(FOAM Blog repost #10) 10×10 American Photobooks by Ken Schles
How to describe the current state of American photobooks? How to talk about its diversity, fecundity and complexity? The goal of 10×10 American Photobooks, a pop-up reading room with an extended publication surveying three hundred of the most significant photobooks from the last twenty-five years of American photobook practice, attempts to do just that.
The organizers (Matthew Carson, Associate Librarian and Archivist at the International Center of Photography Library, Russet Lederman, media artist, educator at the School of Visual Arts Masters of Fine Arts Art Criticism & Writing program here in NY and avid Japanese photobook collector, along with Olga Yatskevich founder of the New York Photobook Club, the Facebook Photobook Group and the Tumbler site Phot(o)lia), invited a cadre of thinkers, practitioners, critics and enthusiasts who specialize in photobooks to offer comment and make selections that reflect the state of American photobooks and photobook publishing over the last twenty-five years.
The reading room recently finished two “practice rounds” here in the States (New York and Pittsburgh) before it is to head over to the Tokyo Institute of Photography where it will be displayed in September along with an enlarged catalog containing essays and selections from a larger list of presenters. These other books were thought have had a wider web presence and might be more popularly known and so were not included in the pop-up library. I am disappointed the organizers didn’t mount the fuller list of 300 books into the reading room, if only to see what kind of synergies would have been unleashed. But for practical and pedagogical reasons the thrust of the reading room focuses on smaller presses and self-published tomes.
10×10 American Photobooks, at least as an installation, gives sway primarily to the rebel and the maker generation, emphasizing practitioners who are willing to get in there and get dirty, self publish or engage a short run by a small press. And certainly there is a positive need to champion the quieter voices and of those overlooked. For here, in the US, the world of photobooks has become a fractal engine spinning both large and small. With fragmented distribution and socially networked virtual online presentations increasingly the primary means of discovery, it’s a daunting task to keep tabs on the arena. I know I have difficulty keeping up. Easily more than half of the books in the pop-up library were new to me. And these books represent only the tip of the iceberg.
10×10 American makes for a delirious manifesto. It is about verve and experimentation and about risking failure. There seems to be little canonical posturing. The reading room has its finger on the pulse of what’s alive and fresh in American photobook practice at the moment with an idiosyncratic nod to the past. And while some of the selections shine and challenge, others seem to poke fun at the idea of making such lists at all. I don’t think I needed to see primitive line drawings after (sometimes) well-known photographs as I did in The Camera Club of NY’s selection A History of Photography In Pen & Ink by Charles Woodward (A-Jump Books, 2009). I mean it was a fun game, but hardly a significant publication of the last 25 years. And sometimes the books go far afield of the 25-year timespan, as in a listing of Richard Avedon and James Baldwin’s classic from 1964, Nothing Personal, selected by Jörg Colberg of the web blog Conscientious.
But I think we are well served with all this chaos. A library of photobooks is a statement greater than any of its parts and I think, in aggregate, this wide ranging a survey is greater for being more inclusive and more diverse than probably any “best” book survey I’ve seen. Each list maker is a de facto gatekeeper. Each gave insight and context to a way of seeing and knowing the world as expressed by the photobook-makers they selected. So we are well to study these groupings. The organizers reached far and wide to enlist the help of a diverse and knowledgeable group (listed with links below). And so, this project seems to reach for something a little deeper: a stab at highlighting what is significant in contemporary American photobook while marking its shifting trends. It risks an almost Borgesian fate in its breadth as it reflects the American photobook world.
Here are a few examples that stood out for me from a diverse compendium.
Below you’ll also have the opportunity to explore the background of each of the contributors (of which, I was one) and see other chosen work.
Bryan Graf Wild Life Analysis Here is a book that should fail and yet intrigues me: every copy is a unique random rendering of a set number of images in no particular order. Published by Conveyor Arts, 2013 and selected by them.
Raymond Meeks and Mark Steinmetz. Orchard Vol. 3, Idyll. (New York: Silas Finch, 2011). Is it a book or is it a periodical? No, they are objets d’art. Raymond Meeks collaborates with other artists in these ongoing volumes to produce beautiful and unique intrigues. Selected by Joerg Colberg.
David Wojnarowicz. Rimbaud in New York 1978-79. (New York: PPP Editions and Roth Horowitz, 2004). Selected by David Senior from The Museum of Modern Art Library. I hadn’t seen this project in years and knew David back in the day. What originally seemed to me so nonchalant an enterprise years ago now takes on an unexpected gravitas.
Dash Snow, Polaroids (Peres Projects, 2009). Selected by Harper Books/John Gossage. The legacy of this art world bad boy, who died of a heroin overdose, sticks like a claw in my throat. I still don’t know what to make of it all, the work or him. A tragic life splayed out before you. Here are the depths of what could amount to aggressive acting out in a world without meaning. But then, that becomes a meaningful statement in and of it self. Doesn’t it?
Monica Haller’s Riley and his story. Me and my outrage. You and us. (Onestar Press 2011), is a visual diary of unspeakable tedium and horror that brings you into a world of a man trying to make meaning from his warzone snapshots: a nurse who literally and figuratively is trying to pick up the pieces. Selected by Adam Bell.
I’ll end my part here with an excerpt of Adam Bell’s statement, which sums up this compilation nicely not only for him as a contributor but, I would think, it act as a nice appraisal of the project overall as well:
“Decidedly idiosyncratic and personal, I tried to highlight lesser known books that deserve a wider audience – ones you may have forgotten, heard about on a blog, never heard of, hated and still don’t like, couldn’t afford, one you can’t even see, but just might be willing to look at again and see with fresh eyes.”
I applaud the projects initiators: Matthew Carson, Associate Librarian and Archivist at the International Center of Photography Library, Russet Lederman, media artist, educator at the School of Visual Arts (New York City) MFA Art Criticism & Writing program and avid Japanese photobook collector, and Olga Yatskevich organizer of the New York Photobook Club, the Facebook Photobook Group and the Tumbler site Phot(o)lia.
10×10 American Photobooks is a multi-platform photobook event with a reading room, online component and publication that presents American artists’ photobooks from the last 25 years. The project pre-viewed in New York and Pittsburgh in May 2013. It will travel to the Tokyo Institute of Photography for a 4-week run, which will coincide with the Tokyo Book and Photo Fairs in September 2013. At the end of the project, all the books from the reading room will be donated to the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography’s Library. 10×10 American Photobooks is co-sponsored by the International Center of Photography Library, Tokyo Institute of Photography and the Photobook Facebook Group.
10×10 American The Book
Already half pre-sold out prior to its publication in September (the edition will be limited to 400 copies), and produced in collaboration with Victor Sira and Shiori Kawasaki of bookdummypress, the 10x10American book will be a way to experience the breadth of the 10×10 American project in its entirety. Right now, only 100 of the project’s 300 volumes are gathered together at the pop-up events. And while a good number of the 300 books are listed on the 10×10 website, the book will illustrate them more fully and include essays by noted artists, writers, publishers, curators and bibliophiles specially commissioned for the project. Designed in Japanese manga fashion, this bilingual (Japanese-English) edition will be released at the opening of the September 2013 Tokyo reading room at the Tokyo Institute of Photography. Outside handling all 300 volumes personally, the 10×10 American Photobooks catalogue will provide the full 10×10 experience. (Disclaimer: I contributed an essay for 10×10 American Photobooks and was honored that two of my published books—Invisible City and A New History of Photography were selected by two of the specialists: Douglas Stockdale and Tom Claxton). Those interested in ordering the book can do so here.
10×10 American Reading Room Specialists
Leigh Ledare / Photographer
David Senior / The Museum of Modern Art Library, NY
David Solo / Collector
10×10 American Online Specialists / English Language
Adam Bell / Photographer and writer
Tom Claxton / Claxton Projects
Jörg Colberg / Conscientious
Matt Johnson / The Photobook Club
Melanie McWorter / photo-eye Bookstore
Eric Miles / photo-eye Auctions
James Pomerantz / The New Yorker
Heidi Sanders / 6 Decades Books
Douglas Stockdale / The Photobook
Philip Tomaru / Arts & Sciences Projects
10×10 American Online Specialists / Japanese Language
Yumi Goto / Reminders Project
Ihiro Hayami + Atsushi Hamanaka / PHaT PHOTO & twelvebooks
Sawako Fukai / Artbeat Publishers
Mika Kobayashi / The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
10×10 American Publication Writers
Bryant Formhals / LVP Magazine
William E. Jones / Artist, Filmmaker and Writer
Evan Mirapaul / Photobook Collector and Blogger
Andrew Roth / PPP Editions + Roth Gallery
Michael Saur / Writer
Ken Schles / Photographer and Writer
David Levi Strauss / Writer + Chairman, MFA Art Criticism & Writing, School of Visual Arts
Bernard Yenelouis / Photographer and Writer
10×10 American Photobooks Team
Matthew Carson / ICP Associate Librarian & Archivist
Olga Yatskevich / Founder of the Photobook Facebook Group
Ihiro Hayami / Director of the Tokyo Institute of Photography
Victor Sira and Shiori Kawasaki / Founders of bookdummypress
Mathieu Asselin / Videographer and imaging specialist
Jeff Gutterman and Tina Nacrelli / Copy editor and installation Specialists
Rie Imanaka / Researcher and Project Co