Turkish map-fold spread from the new book 'Reaper' (2015)

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Returning from Rochester and the Fourth Biennial VSW Photo-Bookwork Symposium

The fourth biennial VSW Photo-Bookwork Symposium was a great experience. Ably organized by VSW Director Tate Shaw, it remains probably the best venue anywhere for seeing exciting new work in the photo-bookwork field. It is a concentrated gathering of photo-boorwork makers, all in one place and allows attendees to rub elbows with many of those creators. The large number of amazing people who have appeared there in past years continues to astound: Christian Patterson (just as he was becoming well-known for Redheaded Peckerwood), Alec Soth and Little Brown Mushroom, Gerry Badger, John Gossage, Alec Sweetman, Ron Jude, Mike Mandel and Chantal Zakari, Francois Deschamps, Jason Fulford, Jeffrey Ladd, Gregory Halpern, Susan kae Grant, Anne Wilkes-Tucker, Clifton Meador, John Demerritt, Valerio Spada, Nicholas Muellner, the list goes on and on... Alas, I missed the third symposium in 2014 because we were out of the country. This year I also presented a lecture and showed some of my books.

The highlight for me this year was meeting and getting to know (a little) Alejandro Cartagena and Cristina de Middel. Alejandro is best known for his book Carpoolers and Cristina for her book The Afronauts, but both have done many other great photobooks. They did fascinating presentations on their most recent work. After all the presentations, there were book-signings. I already had four of Cristina's books, but now have five and have pre-ordered the second edition of The Afronauts and the book Man Jayan. (I had always thought that Cristina was Catalan, but it turns out she is from Alicante and now lives in Michoacan, Mexico.) I am also now the proud owner of five of Alejandro's books.

Every symposium brings up new discoveries, at least for me. There were many people I wasn't aware of before. One was Andre Bradley, who did a moving presentation on his book Dark Archives. The thoughtful presentation was almost like a performance. His rich, mellifluous voice was a perfect voice-over for the powerful images from the book. Another new face for me was Deidre Visser of the California Institute of Integral Studies and Chroma Publications. They are starting to make some very interesting photobooks there, and she showed three of them.

In addition to the symposium, Keith Smith had a marvelous show in the gallery there of a suite of his new work called Ladies First. VSW published a special edition of this work which sold for $100 and Keith was there on Thursday evening signing the books.

The first picture is Keith and Clif Meador at the signing desk. The second one is Keith signing his books, with Dan Varenka, VSW Book Store manager, to his right, our left.

My presentation was on trying to understand and define the continuum of photography book to photo-bookwork. Photobookwork (all one word) was the term that Alex Sweetman coined in 1987 (in a CMP catalog) for artists' books that use photo-based content. It is now more commonly written as a hyphenated word: photo-bookwork, hence the name for the current VSW symposium series. My presentation was accompanied by a graphic continuum chart that I mae where I tried to define that spectrum. Here it is:

You can click on it to see it a bit larger. 

If anyone would like the chart as a larger pdf, please write me. This blog format does not allow me to post pdf's so I converted it to a jpeg. A rasterized jpeg file is not ideal for type, but I can send it to you in type-friendly form if you write me and let me know. I can also send you the text of my presentation –but without the images that were used in the powerpoint. For those who are members, a little later this year, both may be redisplayed on the College Book Art Association (CBAA) blog.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

VSW Biennial Photo-Bookwork Symposium in Rochester, New York

I'll be presenting a talk at the Visual Studies Workshop Biennial Photo-Bookwork Symposium, at 31 Prince St. in Rochester, NY. It takes place June 23rd through 25th, 2016. If you haven't experienced upstate New York or Rochester in summer, it is one of the nicest places to be in the US this time of year. This is the fourth one in the series: the first took place in 2010. I went to the first two, which were terrific, but sadly missed the third, two years ago, due to the fact that Karen and I were teaching at the University of Arizona's summer program in Orvieto, Italy.

The Visual Studies Workshop, a ground-breaking graduate program started by Nathan and Joan Lyons, is my grad school MFA alma mater via SUNY Buffalo. I think the VSW Photo-Bookwork Symposium, launched by Director Tate Shaw, is one of the best conferences that I have attended. And we have been to a lot, in fact two or three conferences a year for the past 30 years. I wish that more traditional artists' book people would come to them and get exposed to what's going on in the photo part of the artists' book world. Alas, many practitioners, curators, and collectors from the main stream of the artists' books world really are in the dark about what is going on in the photobook realm, and there are lots of exciting things happening.

I'll be talking about the spectrum of photobooks, from traditional photography books to "photobookworks" which are the closest to artists' books but use photo imagery. I spent a couple of weeks working on a large graphic continuum chart that shows the spectrum and tries to deconstruct it. I will be posting it here after my presentation. If you are interested, please check back here in about a week and I will have it up. If I am really ambitious and there seems to be any interest in it, I might record my talk and post it on my vimeo page and provide a link here to it.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

What kind of book falls under "photobookwork"?

We recently added a room onto our adobe house in Tucson by enclosing part of a porch area. We needed more room for books and thought the added bookshelves would allow us the luxury of being able to reorganize our rather large book collection. 

The shelves on the right are the new ones that were finished last month:

For  seven or eight years, I have had my general photography books in a separate room from my collection of artists’ books, even though large parts of my artists’ book collection are books that are photo-based. This reörganization was, I thought, the chance to really think of a way that I might be able to better integrate my photo-bookworks into my traditional photography books. In the past fifteen years or so, there has been a surge in the book as a creative medium for mainstream photographers. Of course photobooks have been used as an intimate creative form for communication for much longer than that. I am talking about those relatively few photographers who thought of the codex book as much more than just a monograph for reproducing a number of “greatest hits”. Now there seems to be a surge in interest in making photobooks, with many of those photographers calling them ‘artists’ books’.

So I went through my artists’ book collection and carefully pulled out any photobook that I thought was either by artists who self-identified as “photographers” or where I felt that photography was the primary subject and medium that was used. Many of these books were ones where the photos were not used in the standard ubiquitous monograph form that so many photographers love, nor were they coffee-table-type publications that galleries supported by subvention, and used as a form of publicity to raise the profile of their stable of artists. Those above-mentioned books were already segregated out and in the photography book section, not in the artists’ book section. Of course there is nothing wrong with the photographic monograph book. It does the job if that is what one needs it to do. But books are capable of so much more.

These are the shelves in my studio with big gaps showing where many of my photo-based artists books moved over to the new shelves in the main house:

The photobooks that I was moving now were different. I transported the photobooks that were in my artists’ book section (they did not follow the above description) to the new bookshelves and they started to fill up fast. I moved there such artists as John Gossage, Jim Goldberg, Martin Parr, Ken Ohara, Nathan Lyons and all of Robert Frank’s books. Clif Meador, Francois Deschamps, Cristina de Middel, Jason Fulford, Mike Slack and Ed Panar and all of the wonderful books put out by the Archive of Modern Conflict made the move to the photo area too. The new shelves were filling up fast. I wondered about Roni Horn, Doug Aitken, Christian Boltanski, Ed Ruscha, Alfredo Jaar and Sophie Calle and some of the other blue-chip ‘fine artists’ who make photo-based artists books, but decided that they were more conceptual, more like artists’ books, and really only used photos as tools –not as primary medium. 

But then some, indeed many, of the other books I had already moved fit the description of ‘artists’ books’ too. I decided I had to think more about what defined ‘artists’ book’ when talking about photobookworks, the term that was coined by Alex Sweetman in the 80s to overcome this confusion about where photobooks stood on the artists’ book continuum, and what context they had with the history of the photobook. Trying to weave my photo-based artists’ books into my regular photobook collection was not working out. Many of the books, like those of Bill Burke, Adam Broomberg + Oliver Chanarin, Keith Smith, Clif Meador, Mishka Henner, Christian Patterson, Tate Shaw, Brad Freeman and Todd Walker just did not belong with my traditional photobooks which included my history of photography books or my monographs of Sally Mann, Edward Weston and William Eggelston. Something felt very wrong about them sitting on a shelf next to a book of the collected photos of Ray Metzger or Josef Sudek, as much as I liked their images.

The term artists’ books has been much bandied about in the photo community in recent years and is, I think, used perhaps a little too loosely. What makes a photo-based book an artists’ book? To step back a little, the term artists’ book, even outside the photobook world, is a term that is still contested, and there are many camps that argue about what characteristics determine what makes an artists’ book an artists’ book. I think that most practitioners would agree that an artists’ book is a book that is not merely a reproduction of images or texts that exist in another form, but a new time-based medium unto itself, with a unified conceptual content. The ‘book artist’ is in control of the creation of the entire book. In almost all cases this would eliminate the use of a book designer or even possibly a pushy publisher who “knows what will sell”. Unless the designer is under the close supervision of the artist, the artist him or herself must be the overall creative vision with an artists’ book. Collaborations do exist, but then all contributors are given credit as the creators. This idea of what an artists’ book should be requires that the artist-photographer must educate themselves on book structure, history and production, typography, and on a more meta level, how to think and work in terms of a time based-medium, using sequence, rhythm, narrative arc and so on. 

The traditional artists’ book world, the world where lives d’artistes also exist, places a high degree of importance on craft and method of reproduction. Many people in the traditional artists’ book world, who have in many cases come out of the printmaking world, conflate letterpress printing and book craft with artists’ books. This is of course silly, and because letterpress is not especially good at reproducing photography, is also wrong-headed. If one can print one’s own book, that’s great, but especially now with cheaper access to offshore offset printing and digital print-on-demand, doing one’s own production work is hardly necessary.

There are a number of photographers who are really thinking of, and using, the book form differently, and making exciting artists’ books. There may be some obstacles to the broader acceptance of photobookworks (both the term and the idea) but the trend is encouraging. I have found that photographers in general are quite conservative, not necessarily in their image-making but in the way their work is presented in book form. Even Christian Patterson’s Redheaded Peckerwood, which I will mention again later, is considered quite radical in photo circles, but is actually pretty conservative by artists’ book standards. I have been on the thesis committees of dozens of photography graduate students and almost invariably, after I have given some suggestions of how to make a really interesting photographic artists’ book that works with their thesis content, they default to a conventional boring monograph. Even if it’s a cleverly sequenced set of images, it’s still almost always a series of similarly-themed ‘greatest hits’ photographs that would be better on a gallery wall. They have not grasped that books are different, work differently, and have, potentially, through their intrinsic “bookish” qualities, a very different attraction and power.   

Many photographers also seem to have an objection to the use of any text other than a very simple descriptive title, usually on the left hand side of a two-page spread. I think that is true of many photographers, at the end of the day they really only want a monograph. There is nothing wrong with that, but please do not call it a photo-bookwork or a photo artists' book.

I have found that photographers, more so than any other art discipline, prefer to be called photographers and not artists. This seems like such a silly distinction but it is there and perhaps it comes from the fact that photography historically has been, like design, a commercial activity and was very late to the art school academy. This might sound somewhat pretentious, but to make artists’ books one has to think like an artist, photography is just the tool, and I think that is hard for some. This photographers that have done this in the past, like Keith Smith, Todd Walker, Joan Lyons, John Wood and Robert Heinecken have been somewhat marginalized in the field, though that is changing. Photographers would also do well by learning more about the history of visual books: I have found most to be shockingly ignorant. The many series of histories of photo books like The Book of 101 Books, the series by Gerry Badger and Martin Parr, The Russian Constructivist Book, and the recent series of histories of photobooks from Holland and China and other countries are doing a lot to educate. But there are many other visual books that are not photographic that novice bookmakers could learn much from.

These new histories of the photo book are a wonderful addition to the discourse, but they do not really talk about the nuts and bolts of what makes the books work. What changed in the way that Walker Evans sequenced the images in American Photographs, to the way Robert Frank sequenced his images in The Americans, to the way that Nathan Lyons sequenced his images in Notations in Passing, to the way that Paul Graham sequenced his images in a A Shimmer of Possibility or Christian Patterson sequenced Redheaded Peckerwood, or Christian Marclay’s Fourth of July? These are things that all photo students should be taught and it would produce far better books. 

And how about more radically conceived and structured photobookworks? There are a few out there. Broomberg+Chanarin’s Bible is a great example. So is Brad Freeman’s Wrong Size Fits All, Clifton Meador’s Nameless Dead or Cristina de Middel’s new This is What Hatred Did. Along with artist-photographers willing to take chances and break the monograph hegemony, there also has to be a more educated buying public. There are far more collectors of photography books out there than there are buyers of traditional artists’ books, we have to get them aboard too. This symposium is part of what will make that happen –as well as more critical writing like in the upcoming issue of Afterimage, JAB, and CBAA’s Openings. Publishing successes help too. A number of books like Redheaded Peckerwood, de Middel’s The Afronauts, Broomberg and Chanarin’s The Bible, have gone into second editions, or could have since they quickly sold out. And there are interesting publishers taking some risks: presses like Nazraeli, Mack, Ice House, Siglo, Archive of Modern Conflict and Little Brown Mushroom to name just a few. 

Meanwhile, I have decided that it is important to make that distinction on my bookshelves between photography books and photo-bookworks and have started moving back any photobooks that I feel are artists’ books and not just books on photography –or that merely reproduce photographs. They are different things, and although the communality of the use of photography can make that difference sometimes a little hard to determine, when one looks at these books there is another kind of intent which make them distinctive works.

I am hoping to distill the above argument down to a much more concise, succinct, presentation. I am to give the talk at the 2016 VSW Biennial Photo-bookwork Symposium in Rochester at the end of June. I plan to have visual images for that lecture and possibly a graphic continuum chart that has at one end "photography book" and on the other end "photo artists' book" and then have names and characteristics along that continuum –without making any value judgements.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Wikipedia and the Subject of Artists' Books

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a comment on the Facebook group Book Arts Collective. I wrote that it was fascinating how the Wikipedia entry for artists' books changes all the time. Early entries (14 or 15 years ago) for this listing were laughable and very partisan, and often one could tell who was making the edits, with their own names prominently emphasized. It continues to evolve. Often one sees very specific events or book exhibitions which are given high importance. Huge areas of activity are sometimes ignored but may turn up 6 months later, to later disappear again. 

I suspect that the current entry was written in large part by Clive Phillpot (it is oddly UK-centric with spellings like "programme") but several other editors are obviously contributing as well. Clive is a great librarian, critic, and bookart historian but has a very particular point of view. (I served on the Printed Matter Board of Trustees with him in the nineties.) The current Wikipedia entry is far better than it was ten years ago, but the contemporary entries are highly defective and there are gaping holes. Coverage of European bookart and the field before the seventies has improved considerably. Many of the artists listed (and there are tons of them) are not that significant to the field or have made only a few books. Yet Michael Snow's Cover to Cover, arguably one of the most influential and important artists' books of the 20th century is not even mentioned. 

There is no mention whatsoever of Ulises Carrión and his famous manifesto The New Art of Making Books. And photobooks, artists' photobooks, not monographs, are not brought up or discussed.

In the Wikipedia listing, check out the very long paragraph(s) about the show in Richmond (another place that is lop-sidedly overrepresented) called Art ex Libris: The National Book Art Invitational at Artspace. Although there are important exceptions like Scott McCarney and a few others, most of the artists listed there are one-shot-wonders. Many important figures like Julie Chen, Barb Tetenbaum, Keith Smith, Clif Meador, Maureen Cumming, Roni Horn, Sally Alatalo, Francois Deschamps, Tate Shaw, and many more, are not mentioned anywhere on Wikipedia. And there have been many shows more important than that one in Richmond, with no mention.

Of course everyone has a bias, and I am not exempt. But the fact that Visual Studies Workshop Press, and Nexus Press, two of the most important producers of artists' books in the seventies and eighties are not mentioned is ridiculous. Another area that is not properly covered is the artists' photo-bookwork. They do mention Robert Frank and Ed Ruscha, but this is an area that has had a lot activity in the past 20 years and is not even mentioned. Much of the bookart world is strangely letterpress-centric and craft oriented. There needs to be much more awareness of photo-based and conceptually-based books in the traditional artists' book world. Conversely, the photobook world is pretty naive (on the whole) about the potential of the book form. There are of course strong exceptions like Cristina de Middel, Christian Patterson, Paul Graham, and Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin. 

Kate Palmer Albers has scolded me (nicely) about not becoming a Wikipedia editor and urged me to start making some changes in the Wikipedia entry on artists books rather than just complaining. I have heard horror stories about people taking a lot of time to make suggested changes and then all of the changes just disappearing overnight. But I am going to try to do something later this summer, after the VSW Photo-bookworks Symposium is over at the end of June.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

CPW show 'Welcome: Page by Page'

Many of us have known Hannah Freiser as a past Director of Light Work, the very long-running (since 1972) and well-regarded artist's residency for photographers, based at Syracuse University. Hannah is known for her deep knowledge of what is happening in the contemporary photography world but also, and this is more unusual, her experience with (and love of) photo-based artists' books. Many years ago she studied with Susan kae Grant at Texas Woman's University in Denton TX and I am sure that this is the source of her refreshingly open view of what a photobookwork can be.

In January Hannah started as the new Executive Director for The Center for Photography at Woodstock, (CPW) a long running photo gallery and center in Woodstock NY. It was originally started in Woodstock by Howie Greenberg and Michael Feinberg in 1977 and for many years run with an iron fist by the Kenyon sisters. When I worked as part of the Open Studio Print Shop, a non-profit artists' print shop in Rhinebeck NY in the early 1980s, we printed all of CPW's show invitations, their Center Quarterly, and the occasional poster. One beautiful tritone poster we printed was for a show of Kenro Izu's work. We also printed show invitations and other material for Howie's Howard Greenberg Gallery which he started in Woodstock, and later moved to New York City and is now one of the major photo galleries in Manhattan.

As her inaugural show at the Center, Hannah decided to curate and mount a show called Welcome: Page by Page.  The show ran from February 20th and closed a couple of weeks ago, on April 10, 2016. The show "showcases artist books by an international cadre of photographers. The exhibition examines the art form of the small-edition book as a poignant expression of personal vision. CPW invites the viewer to come to the relaxed setting of the newly updated gallery and engage directly with the art. The viewer is encouraged to handle the highly collectible and sometimes fragile books. The books on display range in topic from a courageous self-examination in the face of cancer to the whimsical exploration of disposable cups. Two artists explores dreams, another finds global truth in the exploration of international travel, while yet another mourns the disappearance of her father-in-law." Freiser included my book Sanctus Sonorensis. It is great that this show exhibited the book works in a way that allowed viewers to handle and turn the pages of the books, the way they are meant to be viewed.

Some of the other artists included in the show were Keith Smith, Scott McCarney, Susan kae Grant, Raymond Meeks, Nate Larson, Marnie Shindelman, Ron Jude and Erika Diettes, among others.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

CBAA National Conference in Nashville, TN

January 5th through 7th, 2016, Karen and I attended the National Conference of the College Book Art Association, hosted by Vanderbilt and a number of other universities in the Nashville, TN area. Cindy Marsh was the primary organizer but had the considerable help of Kathy O'Connell and Annie Herlocker.

I had not been to Nashville before and enjoyed a cultural tour that included Hatch Show Print and a number of other remarkable resources including the Main Public Library.

I gave a lecture at a panel that was organized by Warren Lehrer that was called Improving the Quality of Narrative Text in Artists' Book Classes. This is the title slide:

I talked about how our Creative Writing and Poetry programs at the University of Arizona have developed deep ties to our own Visual Arts MFA program.

I also had two of my books, Celsius 233 and Reaper, selected by a blind jury for inclusion in a concurrent show at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts at Vanderbilt University.

On our last day there, Sunday, Cindy took us, along with her husband and Rebecca Chamlee, to a great brunch place called Pinewood Social. Attached to the restaurant area was a beautiful old bowling alley. Along the side of the bowling lanes was a wall with lots of old paint cans with amusing labels, all lined up to make an eye-catching installation.

We had some amazing meals during our visit and discovered what a foodie center Nashville has become for the South.

Monday, April 25, 2016

A quick catch-up on activities.

It's been a while since I updated this blog, and I have had a nagging guilt about not getting it together and being a little more professional about being current. So I am going to try to be better with staying up-to-date. In the next week or so I will try to add a number of posts about recent and upcoming activities.

Since my last post, I did go to Reno and the University of Nevada. This was at the beginning of November, 2015.

Thanks to a kind invitation from Inge Bruggeman, I gave a lecture and attended the reception for a retrospective show of Spaceheater Editions work there. The photo above shows Karen, me and Inge. Here are few photos from the show:

As you can see, the show contained many of the books that I have published under the Spaceheater Editions imprint, and not just my own work. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Show and lecture at University of Nevada, Reno

I leave on Wednesday, Nov. 4th, 2015 for Reno, Nevada. Inge Bruggeman, the Director of the UNR Black Rock Press and faculty at UNR invited me to show my work and many of the books published under the Spaceheater Editions imprint. I am grateful to her for inviting me to show and for asking me to give a lecture about Spaceheater Editions and my work on Nov. 5. There is also a reception on November 6th. I will give a lecture entitled Book as Experience on 6 p.m. on Nov. 5th at the Wells Fargo Auditorium there. <>

While we are there we will also meet with Bill Fox and Sara Frantz of the Nevada Museum of Art's Center for Art + Environment. I hope to present Bill with a brand new slipcased set of books that form a series on Robert Smithsons' Spiral Jetty. In January 2014, after a CBAA National Conference in Salt Lake City, a number of book artists visited the Spiral Jetty in the Great Salt Lake and decided to each make a book honoring that visit. The artists included myself, Karen Zimmermann, Robbin Ami Silverberg, Clif Meador plus Daniel Mellis and his lovely wife April Sheridan. So the set is made up of five different books.

I return on Sunday, November 8th.

Monday, October 19, 2015

AIGA National Conference in NOLA

It's been a week since we got back from New Orleans and the AIGA National Conference in New Orleans. Karen and I both presented lectures there. Mine was part of a Design Educator's session called Educating Designers About Using Visual Narrative as Writers, Authors, and Book Makers. My co-presenters were David Wolske of the University of Indiana/Bloomington and Warren Lehrer of Purchase College, SUNY. The session went quite well and we got a lot of complimentary feedback.

The rest of the conference was really great –fantastic speakers, delicious food, and very well run –with lots of interesting sessions. The mainstage events were moderated by Bruno Mars, the host of a radio podcast called 99 Percent Invisible. I had never heard of it before but he was excellent, and his design-centric podcasts, which I have been listening to ever since I got back are really great.

We stayed in a very pleasant old-fashioned hotel name the Hotel Lafayette. Here are few snaps of the conference:

We were able to get away for lunch one day to the famous Acme Oyster house to get some of their raw and grilled oysters:

The last night of the conference there was a big party at the Mardi Gras Warehouse:

This was the view from the deck outside the Mardi Gras Museum/Warehouse of the Mississippi River. A beautiful warm, mild evening with a little breeze.

 That's the controversial Rick Grefé in the white suit, the Executive Director of the AIGA, who was retiring, so it was also a bit of a farewell to him.

On Sunday, Karen had to attend a Board retreat so I was left to myself to wander around and take in the city:
I started out at an amazing breakfast place where I had a breakfast dish called Eggs in Purgatory. Two eggs baked over a veggie blend of tomatoes, onions, zucchini with andouille sausages! Delicious.

 And what would any city be without it's Libertarian "Freedom" whackos who love

Paint test on one of the houses in the French Quarter.

A bear trap spray-painted on the sidewalk.

This was pretty impressive to see. I had no idea that Audubon's colossal Birds of America was created in New Orleans!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Another New York Art Book Fair at MoMA-PS1

I leave for the 10th Annual New York Art Book Fair at MoMA-PS1 tomorrow morning early. I think I've only missed two of them, one during the summer that I moved to Arizona. It has changed and grown much larger (30,000 attendees last year) since the years it was at the old Dia Foundation space in Chelsea.

My old friend and book fair partner of past years, Clif Meador, and I have decided for the second year to not have a table. The table price doubled last year to $1400, and unless one has several new books selling for under $50, sales will be minimal and extremely hard to cover that cost. Even without a table I still go to the event for many reasons. It is a very exciting place to see new work, especially from European and Asian (specifically Japanese) publishers. Virtually every important indie photobook publisher is there. And there is lots of other, non-photo artists' book work on display. Throughout the three and a half days, there are many publishing events and book signings. This year, two that I am looking forward to are Mike Mandel's new compilation of his groundbreaking 1970s work, plus a much-anticipated new bookwork by Christian Patterson.

Last year I was also fortunate to be the subject of a critical panel on my work at the concurrent Artists' Book Conference that Tony White coördinates. This year there are a number of interesting panels, including one by Johanna Drucker and Brad Freeman marking the 20th anniversary of the publishing of A Century of Artists' Books. There are also many tangential book events around town. On Wednesday night at the Columbia University Rare Book Library there is a celebration of Steve Clay's 30th year of Granary Books. Friday night there is a party and talks at the Center for Book Arts honoring the 40th year since their founding by Richard Minsky.

Clif and I are also on a mission. We are scouting for new publishers to be included in a large book art show that will open in the Fall of 2016 at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, conceived and coördinated by Mary Anne Redding, the Art Gallery Director there. And I will be bringing some new work along, especially Celsius 233, which I might be able to sell to some collectors who attend the book fair.

And of course it is also a chance to visit with my musician son Martin and his talented girlfriend Bri, who live in Brooklyn. It is so much fun to see and visit with all of the other wonderful friends that either come to the NYBF or live in the New York City area. I am forever grateful that Karen and I are also perennially and generously hosted by our dear friend Champe Smith who has an amazing apartment in Penn South in Chelsea. So it is always a trip that I look forward to eagerly. Sadly, because of the amount of Fall travel this year, Karen is coming with me this year. The book fair ends Sunday evening and I will be heading home to Tucson on Monday afternoon.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Video to be played while viewing Celsius 233

I created a single-channel video piece to be used as a "viewing environment" while reading the artists' book of the same name. The video can be viewed here, or can be viewed from a blu-ray DVD that is enclosed in the protective phase box that comes with every copy of Celsius 233.  (This is the second viewing environment that I have created thus far for one of my artists' books. Last year (2014) during a residency at Ucross Artist's Residency in Wyoming, I created a two-channel video piece for another of my books On the Nature of Things. That book is still in progress, though the video part of the piece is finished.)

The video plays off of the famous 1823 quote by Heinrich Heine "Where books are burned, in the end people will be burned too." Heine's poems and writings were included in the huge piles of books that the Nazi's burned.

Like the video for On the Nature of Things, the projected image was meant to be shown very large on walls behind the spot-lit podium that holds the book(s). Because the book will be shown at the biennial Faculty Art Show at the University of Arizona Museum of Art, with limitations on space and lighting conditions, I am showing the video on a large flat screen monitor directly behind the podium which holds the book. Although it is not as powerful and immersive as showing the image projected very large on the wall behind the book, the installation still works well. This is how the installation at the UAMA, opening at the end of September 2015, looks:

I created the video from numerous edited clips that I obtained from the National Holocaust Museum, part of the Smithsonian Institution. Their video was originally from The National Archive, also in Washington, DC. After re-editing and re-assembling the many video clips, sometimes duplicating and flopping them, I brought the video into Adobe After Effects to colorize it in the same manner that the hardcopy paper book's images were done. The audio came from three sources: I used audio samples from the soundtrack of Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will; from a 1938 color Nazi newsreel of the Nuremberg rally; and a short sample from Aldo Ciccolini's version of Erik Satie's 1888 Gymnopédies No. 1, which has the performance instructions "Lent et douloureux" (slow and painfully).

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Celsius 233, a new book in an edition of 50.

In June of 2014, the Islamic State, known in the Middle East as Daesh, seized Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq. In February of 2015, the Islamic State jihadists detonated explosives in the Mosul Library, destroying the large building, but not before burning all of the books, including many rare and irreplaceable volumes dating from the last 500 years. They released a series of videos proudly showing the destruction. I found this very upsetting, and while at Brush Creek Ranch Art Residency and later at Playa Summer Lake Residency, I started doing research on the history of book burning. I found that burning books has a long and infamous history dating back a couple of thousand years. Most people know about the Nazi’s burning books as well as the famous Ray Bradbury book Fahrenheit 451, but it turns out that almost every authoritarian regime (and some that are nominally not authoritarian like the United States) has burnt books that do not agree with their cultural and political viewpoints.

Celsius 233 came out of this research. The book contains 40 pages displaying acts of libricide in chronological order. The title page spread includes a famous quote by Heinrich Heine, whose own literary work was included in some of the book burnings orchestrated by the Nazis. Inserted small orange laser-cut tongues of flame describe the date and action of each image through time. The images were obtained on-line, mostly from the Library of Congress and the National Archive and some educational institution archives. A list of credits appear in a colophon.

For me books are sacred. I know that burning books can hardly be compared to executions by beheading or burning a person alive, two things that the Islamic State has done a lot of. (They justify many other acts of cruel barbarity.) But burning books is a symbol for me of intolerance and narrow fundamentalist views. All that I love, art and music and science, are made manifest and disseminated in books. They are historically the media used for the free flow of ideas and culture. Because of that they must be immolated by the narrow-minded and ignorant followers of a mute and humorless god. 

Celsius 233 has 40 pages, is hand-bound using a multi-needle coptic stitch with sewn-on hard covers made of acid-free solid-core black museum board. The paper is acid-free French Paper. The images are printed using archival inkjet ink with three-color foil stamping on the cover, the title page and the back cover. The interior flame sheets are loose-inserted in a slot in each interior folio. It is printed in a signed and numbered edition of 50 and comes in an acid-free phase box. Dimensions are 6.5" x 9" x .375" (16.5cm x 23cm x 1cm). Each book comes with a DVD containing a short projection video optionally meant to be viewed while looking at the book.

You can see a video of the book and every page spread by going to my website, here.


Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury (1953); Ballantine Books, New York, NY.

A Universal History of the Destruction of Books from Ancient Sumer to Modern-day Iraq; Fernando Báez (2008); Atlas & Co. New York, NY.

A History of Reading; Alberto Manguel (1996, 2014); Penguin Books, New York, NY

Libricide: the Regime-Sponsored destruction of Books and Libraries in the Twentieth Century; Rebecca Knuth (2003) Praeger, Westport, CT and London, UK.

Burning Books and Leveling Libraries: Extremist Violence and Cultural Destruction; Rebecca Knuth (2006); Praeger, Westport, CT and London, UK.

Books on Fire: The Destruction of Libraries Throughout History; Lucien X. Polastron (2004, 2007) Inner Traditions, Rochester, VT.