17 August 2021

FOLIO Photobook Masterclass Tutors Speak about their Methods

17 August 2021 - Written by PhMuseum

As the application deadline for FOLIO 2021 edges closer, tutors Tommaso Parrillo and Federico Barbon share their memories of the first edition. Together they discuss their respective approaches to the masterclass and the challenges that came from working on a photobook project online while dealing with the richness of a heterogeneous group of photographers.

© Riccardo Svelto, from La Cattedrale, FOLIO 2020 publication recipient.

In the first edition of FOLIO, our first international masterclass, a varied group of 10 photographers had the opportunity to work closely with Witty Books publisher Tommaso Parrillo and graphic designer Federico Barbon. Through one-to-one sessions and group meetings, in which debate and exchange sparkled, the participants have been guided to walk the thin line between intention and possibility, between intervention and observation, between abstraction and materiality. After a six-month-long process, their works have become dummy books, each featuring their specific identity. At the doors of a new cycle that is about to start, Tommaso and Federico share their advice and some insight that may be useful for those who wish to apply to the new edition.

“I always look at mature projects, even if not fully complete, the authorial idea must emerge,” Tommaso says, commenting on the selection process of FOLIO. “As a consequence, receiving an application presented with a draft sequence will certainly help in the fruition”. FOLIO is aimed at projects that were born with the photobook in mind, but also at those that are keen to adapt and experiment with its format. Through six months of individual and collective encounters, studio meetings, and constant feedback, the idea is to make all the projects flourish into ready-to-print professional dummy books. “Together, we succeeded to develop all the projects into high-quality dummies that I believe are ready to be presented to renowned publishers and international photography festivals” adds Federico.

Taking a closer look at the process of the masterclass, Tommaso and Federico gave insights about their methodology when confronted with such a variety of artistic approaches. For both, the most stimulating aspect of FOLIO has been observing the development of different projects and setting up the workflow on confrontation and mutual exchange, instead of employing traditional education methods. Tommaso explains it this way: “The creation of a book is the meeting of several visions, therefore my method is based on the characteristics of both the project and the person. Though I have a clear editorial direction in my head, I always try not to impose my vision and to listen to whom I have in front”. Tommaso further explains how the process of making a book passes through filling the gap between virtual and real ideas, bringing to a compromise the feasibility of creative solutions with the budget that the production has to fit in. “When at the first experience with crafting a photo-book, many have little confidence and consequently tend to let go of less control. The masterclass aims to provide the students with all the tools and notions for continuing the path autonomously in the future”.

Spreads from the editorial catalogue of Witty Books.

Aside from group meetings, the photographers benefit from more intimate 1-to-1 sessions, a precious occasion for refining and deepening the work while taking advantage of close communication with the tutors. Federico remarks on this point, explaining how these types of meetings are at the heart of his method: “Establishing good communication and relations with the artist is vital, my work as a graphic designer comes after.” When speaking about the most engaging aspect in working on a photobook, Federico explains that he likes to set the focus on mistakes: “Often seen as negative, failures are something that I find extremely stimulating, because of their capacity to twist the creative process in new unpredictable directions”.

On top of the possibility given to all participants to exhibit their dummies at the PhMuseum Days, our first photography festival that will be held in Bologna, Italy next September, the most thrilling opportunity offered by FOLIO is that of seeing one own project becoming a fully financed photobook to be distributed in an edition of 500. For Riccardo Svelto, an Italian photographer from Florence and recipient of the first edition, the individual meetings with Tommaso and Federico kept on until his project La Cattedrale - now available for pre-order on Witty Books website - a delicate exploration of the fear of losing sight, matured enough and finally became ready for printing.

Despite having founded Witty Books in 2012, this was the first time that Tommaso included in his editorial catalogue a book coming out of an educational program. “It has been an important step for me and very coherent to my approach”, he states when asked about what pushed him to do so, "the masterclass represents the perfect synthesis of what I am looking for in a possible project: research, contamination of ideas and teamwork. My practice is based on horizontal communication, where after having provided the suitable tools, all the ideas are put on the table and compared together. In this sense, FOLIO doesn’t differ much from the way I normally collaborate with artists.”

Screenshot from the studio visiting lecture with Jörg Colberg.

For us at PHmuseum, creating a structured and in-depth education program entirely digital based represented a natural consequence of a path that we started three years ago when for the first time we thought of offering individual online sessions with some of the best editors, curators and photographers of our industry. We always believed that the online format could allow for more flexibility and inclusivity while keeping the quality of the workflow high. In the same direction goes the reflection of Federico: “If the course was to be in physical presence, it wouldn’t have been possible to have photographers participating from all over the world. This has been an extremely enriching element and still, we’ve been able to progress in a very clear way altogether.” Tommaso admits that at the beginning he was a bit sceptical, but also extremely curious. “I am used to working with printed matter and I feared that it would have been more complex to get to know the participants. Instead, I must say that it was a positive experience, especially on a human level, where we all managed to work at ease, but also in the practical realization of the works”.

To discover the work of the participants, come and visit PHmuseum Days 2021 from 23 to 26 September in Bologna, where all the dummy books produced within FOLIO will be exhibited. Do you want to enhance your project in the form of a book and get the chance to be the next volume to be launched by Witty Books in September 2022? Make sure to send us your portfolio for the upcoming edition, you can find all the info and Apply here, good luck!


FOLIO is an online photobook masterclass that brings 10 different projects to a ready to publish stage, through 6 months of tutoring and the culmination in a live presentation to the PHmuseum network. Furthermore, Witty Books selects one of the participants’ works to be published in an edition of 500 as part of its catalogue. To learn more and apply, visit FOLIO 2021. Early Bird Deadline: 30 August | Final Deadline: 10 September.

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