Laura Coombs designs a book highlighting womens’ contribution to the photobook
- Jyni Ong
- 8 March 2019
How We See: Photobooks by Women is the photobook of photobooks. Designed by Laura Coombs and published by 10×10 Photobooks, this comprehensive documentation of photography by women from 1843 to 2018 illustrates the prolific impact that women have contributed to the medium.
Launched late last year, the publication’s popularity has seen a second print has already undertaken. As historical records establish the very first photobook as Anna Atkins’s Photographs of British Algae, the publishers jumped at the opportunity to highlight womens’ significance in the development of the photobook; now a deeply beloved form of print. Designed by the New York-based graphic designer and art director Laura Coombs, the book features two hundred different photobooks by women, as well as annotated histories and essays around the subject.
Including the works of internationally renowned photographers such as Nan Golden, Yto Barrada, Cindy Sherman, Fumiko Imano, Lucia Moholy and many more, the publication spans across time and space. In conversation with It’s Nice That, Laura tells us about the mammoth project that encapsulates the history of photography from a female perspective. For Laura, her favourite pieces in the book include Abigail Heymon’s Growing up female, a “beautiful document of 60s second-wave American feminism as well as Carmen Winant’s My Birth, consisting of 2,000 “beautiful and terrifying images of live births and pregnancies.”
When designing the book, Laura came across mounds of wonderful photography projects. The likes of Fumiko Imano’s We Oui!, a quirky series based around the photographer’s practice and her imaginary twin, Liz Johnson Artur’s self-titled monograph capturing “stunning images of everyday human moments in Africa”,and Catherine Opie’s monograph which photographs “LGBTQ+ sado-masochistic urban and suburban communities," were just three of the bodies of work that caught her eye.
For Laura, the challenge of designing the publication filled with such a vast variety of work meant a “subtle, straightforward, but rigorously organised” design. She exerts how “all the information needed to be accessible and clear, almost like an encyclopaedia". Additionally, her design intentions involved creating “a fairly subtle design voice” to allow “all the individual creative voices to shine through.” Utilising generous amounts of silver ink to reference the technical history of the medium, the book is also an “honest attempt to ‘expose’ brilliant photographic voices that may have been overshadowed or less widely celebrated.”
Along with several editorial pieces peppered throughout the book, Laura goes on to say: “I love the writing and selection of photo books by Leslie Martin, the creative director of Aperture.” In her segment, she focuses on women photographers “in relation to feminist discourse in the US”. Poignantly, Leslie recalls the importance of a quote from the great author Ursula Le Guin: “When women speak truly, they speak subversively — they can’t help it. If you’re underneath it, if you’re kept down, you break out, you subvert. We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change.”
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.