The University of Colorado at Boulder Libraries (CU Boulder) owns a significant photo-illustrated book collection containing over 15,000 volumes. The collection is interdisciplinary in nature and contains a dizzying array of images and artists from the iconic to the virtually unknown. The foundation of the Photobook Collection was laid with the purchase of two separate collections. The first was acquired in 1991 from collector David H. Tippit who began formation of the collection in 1978. The Tippit collection focuses on books that illustrate the works of important 20th-century American and European photographers whose original photographs are either too rare or too expensive to purchase. It includes first edition photobooks in their original dust jackets, exhibit catalogs, and rare serials providing the researcher with the convenience of being able to view, in one place, a broad range of images by any given photographer. The second collection, purchased in 1994 from Alan Scuba, emphasizes architectural, travel, and ethnographic photography. The scope of the combined collections has since been expanded to include new subjects and processes as well as an international array of lesser-known and emerging male and female photographers.
Within the history of books and printing, the 20th century is a rich period in the art and technique of the photographic visual record. CU Boulder art professor and photo historian Alex Sweetman observes that "the invention of photography culminates in the development of photomechanical processes and the creation of the modern world. Just as writing stabilizes language by making it exactly repeatable and multiplying its effectiveness (action at a distance and across times), picturing stabilizes vision and creates visual language(s)." Illustration of the written word transformed as the photo-mechanical process evolved in the 20th century.
Today traditional photography, which uses light-sensitive silver salts to record images, is quickly being replaced by the electronic image. Images are now recorded, manipulated, stored, and disseminated digitally, heralding a new age in photography and photographic processes. Thus, the Photobook Collection is not only an important historical repository of traditional photographic methods but, through collection development and continued acquisition of new materials, the Photobook Collection will also document the transition to, and uses of, emerging digital technologies as they appear in book format.
From an interdisciplinary standpoint, the CU Boulder Photobook Collection is a rich visual archive of images that encapsulate and bear witness to the peoples, events, places, cultures, sciences, technologies, and world views of the modern era. The collection is an integral tool in teaching visual literacy in the humanities and the sciences. From a purely artistic point of view, these books document 19th- and 20th-century photographic movements and contain the images of photography's formative years.
Future collection development plans include expanding holdings to include significant photo-illustrated works from the 19th century. Through additions such as these, CU Boulder's Photobook Collection will continue to provide researchers with an ever broadening gateway to this vital and fascinating chapter in the history of books and printing.
Collection Profile and Overview: Deborah Hollis
Illustrations: Larry Harwood