Photo Books

Zen Sekizawa: Taking Inspiration from Swiss Photobooks

May 31, 2017

By Rebecca Robertson

When we asked L.A.-based fashion photographer Zen Sekizawa about designing her recent printed promo, she said she wanted to produce something that conveyed the particular flavor of her work—airy, personal and unexpected. (See the story here.) For Sekizawa, equally as important as the images she used was the design of the piece. “I think form is really important—I mean, both form and content are both important,” she tells PDN. She created six small posters nested within a larger poster, and mailed them in a gold envelope. Before conceiving the piece, she sought inspiration from a number of design resources, including a book dedicated to the art of the Swiss photobook.

© Lars Müller Publishers, Baden and Fotostiftung Schweiz, Winterthur

René Mächler’s 1965 book Paesaggi di donna is one of 70 photo books featured in Swiss Photobooks from 1927 to the Present: A Different History of Photography. The look and feel of the books it includes were among several sources of design inspiration for Sekizawa’s recent promo piece. © Lars Müller Publishers, Baden and Fotostiftung Schweiz, Winterthur

Published in 2011 by the Zürich-based art and design house Lars Müller Publishers, Swiss Photobooks from 1927 to the Present: A Different History of Photography profiles 70 influential books by Swiss nationals. In it are essays about and photographs of layouts from celebrated titles such as Robert Frank’s The Americans (arguably the best-known of them) and Werner Bischof’s Japan (which won the Prix Nadar in 1955). It features books that were ignored when they came out but have been recognized since, such as Jakob Tuggener’s Fabrik, a skeptical 1943 account of the military industrial complex; sold at a loss during World War II, many copies may have been pulped, but the book was reissued in 2010. More recent titles include Barbara Davatz’s 1999 book As Time Goes By, which collects her portraits of hip couples as they age, and World Press Photo winner Jean Revillard’s 2009 book Jungles, about the informal Calais refugee camps that were destroyed last year. While the subjects and styles of photography are diverse, the books share a subtle, low-key approach to combining text and image on the page, part of a distinctly Swiss fondness for direct displays of information. The simple physical form that many of these books take—modestly sized pages, with pictures framed by plenty of white space or printed full bleed—is intended to invisibly serve the content.

“There are so many things I love about Swiss graphic design,” says Sekizawa, including its “simplicity, legibility, [its] industrial nature and the lack of ornamentation.” That minimal quality is something she sees in her own work, along with “a sense of order and clarity.” Says Sekizawa, “I think in the end I was more inspired by the overall feel rather than one book in particular,” but looking at Swiss Photobooks “was a nice jumping off point to start thinking about how to lay out the images and what sort of format this promo could be.”

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