Spaceheater Editions announces a new 2018 title: TROPHY

Spaceheater Editions announces a new 2018 title: TROPHY
Two-page spread (pp.4+5) from TROPHY by Philip Zimmermann

Friday, October 5, 2018

Brief visit to 2018 NYABF at MoMA-PS1

Keeping up a tradition of about 14 or 15 years, (with one miss many years ago,) at the end of September, I again went to the annual Printed Matter event, The New York Art Book Fair, at MoMA-PS1. This year, I only went to the preview night on Thursday evening, and then spent all day Friday there, which included the "Institutional Hours" on Friday morning when it isn't open to the general public.

Unlike most years, I spent the remainder of the weekend with my kids in Brooklyn, and having a great time eating at local restaurants, and visiting the San Gennaro festival in Little Italy. I hadn't been to that in many years. We had lunch at a great Cambodian restaurant right in the middle of Littel Italy.

We also took the newish NYC Ferries all around Brooklyn, Manhattan, and even headed out to the Rockaways and the boardwalk. The ferries are the best deal in NYC, only $2.75 for wonderful views of NYC from the water. It isn't the Circle Line, but for the money, it can't be beaten. It was also interesting seeing all of the Hasidic Jews about, walking around with their families on the High Holidays on Shabbat on the Greenpoint waterfront with their huge round beaver hats, and the whole family beautifully but extremely conservatively dressed.

Although I didn't really have as much time as I would have liked at the NYABF, I did have a good time talking to friends like Paul Soullelis, Johanna Drucker, Hedi Kyle, Chantal Zakari and Mike Mandel, all of whom have new books out. It was also great to see Bill Burke, who I hadn't seen in many years, perhaps even since I worked on the film stripping and platemaking on his book I want to take picture in the 1980s, at Nexus Press.

I did see some interesting new books: Lisa at Siglio Press is coming out with a new book on Dick Higgins called Intermedia, Fluxus and Something Else Press, selected writings edited by Steve Clay and Ken Friedman.

I told her some of the stories about living next door to Dick and Allison for 15 years as their neighbor in Barrytown, NY. (Among other things, I was Dick's go-to Apple Mac Computer tech trouble-shooter person, but not because I especially wanted to.)

Some other books that I liked were Kodaji Press' In Search of Frankenstein – Mary Shelley's Nightmare by Chloe Dewe Mathews. (Last year was the bicentennial of Mary Sheely's writing of Frankenstein, which she did in a cabin at the foot of a Swiss glacier.) The book is luscious and features a facsimile of Sheely's original manuscript, interspersed with views of the glaciers which she would have looked out at when she was writing it.

I often buy books from Kodaji, one of the more interesting European presses, and have become friends with the proprietor, Winfried Heininger.

People know Dashwood Books as a place to purchase rare and out-of-print photo books, but also hard-to-find Japanese photobooks, a whole genre to its own.  Their place on Bond St. in Manhattan is a photo-book lovers paradise. In the last 10 years, they have moved into also publishing photobooks, though their list is not long. This year they published a great book called Khichdi -Kitchari, by Nick Sethi.

The book is interesting because although it has (currently) hip details like an exposed Smythe-sewn spine, the page edges are sprayed with red paint, and the book has a slightly funky hand-made Indian look to it, which was where it was produced.

This year I had the fewest books ever to haul back to Tucson. This is probably a good thing since my upcoming official status as "retired" means no more regular paycheck, and I will need to be much more careful with my book expenditures.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

New Title: TROPHY by Philip Zimmermann

I am happy to announce the publication of TROPHY. This book is dedicated to my teacher, mentor, and friend, Keith Smith, and was created to honor the occasion of his 80th birthday on May 20, 2018. A slightly different version of the book came out in time for his birthday, but the book was slightly revised later, and the final signed and numbered edition was published a couple of months later, in early August 2018.

 TROPHY is a reaction to the current social and political state of the United States of America and the criminal and immoral administration that currently wields power in our country. Although superficially the subject matter is the cruelty of the Trump sons, their activities are an indicator of the worldview of the morally bankrupt family and administration of Donald J. Trump. The photographs of the animal dioramas and fur details were taken at the International Wildlife Museum in Tucson, AZ. The big-game trophy photographs of Donald J. Trump Jr. and Erik Trump were obtained from the internet, presumably Trump family travel and safari photographs, and have no photographer attribution.

This edition was printed in an edition of fifty and they are signed and numbered. The inside text block and cover were printed by HP Indigo digital printing on archival Mohawk Superfine. The Ex Libris book plate in the front, and the accordion 'arsenal' section at the rear of the book, were printed by archival inkjet pigment on acid-free French Paper Co. paper. The book dimensions are 7" x 7" x 5/8" (17.75cm x 17.75cm x 1.5cm). The book has 68 pages, and is hardcover bound, and is priced at $125. The full book, spread by spread, and a video of the page turning, can be viewed at my website.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Included on website INSIGHTS, for the de Young and SF Legion of Honor

A small 3D animation of my book Nature Abhors was included on a new interactive website about artists books and Sonia Delauney's Blaise Cendrar's La Prose. It's a beautiful didactic website. You can see it here. My books is towards the end if you scroll down through the very long web page. If you would like to see it, click here.

The website for La Prose du Transsibérien et de la petite Jehanne de France, the full title of the book,was part of a symposium mounted by Steve Woodall and the Reva and David Logan Collection of Illustrated Books in July of 2018. This iconic and beautiful scroll-book is dissected and explained. 

Here is a screen-shot of my book, which is a relatively minor part of the web page, but I am proud to be associated in any way with the Delauney book.

The de Young and the Legion of Honor are part of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, located in Golden Gate Park.

Perilous Journeys show at BMoCA

During July, I was part of a six-artist show about the life of those attempting the dangeraous journey across US Southern border. The show was called Perilous Journeys and took place from July 10th and July 29th at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art in Colorado. The show was a multi-media event with books (me), photographs and other 2D art, installations and video projections.

A link to the show is here. Thanks to my good friend Melanie Walker for suggesting my name to the curator of the show.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Photobook vs photo-bookwork.

Matt Johnston, a PhD candidate at UCA Farnham, in the UK, posted an interesting short essay on the CBAA Bookartheory blog. He teaches at Coventry University. It's titled The Photobook, Lineage and Intent. In it he mentions that he has been working on "taxonomies, histories and spectrums of the photobook". He mentions Jörg Colberg’s Taxonomy of the Photobook (2018), Doug Spowart’s A Spectrum: Photobook to Artists’ Book (2018) and my Photo-bookwork Graphic-Continuum Chart (2016) below.

Although my Photo-bookwork Graphic-Continuum Chart was first published for Tate Shaw's VSW Biennial Photobook Symposium in Rochester in June 2016, it is a subject that Clif Meador and I had been talking about for more than 20 years. As members of CBAA (College Book Art Association), an organization that is heavily comprised of letterpress and printmaking practitioners, we both came out of a photography and photo-offset background. We were constantly astounded by the fact that many traditional artists' and artists' book publishers knew almost nothing about artists' books that used photography and vice versa. (We used the term that Alex Sweetman coined in the 1980s, photo-bookworks, for photobooks that were authored by the individual photographer and that used the book form as a creative medium, rather than merely a vessel for containing multiple single photographic images.) 

My Photo-bookwork Graphic-Continuum Chart was aimed at photographers who make photobooks, and was specifically addressed to the presenters and audience of the 2016 VSW Photobook Symposium in Rochester NY, directed by Tate Shaw. (I was a presenter.) I thought that breaking down all of the types (typologies) of photobooks, from the most boring monograph or catalog on one end of the spectrum, to photo-bookworks (artists' books) that really took advantage of the book as vessel and medium, on the other end. The photographers, hopefully, could see all of the ways the photobook could be conceived and understood. To illustrate this, I gave specific examples from my large library of photobook and photo-bookworks. My Powerpoint presentations have been less about identifying characteristics (as was discussed and shown ad nauseum in the continuum chart) and more concerned with broader types in the history of the photobook.

Over the years, Clif and I made a concerted effort to try to bridge the two worlds of photo-bookworks and traditional artists' books by an endless series of Powerpoint presentations to both the CBAA crowd and to the Society for Photographic Education (SPE) folks, using every chance that we could. We always felt that even with our missionary zeal, we were just knocking our heads against a wall. 

The last time I gave my taxonomy lecture to a broader photographic audience was in Chicago at the 2013 SPE National Conference, where I presented it to the SPE Educational Forum on teaching photobooks. It was intended as an aid to university professors on how to present and teach the subject. As is well-known, photobooks have become increasingly popular with photo students. That same trip to Chicago, I presented a slightly different version of the taxonomy lecture to Professor Judy Natal's MFA Photography class at Columbia College Chicago, this talk aimed not at teachers but to MFA students. It had many more historical references.

I have also given a newer version of this same lecture at Mary Virginia Swanson's Master Class for professional photographers every January here in Tucson. Later this month, I will be giving a longer version of this presentation for the photo department of FAMU (The Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts) in Prague, Czech Republic.

I was amused to read some of the articles that Mr. Johnston referenced. The reason for my amusement is that in both Doug Spowart's and Jörg Colbergs' recent articles, they laid out a taxonomy for photobooks a bit similar to the one that I have been showing in those aforementioned Powerpoint lectures since about 2000 or before. The categories are very similar, though there are some differences in wording and subcategories, of which I have many more. 

Doug Spowart uses a rather odd color spectrum metaphor for the categories that derives from a quote from Clive Phillpot about refracted "white light". He also has some classifications which seem a little odd, perhaps they are a bit different due to their Australian context. "Emergent Photostream" seems unusual, and the difference between "Innovative Artists' Book" and "Artists' Book Codex" is a little unclear. Johnston tries to distill the categories into a much smaller and broader number of critical "histories" that cover broader areas of interest like The Photographic Album, and The Photo Essay

I feel that the closest taxonomy to mine is Jörg Colberg's, though his approach to the subject is purely from a photographers view, and I include all artists that use photography. I suppose the reason for the similarities in Colberg's, Spowarts' and Johnston's taxonomic categories is because the categories come from a commonsense analysis of the history and content of photobooks. 

My subcategories are a bit more granular, for instance, one example is the use of photography in literature, like that of the work of André Breton (Nadja) and W.G Sewald (Austerlitz). As Johnston comments, one of the most important qualifiers is that of intent in the making of the bookwork, and the underlying conceptual content. For instance, for me, an interesting subcategory of the Photo-Artists' Book/Photobookwork classification, is that of the Conceptual photobook, examples being John Baldessari, Ed Ruscha, Dieter Roth, Sol Lewitt and many others. Jörg Colberg's taxonomy is much more addressed to photographers only and does not include artists, as I mentioned, who use photography, which I think is an important part of the discussion.

What started my discussions with Clif Meador on the taxonomy of photobooks was the frustration we had with the ease that many photographers threw the term artists' books around, plus the fact that most photographers were shockingly ignorant of the field of visual books and the history of the book itself. A number of book artists, including Clif, Tate Shaw, Scott McCarney and Joan Lyons sat in the audience at the first VSW Photobook Symposium in 2010 in Rochester and just smiled at the naïveté and ignorance of a number of the photographers who were presenting their work at that symposium. They clearly knew nothing about the history of the visual book, and were basically re-inventing the wheel. Of course this naïveté works both ways. A very highly-regarded curator at a well-known Special Collections, who prides herself on her vast knowledge of artists' books, confessed to me that she had never heard of Michael Snow or his Cover to Cover, one of the great monuments in the artists' book canon. In fact, with the exception of Ed Ruscha's work, every photo-based artist book that I mentioned was unknown to her.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

'Women in a Golden Age of Artists' Books' at the New York Public Library

The New York Public Library is well known for it's many speaker series, and they cover many topics and include speakers from the worlds of politics, culture, the visual arts, music and literature. I have been to many of them over the years including some memorable ones like Ed Ruscha and Matthew Barney. On May 22nd at 6:30, Tony White, Associate Chief Librarian at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, has put together an interesting panel for the NYPL. It is called "Women in a Golden Age of Artists' Books". The link is here.The subtitle of the program is: Three Women who were pivotal in the development of offset-printed artists' books discuss the past present, and future of the unique visual form and transformative medium.

The three women who were selected to talk with Tony, are Cynthia Marsh, Rebecca Michaels and Patty Smith. All three women have impeccable credentials as important role models for empowering women artists to be able to run offset lithographic presses. Offset presses are among the hardest printing tools to learn how to run. They are exceptionally complicated, take years to learn how to run really well, and they are intimidating to just about anyone. There are very few women who have historically run offset presses, and Cindy, Rebecca and Patty were all exceptionally good at it. They influenced others to use the medium for their printmaking and book production. I say "were" because I don't think any of them use offset anymore, due to various changes in their professional lives, and lack of access to offset presses. Patty might be an exception. This is a common problem for all of us who have used offset presses in the past.

In many ways the selection of these three admirable women makes sense, since they all have been offset press operators, and really good ones. Cindy ran a small offset press at the Women's Building in Los Angeles, Rebecca learned how to run a Chief offset duplicator at Chicago Books in the late 1970s (and later the Heidelberg KORS at Tyler), and Patty learned how to run the Solna 125 at the Center for Editions at SUNY Purchase in the 1980s. This alone sets them apart. But in other ways it is a little odd in that Cindy is known more as a designer and printmaker who usually uses letterpress, and in fact, though I love her work and collect it, I don't think I have ever seen an offset artists' book that she has made. I have seen and collect Cindy's offset work but it tends, as far as I know, to be more like broadsides and prints, not books. Rebecca, who I have known since the 1970's is primarily a photographer and designer. However she made a number of brilliant little offset artists' books during her time at Chicago Books in the late 70s and early 80s, including The Courtship Patterns of Chairs, Side Effects, and The Book of Hair. While working at Chicago Books, she also printed a number of important artists' books by Robert Heinecken (He/She) and Ellen Lanyon's Transformations II. Patty is primarily a printmaker, not an artists' book maker, though she has made five or six artists' books over the years. Her influence probably comes more as one of the primary drivers behind the book art graduate program at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. That program, one of the few that still offers an MFA in Book Art, has always had an offset component, thanks to Patty, who helped set up the Borofsky Center, with the help of Chuck Gershwin and others. The Heidelberg KORS there was run by another great female offset press operator, Laurie Spencer, trained by Chuck Gershwin. Laurie had been a student of Patty's at SUNY Purchase in the 80s.

To me, there is a huge hole in this NYPL program, due to the fact that Joan Lyons is not in the lineup. I understand that having more than three speaker panelists could be problematic. And maybe Joan was asked to participate and could not come. However, Joan is the most influential of any of these women, by far, in my opinion. Joan started the important Visual Studies Workshop Press in 1972 and made dozens of her own offset artists' books, as well as publishing over 250 other artists books, many of which she did most of the production on. She edited and published Artists' Books: A Critical Anthology and Sourcebook. This extremely influential book (probably the most influential after Johanna Drucker's A Century of Artists Books) is still required reading by anyone interested in artists' books. But aside from her books on artists' books, Joan was a fantastic offset printer, working on an AB Dick offset duplicator, a large Rutherford offset proof press as well as VSW's own Heidelberg KORD. As the editor/publisher at VSW Press, she solicited work from dozens of photographers and artists, and invited them to Rochester to learn how to use offset as a creative medium and helped them do the production of their own work.

Below are a few examples of Joan's own early work, books that she did all the production on, from making lith film, film stripping, platemaking, and running the offset presses.

Above left: Cover of Wonder Woman (1974), and on right Abby Rogers to her Granddaughter (1976). Below a two-page spread from Abby Rogers.

Many of her books are also experimental in nature, teasing and exploring many of the inherent characteristics of offset lithography. Many of her early books like Wonder Woman, Abby Rogers to her Granddaughter, My Mother's Book and The Gynecologist, still seem fresh today. But the books that really stand out for me are the experimental ones, where she playfully turned the offset process
 on it's head. Examples include an untitled book where she kept rotating a square sheet of paper through the press, each time changing the colors, but leaving the same plate on. In Wonder Woman, she used a technique where she turned off the ink and then let the paper keep running through the press until the ink ran out. She used this same technique to even greater effect with a book called Sunspots, and another book with the image of the moon.

Like many of us book makers today, Joan now uses mostly pigment inkjet and digital print-on-demand. Most of us have lost primary access to offset litho presses. In the late 1990s, I acquired VSW's Rutherford offset proof press and their Heidelberg KORD for the Center for Editions at SUNY Purchase. (I took over Patty's full-time position at the Purchase College Center for Editions when she moved back to Philadelphia in 1987.)

Even if Joan is not there at the NYPL to participate in the discussion, I wish I could be there on May 22nd to hear this panel. I am very sorry that I will miss it, these three artists are all good friends, and I would love to hear them. I would especially like to hear what they think about the future of offset printing in the world of artists' books. That week I will be in Prague, giving a lecture on Photographic Artists' Books at FAMU, the art and technology university there, thanks to an invitation from François Deschamps, who is doing a Fulbright in the capitol of the Czech Republic.

A couple of other women offset artists' book makers who have been influential include Sally Alatalo, taught at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago (SAIC), and whose Sara Ranchouse Publishing has produced many terrific artists' books. At CalArts in Valencia CA, Laurel Beckman ran their offset litho press, and created a number of exceptional artists' books. She is now at UCSB.

Joan Lyons, like her husband, Nathan Lyons, has not gotten her due. Both of them were hugely influential in the 70s and early 80s, and they both cast a long shadow in their respective areas. They are not generally known by the current (and recent) crops of MFA students. In Nathan's case, that has changed a little with the recent shows of Nathan's work at Bruce Silverman Gallery and other locations. There is a show of Nathan's last work, all color, opening soon at the George Eastman House, co-curated by Lisa Holsteader and Jamie Allen, with input from Joan. 

We need to bring more focus and attention to Joan's huge influence on the world of offset artists' books, and, in fact, non-offset artists' books. One of the sad ironies is that the rank-and-file of the artists' books world don't know much about Joan's work either, since her artwork tends to fall into the large crack in between the photobook world and the fine press artists' book world.

Kalkstein Lecture on Keith Smith's Book 91 (AKA The String Book).

A couple of weeks ago, Molly Kalkstein presented her prize-winning paper on Keith Smith's Book 91, also commonly known as the String Book. Molly is a PhD candidate in the Art History Graduate Program, specializing in the history of photography. The paper is titled “Today is Their Creator: Keith Smith’s No-Picture Books as Photographic Works”. She wrote the paper as part of a class on photobooks, taught by Professor Kate Albers. I had originally shown Molly the Keith Smith book (which I published in 1982) in my Visual Narrative and the Artists' Book class, which Molly had also taken.

Molly had been intrigued by the fact that Keith called Book 91, one of his best photography books, despite that there were no photographs in the book, indeed no printing at all. One of the things that Keith was commenting on was that the word photography translates from the Greek as "drawing with light". Book 91 uses string, punched pages, and the use of cast shadow, and even sound, in carefully sequenced pages.

Keith gave precise instructions on how to view the book, under raking light. The images above were taken by me in 1983, of Keith "performing" the book.

The book is highlighted in Keith Smith's retrospective show at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a show that is still up until July 2018. A beautiful video of the book was made by the PMA for the show. It was done in the manner of a Japanese No play, with two figures dressed all in black. Their physical forms disappear into the black background, but they have white gloves on to turn the pages, and the white gloves are the only things that show up, other than the book and the pages.

Molly Kalkstein's presentation was really interesting, and had interesting historical comparisons between Keith's non-image photobooks and the work of Moholy-Nagy, Duchamps, and Man Ray. The next week, (last Saturday) Molly traveled to Rochester, where she gave the same paper at the annual Photo History Conference at RIT. Her capsule description of the talk is as follows:

Since 1967, Keith A. Smith (b. 1938) has made over three hundred artist’s books, combining a diverse range of media and inventive approaches to book structure and content. As a student, Smith worked closely with photographers Arthur Siegel and Aaron Siskind, and was later recruited by Nathan Lyons to teach at the Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester.
Despite these formative connections, Smith’s engagement with the medium of photography has been ambivalent, a tension that is nowhere more evident than in his so-called “no-picture books.” These thirty-six inkless books, characterized by the use of torn or punched paper and strung pages, include no photographs, no images of any other kind, and no text, and yet Smith has regularly referred to them as photographic books. To date, however, there has been no scholarship examining their status as such.
This paper proposes that the no-picture books draw on fascinating historical debates about the technical and conceptual basis of photography itself, from the lineage of cameraless photography to László Moholy-Nagy’s curricula at the New Bauhaus and Institute of Design. I also examine Smith’s engagement not only with specifically photographic principles, but with an even broader array of sensory and durational concerns. Like Robert Rauschenberg’s notorious White Paintings, from which this paper takes its title, I argue that the pages of the no- picture books are not truly empty, but are rather embedded with latent images that appear only when the book is opened, and that vary according to the reader and the day.

Molly will be giving this presentation again for the January College Book Art Association (CBAA) Meeting here in Tucson, AZ. The theme for the meeting is The Photographic Artists' Book, and this presentation should be a provocative addition to the program.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Opening of Keith Smith's Retrospective at the Philadephia Museum of Art

I went to Philadelphia for a second time this year (!) to attend Keith Smith's retrospective show at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This was a great event, giving Keith some of the attention he so deserves.

This is the huge banner outside the PMA with Keith's head!

The opening, on February 15th, was spectacular. The show was installed in a very innovative way, mimicking the look and feel of Keith and Scott's home on Cayuga St in Rochester.

Here I am with Keith, and below that, my son Martin, who came down from NYC to attend the opening reception.

There were a number of luminaries there, including Keith's old friends June Leaf and Robert Frank.

Also there was book art rock-star, Hedi Kyle, who came down from her retirement home in the Catskills in Pine Hill, NY, to attend the opening.

Here are some more images from the show itself. The first is one of Keith in front of his fabulous photo-sikscreened quilt from 1965.

I love this artists' book.

There was also a copy of Keith's String Book (below) which I published in 1982.

Above the book was a looped video that showed each page being turned, Japanese Noh Theater style, but the people who were turning the pages dressed all in black with white gloves, so that they disappeared into the background.

Here is a photo of Keith with the curator of the show, Amanda Bock, with matching eye-ware clothes.

At the hotel, Keith and Scott joined me for breakfast. Sadly I missed his lecture and interview with Amanda on Saturday since I had to head back to Tucson to get ready for an eight o'clock class on Monday morning.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Show at Center for Book Arts in Manhattan

I have two books in a large show at The Center for Book Arts, in midtown Manhattan. The show, curated by Gary van Wyk, was about climate change and was entitled Our Anthropocene: Eco Crises. The show opened on January 19th and runs for one more week, until March 31, 2018. There was also a roundtable Discussion with some of the artists (I could not make it from Tucson) on March 2nd. A link to the show is here.

The two books of mine that were picked for the show were Paradise Lost: An Allegory, and Landscapes of the Late Anthropocene.

Paradise Lost: An Allegory, from 2013; accordion book.

Two images of Landscapes of the Late Anthropocene, 2017.

You can see a video of the show that includes images of both of my books, here.

CBAA National Conference in Philadelphia.

In January of 2018, Karen and I braved the bitter cold and winds of Philadelphia to attend the CBAA National Conference in Philly, hosted by the University of the Arts. The temperature actually went down below zero degrees several nights and we Tucsonans are not used to that kind of cold weather. We lucked out by arriving on Wednesday since there was a snow storm on Thursday and many flights were cancelled that day. We squeaked in, just in the nick of time, but some friends did not make it to the conference.

For about two weeks before the conference I was working on a very large 40"x60" wall map of the location and connections between many members of the book art community. The idea was to get membership of CBAA excited about a new institutional project that will not only have a digital family tree and oral and video interviews and histories of all of the members of the book art community.

Although at this small scale the connections just look like spaghetti, but at a large wall piece size, it was fun watching people gather around and follow the links and influences with their fingers.

The conference was fun, mainly in seeing old friends. Visiting some of the incredible Philadelphia cultural and book-related institutions really made the trip worth while. Highlights included the Free Library of Philadelphia and the Library Company, started by Benjamin Franklin. We were also fortunate to spend most of the Sunday after the conference at the Barnes Foundation. In addition to the incredible collection put together by Dr. Barnes, there was also an additional temporary show of recent work by Anselm Keifer, with some enormous books that he had painted. Coincidentally, Collette Fu was in the atrium showing off her huge photographic pop-up books.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

New book: Landscapes of the Late Anthropocene

About two years ago I read an online article by Sarah Zhang, entitled “The “Harvard Sentences” Secretly Shaped the Development of Audio Tech”.  The article was about a fascinating subject, the creation of a series of text lines that were used to test the fidelity of spoken words when broadcast over military and civilian radio transmitters. What ended up being 720 lines of text started as a series of short sentences that were meant to test the accuracy of military communication systems towards the end of the Second World War. They were developed in the basement of Harvard’s Memorial Hall, hence the informal name “Harvard Sentences" which is often included alongside the project's official title, “IEEE Recommended Practices for Speech Quality Measurements”.

The sentences are originally designed to be “phonetically balanced, meaning that the frequency of sounds in these lists matched that of natural language.” What I found especially interesting about these 720 sentences –72 lists of ten sentences each– is that they are mysteriously poetic and timeless. But they can also be thought of as a metaphor for determining (or not) meaning from the static, transmitted signal from noise. We, as the populations and governments of planet earth, certainly have not yet registered the dire warning message of global warming. You can read the Harvard Sentences here. Aside from the very early ones which were written during the war, it is difficult to ascribe any line or set of sentences to a particular author. They are still used by government and industry to this day.

Something about the text itself seemed haunting, in an old-fashioned, almost nostalgic sort of way. I wondered if I could use some version of them as a text to a book on climate change that I had started thinking about. I had done a similar kind of found-text editing for my book Long Story Short years ago, where I used aphorisms and cliché truisms to tell a narrative story. My son, Nick, an urban planner and GIS professional, had been researching changes in global sea-level projections as modeled by NASA, NOAA, and other agencies. The infographic visualizations that were used to show sea-rise levels over the next 100 years were unbelievably scary and much worse than the figures often cited in the newspapers and normal media channels. These figures showed an eventual rise, with all polar caps and glaciers completely melted, of over two hundred feet!

An article in the just published July 2017 issue of the National Geographic magazine, entitled Antartica is Melting, and Giant Ice Cracks Are Just the Start is very scary. Read it here. 

When I thought of a sea level rise of two hundred feet and what that could mean in terms of our cities and our society, the future seemed incredibly bleak. For the landscapes in the book, I decided to create a dystopian set of images that hinted at a future watery world, one where the remnants of civilizations lived in armed and guarded towers, growing their food in vertical farms inside these towers. The rest of the world population would have mostly died off. Marauding remnants existed in small groups that would try to gain entrance into these armed tower structures. The backgrounds of these images were built using scans of steel engravings from several 19th-century books. I used photos of water and waves to make the foregrounds. I have long been interested in airport control towers and have many photos of them around the world. They seemed to me like the modern version of towers on medieval castles. Using a web app by the programmer Evan Wallace, called webgl-filter, I changed the airport control tower photos into dithered images that looked more like the background steel engravings. The assembly and coloration of the images were done in Photoshop. The goal was to create a series of images of a forbidding and lonely watery world, one that was austerely beautiful but scary and thought-provoking.

Last Fall, Brad Freeman, of the Journal of Artists’ Books (JAB), wrote to me and asked if I would like to contribute an artists’ book to JAB Issue No.41, to be printed in the Spring of 2017. He gave me a number of possible size formats and I picked a smaller sized one that was 48 pages. The two-page spreads were to be four-color, alternating with a duotone spread using a color pair of my own devising. The book that I had originally planned was to be larger than JAB’s 4.5” x 5.5” size format with the whole book full color. But I liked the idea of using a dark-blue Pantone spot color, with silver as the duotone set for the alternating pages, since I rarely get to use metallic silver (or offset) anymore. I love silver offset ink, and metallic inks are rarely available to me now that I mostly use pigmented inkjet or digital print-on-demand for printing my books. I decided to have Brad Freeman produce this as a special version of the book for JAB, but I still plan to do a larger and longer version of the same subject matter. Brad agreed to send me 20 unbound printed copies of the JAB No.41 version so that I could 'case' those in and give them out to family and friends. In general, I don’t like self-covering books like the version that is included in the JAB journal, though I am grateful for the excellent production and printing that Brad and his grad student achieved. They did a great job.

For the duotone pages, I used two sets of images. For the blue background, I used Google Earth satellite views of water and shorelines, printed in that deep blue Pantone color. NOAA images of maritime depth charts were used for the silver depth numbers and contour lines. Editing and selecting the Harvard Sentences was a great deal of fun. There were so many that I felt had poetic resonance with the subject matter, starting with the initial text line, “There is a lag between thought and action” which seemed the perfect way of describing where we as earthlings are in regards to climate change.

The twenty copies that Brad sent were sewn and cased-in by me, with a silver foil-stamped title on the cover. I am hoping to create the second, larger version in 2018, and publish an expanded edition of fifty copies myself, using pigmented inkjet, and letterpress with metallic silver ink for the text and contour lines on the alternating spreads. I am planning on the new version to have about 96 pages instead of the current 48.

This version is 4.5” x 5.5”. The text block is printed by offset at the Center for Book and Paper at Columbia College Chicago on their Heidelberg GTO. The hardcover boards and end sheet pastedown were printed by myself using pigmented archival inkjet, and foil-stamped on the cover and blind embossed title on the spine. If you would like a copy of the JAB version, go here. I think there are still copies available.

You can see every page, plus a video of the entire book here.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Book Arts & Rare Book Curator, Sandra Kroupa, visits my class.

Sandra Kroupa, Book Arts and Rare Book Curator at the University of Washington Library's Special Collections, and good friend, visited this past week from Seattle, WA. Although she was only here for four days, it felt like we did so many things, including eating a lot of sushi, Sandra's favorite food.

On Wednesday night we went out to Tucson's Campbell/Rillito bridge to watch the bats leave at dusk. Sandra is a card-carrying member of Bat Conservation International. I used to be a member too, back when I lived in the Hudson Valley. Here we are under the bridge as the light started to fail, and the thousands of bats that emerged to fly out into the night to hunt for insects.

We had all of Wednesday to discuss artists books. She was curious about my photographic artists' book collection (and other artists' books) since she is interested in adding more 'photobookworks' to her artists' book collection. Incidentally she has built the University of Washington's Artists' Book Special Collection into one of the largest (if not the largest) public collections in the United States. It's always interesting talking artists' book "shop" with Sandra. 

While I was teaching my animation class, she spent some time on Thursday morning doing some touch-ups on her Powerpoint lecture for the Visual Narrative and the Artists' Book class.

She spoke to my class, giving an inspiring lecture on "Social Justice and the Artists' Book". 

She also spoke informally to the class about pricing and selling artists' books, and later met with them individually to do book crits. 

It was really generous of her to take that much time out of her busy schedule to come to Tucson and spend time with my students. Thank you, Sandra!