Wired reports that Edward Burtynsky is releasing an e-book version of his Oil series. I first encountered—encountered, not saw, because Burtynsky’s photographs are gargantuan on the gallery wall, imposing, ontologically threatening—at the Kodak Museum. The prints are luscious, warm, and definitely dystopian. They look like overheated and abandoned factories languishing on a post-apocalyptic Earth. I can imagine the sort of sophisticated doyenne who would purchase the coffee table book of the series. It costs $128, and would signal the owner’s taste or measured disdain for industrial waste. As in, “oh yes, how beautiful and tragic are the Ozymandian fragments of capitalism, how rude of me, would you like a decaf espresso?” But now, you too can be the proud owner of Oil at the low, low cost of $9.99. The e-book, available for the iPad, includes interviews with Burtynsky, too. “We’ll throw-in an audio guide of the gallery, too, if you’re one of the first 24 callers!” Sarcasm aside, the interview component is an indication of where “art e-books” are headed: integrated multi-media content.
Yet, how is one to display one’s excellent taste and measured disdain for post-industrial capitalism, etc., when one owns Oil on an e-book? Leave the iPad in a conspicuous place and suggest to guests, “oh yes, how beautiful and tragic are the Ozymandian fragments of capitalism, how rude of me, would you like to look at my e-book copy of Oil?” I suspect that main market for the Oil e-book consists of students with pocket money, art lovers who want to dip into Burtynsky’s world on their morning commute, and soccer moms.
Will coffee table e-readers catch on? Large format tablets that can adequately display art books? With advances in e-paper materials, it’s only a matter of time.