Photo Books

What Laia Abril Learned about Cinematic Photo Book Sequencing from Christian Patterson

May 31, 2018

By Holly Stuart Hughes

Laia Abril.

When photo editor and photographer Laia Abril is thinking about how to sequence images in a photo book, she always thinks about the experience of the reader. “I need to control your attention,” she explains. “If I give too much information, you get bored. If I go with too many emotional images, you get too sad. I always have in mind: How are you going to be feeling when you look at this?”

Abril spoke with us this month about her collaboration with designer Ramon Pez for our story “The Art and Process of Sequencing Photo Books”. In her 2014 book The Epilogue, she relates the story of a woman’s life through images, letters, medical records and mementos. She decided to begin the book with images she made seven years after the woman’s death, “then there was a flashback to the beginning of her life.” Abril wanted the reader to follow along as the mystery of her illness and death is revealed. She notes, “The narrative was very influenced by thrillers and film narratives.”

A photo book that had a strong influence on Abril—and many other editors and photographers—was Redheaded Peckerwood by Christian Patterson. “It was one of the first photo books [I saw] that didn’t feel like a photo book,” Abril says. “It was more a movie on paper.”

Published in 2011, Redheaded Peckerwood uses documents and images of objects and landscapes to explore a true crime story: The murder spree carried out by Charles Starkweather, 19, and Caril Ann Fugate, 14, in the 1950s.

© Christian Patterson

Spreads from Christian Patterson’s 2011 book, Redheaded Peckerwood. © Christian Patterson

As Patterson did extensive research into the films and books inspired by their crimes, his plan for a photo book on the topic changed. “I thought I’d be dealing with it only as a photographer,” he says. Sifting through archival material, “I began to approach the project not only as a researcher, but thinking a bit more like a detective.” In presenting the material to readers, he says, “I wanted there to be a great deal of mystery, and for the ingredients in the book to function like visual clues.”

In choosing which photos to include and how to place them on the page, he says, he was less interested in making a catalogue of outstanding images than in using the photos and other materials as “devices” that propel the story. He opens the book with a letter, a map and a photo of a storm cellar—a place where people hide. “It’s a sort of foreboding,” he explains. He also made images of shotgun blasts by firing a gun through sheets of paper. These images appear three times in the book. “They bring the violent nature of the story to the surface at times,” he explains.

Redheaded Peckerwood blurs fact and fiction. “Some images aren’t necessarily what they appear to be. They may appear to be appropriated from another time, but they aren’t,” he says. “Once the fact or fiction behind the images is called into question, it keeps the viewers on their toes.”

Patterson is now working on a new book, and plans to include “a story within a story.” He says, “Editing is obviously very important, and for me, it’s something I spend more time on than making images.”


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