“Congratulations on the new library, because it isn’t just a library,” wrote Isaac Asimov in a letter sent to celebrate the 1971 opening of Troy, Missouri’s new library. “It is a space ship that will take you to the farthest reaches of the Universe, a time machine that will take you to the far past and the far future, a teacher that knows more than any human being, a friend that will amuse you and console you---and most of all, a gateway, to a better and happier and more useful life.” Affirming the sentiments of these words, House of Books brings together a visual compendium of these literary portals, each space selected for its distinct grandeur, reflective of the fantastic, complex beauty contained within its shelves. In the rhythmic reiteration of minute multi-colored volumes that recede into an unknowable vanishing point, the architecture of knowledge takes its shape; the dizzying vastness of the interiors even come to resemble, in many instances, the control room of a space shuttle, perfect testaments to Asimov’s vivid metaphor.
The series was begun in Paris, continued in Rome and Providence, R.I and will eventually encompass libraries all around the world, from the monumental to the intimate, the ancient to the contemporary. Bearing in mind the many great masters of photography who have previously documented libraries in their various forms, Bohbot aims to capture these well-loved spaces with a unique, coherent approach to atmosphere, color and composition, always consciously paying tribute to the architects behind the buildings with his visual style. He deliberately shies away from the cold architectural photograph, instead celebrating the structures by imbuing his images with a strong sense of architectural personality; though tempering the photographs’ celebratory nature is an equally palpable air of melancholy, marking the institutions’ growing supersession by modern digital alternatives.
As we move towards becoming an increasingly digitized society, this testament to the home of the printed word is a reminder of the once-precious physical object of the book, and the serene majesty of these institutions that first made such transformative objects accessible. With no human readers visible in the images, the books serve as the main protagonists of the series, with the library interiors forming their stately backdrop. The grandiosity of the chosen structures comes to symbolize the significance of the library itself—a vital, democratic space of refuge, education, remembrance, and possibility.
Text by Elizabeth Breiner