might not be wise to make all your creative choices solely on the basis of how many notes you receive on Tumblr, sharing projects-in-progress does allow the photographer to discover which photographs and ideas resonate with an audience.”

Alec Soth, Broken Manual  Image credit: ©2014 Alec Soth

Alec Soth, “Broken Manual” (© 2014 Alec Soth)

Viviane Sassen, Sketchbooks  Image credit: ©2014 Viviane Sassen

Viviane Sassen, “Sketchbooks” (© 2014 Viviane Sassen)

Jim Goldberg, Candy Image credit: © 2014 Jim Goldberg

Jim Goldberg, “Candy” (© 2014 Jim Goldberg)

Peter van Agtmael, Disco Night Sept 11  Image credit: ©2014 Peter van Agtmael

Peter van Agtmael, “Disco Night Sept 11” (© 2014 Peter van Agtmael)

Martin Klimas, Synthesizer  Image credit: ©2014 Martin Klimas

Martin Klimas, “Synthesizer” (© 2014 Martin Klimas)

Paul Trevor, In Your Face Image credit: ©2014 Paul Trevor

Paul Trevor, “In Your Face” (© 2014 Paul Trevor)

Irina Werning, Back to the Future Image credit: ©2014 Irina Werning

Irina Werning, “Back to the Future” (© 2014 Irina Werning)

Laura Pannack, The Walks  Image credit: ©2014 Laura Pannack

Laura Pannack, “The Walks” (© 2014 Laura Pannack)

John MacLean, Hometowns Image credit: ©2014 John MacLean

John MacLean, “Hometowns” (© 2014 John MacLean)

Saul Leiter, Sketchbooks  Image credit: ©2014 Saul Leiter

Saul Leiter, “Sketchbooks” (© 2014 Saul Leiter)

Photographers’ Sketchbooks by Stephen McLaren and Bryan Formhals is published by Thames & Hudson

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print and online media since 2006. She moonlights...

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