The Power of Accordion Books in Photography and Storytelling

Skip to making an accordion book

When I started using bookbinding to create my own photography books and reflected on the different structures available beyond the basic codex that we are all familiar with, I was surprised that I don’t see many more accordion books. The variations available in the presentation of information make it quite a powerful device. You can use the format to tell two different stories in the same book or to present two sides of a story. The information can be accessed sequentially, or it can be seen all at once. The accordion format also has the potential for display which is useful for photography.

When it’s in their hands there’s less control than you would have using a standard codex over how your audience accesses your material. However, that means that there is more potential for each individual to experience something slightly different, especially if you choose to use meander or snake accordions which are less intuitive to handle. Text could help the user to make sense of the way you would like the material to be seen, but it doesn’t provide a certainty.

The Structure

It’s a very simple structure – a zigzag of paper folded backwards and forwards like a fan. I have also used individual pages tied together with thread to create accordion books (see below). I used thread to add a sense of fragility to the work; the threads sometimes break and the potential for the book to fall apart in your hands was an aspect I wanted to introduce to create a feeling of worry or uncertainty in the viewer when handling.

Plain accordion without cover

Making an Accordion Book

To create a simple accordion book simply take a long piece of paper and fold it backwards and forwards. Create small tabs of paper to attach several lengths with glue. If you want to try a simple meander accordion with a sheet of A4, mark 7cm and 14cm top and bottom of a sheet of A4 so that the gently drawn pencil lines will run down the length of the paper rather than the width. Then working widthways, mark or fold in the middle, then quarter points. You’re basically dividing the page into three lengthwise columns, and 4 rows. I find it easier to assemble the book if I make the folds along the width at the beginning – plus you can fold instead of measuring the paper here. Using a scalpel, cut up the first column to the last square – don’t cut through that! Then cut down the second column to the last square – again, leaving that last square intact. It should look like this:

Cut along the length, up the line, from the bottom of the paper to the dot. Then cut the second column from top to the dot.

Fold this backwards and forwards along those lines, alternating mountain and valley folds until you have your book. Below is a version with covers added.

Alternatively, you could try a snake accordion. Make the same 3 column, 4 row layout as before, but this time you’re going to cut like this:

Cut along the dashed lines. Now alternate the folds again to make your snake accordion.

Final snake accordion – a more complex layout

Adding Covers

Measure your page. To add a cover, cut two pieces of book board that are both 2mm larger than a page on the top, left and right. Don’t add extra for the cover to the bottom or the book won’t stand up. Cover this in decorative paper or book cloth using glue; the measurements for the decorative cover paper should be 3cm larger than your cover board, width and height, to allow for a 1.5cm turn in. Trim the edges of the cover paper diagonally at the corners to make them easier to fold in, glue, and put under a heavy weight. When your covers are dry, glue the front and back page of your book to the inside of the covers. Do this with the book folded and remember not to centre it top and bottom – you want the bottom of the pages to sit at the bottom of the covers so that the accordion will stand up.

Meander accordion book

Some Examples of My Work

One of my degree pieces was an accordion book called ‘Languages of Light’, and was based on messages given to women by the church. I chose an accordion format because I wanted the option to display all the messages together. Although each individual message is often dismissed as unimportant on its own, when displayed as a whole the message given to women in the church is more powerful. This was an A4 landscape book covered in red/ orange bookcloth with a belly band (the bit with the writing on) to hold the book together. The belly band was composed of three pieces of paper glued together to represent the idea of the trinity in Christianity. The back of the pages are blank; I don’t think there are two sides to these biblical messages that the church still use today. They are misogynistic and frequently used in the modern church to denigrate and subjugate women.

Above: Pages from ‘Languages of Light’ and the cover with belly band. Below: Images from ‘Addiction’

I also used this format for a book of Polaroid emulsion lifts. This book is a work to represent an addict in my life, and also represent how much help I can really be to this person in the face of addiction. The lift is on one side, the rescued negative on the other, and the pages are sewn together with thin red cotton so that they can break when handled. The thread also represents the Kabbalistic idea of using red string wound around the tomb of Rachel to ward off the evil eye, a reference to my own fears about falling into addictions that run through my family history.

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