Jarrett Fuller

June 2022

Morgan Crowcroft-Brown on the Understated Art of the Photo Book

This was originally published on Eye on Design in June 2022.

“The details are not the details,” said Charles Eames. “The details make the design.” I think Eames is saying that all the little, seemingly invisible decisions that no one else will notice, these are the things that make a piece of design work or not work. This idea is perhaps never more evident than in designing a photo book. As a long-time photography enthusiast, I’ve always found the book to be the ideal format for looking at images: it’s intimate and accessible, sequential and narrative.

I’ve collected photo books for years but, strangely, never considered their design. My interest in them was purely photographic — I was interested in the photographer or the narrative or the type of images. In the case of a photo book, this is often the marker of good design: one shouldn’t be distracted by the size of the book or the quality of the paper or the typographic choices: all of these decisions are in service of the photographs. The details make the design.

Over the last few years, I started to notice that many of my favorite photo books were designed by the same person. Morgan Crowcroft-Brown is the designer and production manager (or “production manager and designer,” she tells me. “Because I’m uncomfortable calling myself a designer”) for MACK, the London-based photography publisher. Since 2018, Crowcroft-Brown has worked on books for photographers ranging from Stephen Shore to Teju Cole, Luigi Ghirri to Deanna Templeton.

Many of the decisions Morgan makes involve these invisible details: what paper to use, the type of binding, how big the margins should be, how the photographs should be printed. If there’s a through-line through Morgan’s books, it’s a respect for materials: a clear understanding of the physicality of these objects and how they shape our reaction to them. Morgan and I spoke over Zoom recently to talk about how she negotiates these design decisions, as well as her own design education and why the details really are the design.

How did you get into designing photo books? Is your background in design?

No, I actually studied anthropology in Sydney, where I’m from. This feels like something I just fell into. I worked in bookshops since I was 16 and while I was getting my degree, I was managing the art department of a local bookshop. I was ordering titles and making newsletters and these kinds of things. After I finished my degree, I was doing that full time and thinking “What the hell am I doing with my life?” — as you do! I saw that MACK was hiring interns and figured there was no harm in applying.

So I applied, had a Skype interview, got the internship, and moved to London within two months. It was meant to be a three-month internship but after a month, the director, Michael Mack, hired me full-time as an assistant in the office. I did that for four or five months until, coincidentally, the designer, Lewis Chaplin, who was working here left. They didn’t hire a replacement so for the rest of the year, my colleague and I managed the design work under the direct supervision of Michael. I had no idea what I was doing. Then my colleague left and it was just me left to do everything. Now here I am four years later! That was my design education.

Read the rest of the interview on Eye on Design.