The Monograph


I used to buy monographs at the old Printed Image Bookshop in Chapel St., Prahran. Unfortunately I did not buy them at a fast enough rate – the business folded a number of years ago. I was distraught as this was one of the principal ports of call for a Melbourne visit. Well, times have advanced and there are other amusements in Victoria and I have dried my eyes – but I still want to see photo books.

I used the term ” Monograph ”  because it is trendy artspeak to say that. “Picture Book ” is a little déclassé. You still get the same good stuff or bad stuff in any case but sometimes the binding is better. And occasionally you will pick up a classic book that becomes valuable in its own right after a few decades. It will generally be sandwiched between Paul Hamlyn dreck at the local S/H dealer and if you are there at the right time you can be rewarded.

Unfortunately monographs generally mean photos from one source upon one subject – one vision captured and printed. This is the book version of a monomaniac who buttonholes you at a cocktail party and tells you everything they know about Volvo buses. You are a wise person if you leave yourself an escape path – in the case of the bus spotter try to be closer to the door and in the case of the dodgy monograph try to thumb through it well before buying. Be very wary of the shop that plastic wraps S/H books. They are not preserving the virginity of anything…

Beware also of something that looks like a monograph but turns out to be the catalogue of a picture exhibition that went through the town a couple of decades ago. These are pernicious documents and show up in S/H book stores repeatedly. They may look like the work of the famous artist but they are really the production of a committee trying to sell you tickets to the exhibition. They have a few pictures but they are not so well reproduced as to substitute for the art…and that is deliberate. They want you to buy it on the way in and read the artspeak waffle and then buy another REAL monograph in the gallery bookshop on the way out. Fine, but gallery bookstores have prices with numbers that are chipped off the national debt.

All this said, by all means turn over the publisher’s compost pile at your local S/H shop. Amidst the rotting warmth and flies you may find real gems to read. All you need is one find a week to give you a 52-book library at the end of the year.



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