Mind the Gap: An interview with Joshua Lutz

Disclaimer: A publicist working with Schilt Publishing got in touch looking for a review of Mind the Gap. I don’t tend to review books, particularly if approached, but having really enjoyed Hesitating Beauty I thought this could be a great opportunity to see if Joshua was interested in a frank conversation about photobook publishing. Luckily, Joshua has given the questions posed a good deal of thought and has been refreshingly open about the publishing process. I hope this is of interest to readers here and truly I do recommend  seeking out the book if you can…

Joshua, seeing as we are talking mostly about Mind the Gap it seems that the best way to start might be in asking you why this work, and the publication, matters to you?

I wouldn’t say Mind the Gap matters so much, It’s the conversation that the work is about which feels really important. The publication functions simply as a way to have a dialog of sorts with these issues. I don’t really know how to play a productive part of that exchange in any other way besides things like teaching and making work that creates the conditions to talk about it.

And the book is a key part of this? With Meadowlands and Hesitating Beauty, it seems as though the book as a medium really offers you something as an artist — what is this?

They were all really very different processes. Meadowlands didn’t start as a book it started as just pictures I was making. This was way before book making became so ubiquitous. A book or even a show really wasn’t even on my radar. In a way Hesitating Beauty didn’t start as a book either but it quickly lent itself to the medium once I started making some small prints. I like making books because I can work small. With a book I can see this thing from beginning to end. I feel that it can say the thing that I want to. If it falls apart ultimately it is on me. With a show, I tend to work backwards where the space dictates what is included and at what size. The parameters for what I am going to say is very different. In a way I don’t hold myself to the same standard. I am ok with shows falling apart a little bit or not saying all the things I want them to.

Image from production process. Joshua Lutz

My favorite components of the book as a medium is how one reads it in such a way that confirms something that they may believe to be true and how a belief system is reinforced by something in the book itself. Basically, If you have a small hint of something that you think is true and apply it to the book that very thing becomes the glasses for which you read the entire book. A younger version of myself fought this as much as I could to make sure people where seeing exactly what I was. Letting go of this is a little scary but ultimately has ended up being really quite spacious.

Is this connected to the books permanence? Its longevity? It seems especially in a predominantly digital medium this is important to makers and readers alike?

I am not thinking consciously about permanence with the work. If anything, impermanence is the thing that drives my work. I do one day want to explore the digital realm of showing my work. Right now, the digital format for me really functions as a document for the actual print or the book not the piece itself. For now, I think it’s more connected to control. Feeling a bit unresolved about the work online I ultimately can’t control what happens to it. For example, there is an artist taking my photographs and turning them into design posters and fabrics. At first, I wanted to reach out and ask them to stop but then I was flattered that they would spend any real time with the work to consider using it in their own practice.

Joshua Lutz

This is your second time working with Schilt, something that would certainly suggest a symbiotic relationship. Can you explain a little about what the two parties put in to the production of the book and why it is that you have chosen to work with Schilt again?

We worked together again because I was extremely pleased with Hesitating Beauty. The book was produced almost exactly how I wanted it. There was very little push to change anything that was not in the original design. Although he didn’t do Hesitating Beauty I know one of the designers (Henk VanAssen) that Schilt works with very well and I wanted to work with him. Henk was great to collaborate with. These things are really so difficult. Photographers spend years looking at a project only to have them hacked away by over- design. Henk was very conscious of the work that I had done, willing to push ideas while honoring the intent of the book. In the end we didn’t land far from where we started which for this book was ultimately the right move.

Is this important to you that your intent remains mostly unchanged — not that it isn’t challenged or supported but do you see the resulting book with you as author or a co-authored project?

Perhaps this sounds smug but I do not see the designers that I work with as co-authors at all. Co-designers but not co-authors. I would argue that with all my books I came to the design process with 99% of the layout done and 95% of the design done. My designs however are never in the right format and far from print ready. I use photoshop instead of InDesign to hack my way through the process. The designer then takes my pages and translates them into a format that can be used by the printer.

Joshua Lutz

Where does price fit into the process of bookmaking? At $50 it is not a cheap publication and I wonder whether the price (or range) is set at the start or whether it is the product of all the other decisions that go into the production of the publication?

That is something that is set by the publisher. I have really no say in that stuff. I think Schilt Publishing weighs the cost of the book against the Amazon reduction. $50 becomes $35 but really not sure how any of that happens.

It is pretty hard to see the ‘work’ that is Mind the Gap without buying the publication, or seeing the ClampArt show at the moment — is this a conscious decision to hold back and keep something limited or perhaps you are keen to really curate or control the experience of those coming to the work?

I wish it was that thought through. Honesty, it is really just about not updating my website. Most the images are either on the galleries website or other publications that have interviewed or reviewed the work.

Do you have a strategy for getting the book into specific archives, libraries, schools and so on? Does this factor into your bigger plans for the book?

No, I don’t really have plans for the book in that sense. I do very little outreach to institutions to get the book placed. As a teaching artist with kids my time is so limited. If I am not teaching or with my kids I try and devote all my studio time to making work. Perhaps in another life I would have a gaggle of assistants that could help with these things, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

Who is it then that you want to see, or buy the book? Are you aiming for the book itself to primarily be read by photobook enthusiasts or are there other groups of people you are looking to reach?

That is a really important question. Often when a book comes out people ask you to come to different places to show the work and talk about it. I did a bunch of that before realizing that almost everyone coming to see these events were people that want to be doing it themselves. We end up talking to ourselves over and over again. Rarely, for many of us in the photography art world are we able to really reach outside of our own little echo chamber. That said it does become really beautiful when the work is able to transcend beyond our circles. With my first book Meadowlands that happened a little bit with people interested in the environment but more often with enthusiasts of New Jersey. Hesitating Beauty was a bit more successful in this realm and seemed to touch a note with caregivers, specifically those caring for parents or those suffering from mental illness. I am really not sure who the audience will be for Mind The Gap. It does seem to be hitting some strange notes that are trickling into all sorts of unintended interactions. The range has been somewhat disparate; from the Bernie Sanders Campaign wanting to collaborate to a warden of a Texas Prison connecting about a public works project. At this point, I am not sure where any of it is going just feeling grateful for the ability to be a part of the conversation.

What is a successful reading of Mind the Gap for you? What do you want (or do you even think about this?) people to hear when they look at the work?

I don’t really think there is a successful read as much as there is an unsuccessful read. For example, the book has about 20+ short stories in it. Some readings have taken the stance that based on my previous work certain stories must be grounded in truth while others must embrace fiction. It is not that I am bothered by the picking and choosing of real vs fiction it’s just a bit more effective if people embraced not knowing. In a way that is essentially what the work is about; our collective need to come to conclusions about things. It is about the state of being lost in confusion 99% of the time with only tiny glimpses of clarity. I like the Sanskrit word samsara and refer to it in the drawings of the wheel of samsara used in the end pages. I suppose this becomes a legend or a map for the book for anyone really wanting to dig in. Samsara translates to wandering and these drawings depict ancient and modern-day states that from a buddhist perspective prevent us from finding clarity. My favorite thing about them is that these obstacles have been updated but they haven’t changed we only think they have.

Joshua Lutz

What role does the accompanying spiel/blurb/precis that accompanies the work do for this communication between you and the reader?

That’s a publisher thing and that has to do with marketing. If I had it my way there wouldn’t be anything, but I do understand the need.

Do you think consciously of the ways in which the book (this or previous) impacts you from a financial perspective or in terms of your career —

To the first part of your question photo-books at the scale that I am making them do not contribute to any real income. My finances are not directly tied to book sales at all. My income is generally balanced through the ebb and flow of teaching, art sales, grants and the occasional editorial job. As far as career, I think they are all intertwined and support each other.

Is it important today for photographers to be making books?

No not at all. Don’t hate me for this but I think there are way too many photo-books being made. I can’t tell you how many people tell me about a book they want to make. They see the book before they see the work. What is important for photographers to be making are long term realized projects that may or may not one day find themselves in the book format. The work has to come first. A photo-book should be the end result of every possible iteration. It’s a massive undertaking that should really not be seen as the goal but if anything the outcome.

There is an Elephant – limited edition

A book I made 2 years ago. I think it is important and will help raise awareness and contribute to a discussion about the state of the photobook. So i’ve only made 5 copies and each is £100. I will consider it a success if they all sell or it ends up on a list #jobdone.

 
An extract from page 7

“…there are works that deceive – the book that seeks to change attitude, vocalise an unknown issue or empower a community. We have seen them, we have bought them and we have likely appreciated their attempt to affect real action. We have been convinced by glue, paper, thread and beautiful imagery – perhaps also by the heartfelt introduction or accompanying essay written by the author who just wants the work to be seen, the story to be heard. Unfortunately, as product in part of a community which rewards production-as-outcome and in part due to selfish desires, this book falls flat on it’s face. The book is on all our shelves, it has sold out, it still falls flat. The book enters top ten lists, the author is asked to judge next years competitions, the book still falls flat. Likely, it is gathering dust on our shelves, at best, of the 500 people who actually bought it as apposed to being given it, only half have ever really read it – the rest keeping it safe in case of astronomical rise in fame or the photobook being accepted as a currency. So 250 people read your book – 250 people who… are politically liberal and agree with your ideas or are similarly frustrated by what you show… So reach a real readership. Don’t kid yourself that you are doing any good… your book’s worth making, worth looking at and ultimately enriching, thats great, but that’s it, no more.

 

An extract from page 9

“This is not to discourage publishing at all – it is an individual experience and can serve multiple purposes but be realistic with your intentions… Just tell us you were proud of the work and felt that others might find enjoyment or interest in it – tell us this. If you want to speak about something – I mean really speak – to people, not book people – then think about why and how you make your book. It would be fair to suggest anything intended for a mass audience should be online but this would ignore the role of anonymity, memory and credibility we assign to the book. So a book may be the thing, but the £45 hardcover with pullouts and Dodo feathers is pointless. Think about squeezing the collectors to pay for the non-buyers – don’t see the non booklover as an annoyance but an untapped revenue stream. Not fiscal revenue but attention/interest/change/action revenue. Ultimately, the defetishisation of the photobook, a refocussing of energy on readerships and the life-beyond-publication could move us from the golden age of the medium to an altogether more worthwhile steel age.”

Books for sale

Moving on a few books as have less collectible versions, available at local library or just not so into them anymore. Email for more details or photos.
All prices + postage.

Larry Sultan – The Valley
Some minor dust cover marks, otherwise very good (£60)

Alec Soth – Looking for Love, 1996
Pristine (£85) SOLD

Carlos Spottorno – The PIGS
Still in sleeve, got another signed so selling this (£35)

Christian Patterson – Redheaded Peckerwood
Signed 2nd Edition, as new (£90)

Watabe Yukichi – A Criminal Investigation
1st Edition, pristine still in shrink wrap (£130)

KayLynn Deveney – All You Can Lose is Your Heart

Transparency – I was sent a review copy by Kehrer Verlag

KayLynn Deveney’sAll You Can Lose is Your Heart’ looks at ranch-style dream homes in the American Southwest, built in the 50’s and 60’s. It is intended that the images inside, presented as a close-to-typological study is able to act as a metaphorical portrait for ‘those living inside’ that tells us about ‘a fading vision of the American Dream’. For some reason the press release seems keen to stress that this is the ‘first time these houses are the subject of a published photographic work’ – something that on its own should be nearly inconsequential.

©KayLynn Deveney – Bellehaven, Albuquerque, New Mexico

What is a well trodden path though is the visual and verbal discourse of the American Dream and its health – it’s dead, it’s alive, it’s dead, it’s alive. It’s dead. So, important then that Deveney brings something of value to the discussion. This is certainly the case for the images presented in the book, which, despite learning more about their production in the accompanying interview with architect (and marketeer) Jean Valjean Vandruff, are still charmingly sweet. The mix of straight-cut timber with ornate, curved detailing on acutely angled roofs is only made more compelling for the pick up trucks and light-up reindeer that now block the view. Here is the strength of the work (not the book) – in plainly evidencing the augmentation or destruction of an historical ‘ideal’.

©KayLynn Deveney – Vandruff Cinderella Home, Orange County, Southern California

As I tend to find with almost all photobooks from more established houses, there are too many images here, and some focus is lost in the edit – it is a struggle to really feel as though we are seeing much of the occupant’s lives in these photographs. We should also ask whether we gain any insight into the wellbeing of that elusive American Dream – to an extent perhaps but greatly aided by the interview and essay at the rear of the book.

©KayLynn Deveney – Princess Jeanne addition, Albuquerque, New Mexico

The sequence and edit of content (not only images) is my main issue with the reading – which feels somewhat cumbersome and in need of some rearranging. Using the essay and interviews as well as original marketing material and blueprint to break up sections of the photographs might simultaneously create a more sure delivery.

You can buy the book here from the publisher Kehrer Verlag

I like it, what is it? Ron Jude’s ‘Lago’

Disclosure note: I requested and received a review copy of Lago from the publishers, MACK

Ron Jude’s ‘Lago’ is a bit of a mystery to me, but one in which intrigue manages to outweigh frustration. Putting aside the typical blurb/statement that either whets your whistle or grinds your gears for its high score on the bullshit meter…

If one considers these traces to be a coded language of some sort, Jude’s act of photographing and piecing them together becomes a form of cryptography – like a poetic archeology that, rather than attempting to arrive at something conclusive, looks for patterns and rhythms that create congruity out of the stuttering utterances of the visible world.

Ron-Jude_LAGO_04

… the work itself is really worth a look. There are few similarities with Lick Creek Line, at least in relation to sequence and rhythm of the book, instead it might bring to mind Gregory Halpern’s ‘A’ – seemingly disjointed, somewhat claustrophobic and reading a little like the stream-of-consciousness-style books we have seen becoming popular of late. What interests me most in the photobook are the separations of images, structure of the book and the repetitions of subjects and image styles – as I spent time with the work I felt more and more that the order dictated by Western reading (left to right) was a convenience as apposed to necessity.

Ron-Jude_LAGO_07

This book read like the internet – loosely structured and waiting for connections to be imposed. Saying this, it is certainly not as try-hard in its random nature as the likes of Roe Ethridge – Jude has, through recognisable American photographic tropes and attention to shape, texture and colour, given small links and suggestions throughout. It is though, the sound recordings that accompany the book made by Joshua Bonnetta that really bring it to life…

Accessed via a download from the MACK site, these two soundscapes (a side A and B) offer an immersive experience, giving voice to characters suggested in images and overlaying what I can only describe as a more ‘homely’ and relatable narrative onto the rather desolate images. The recordings pose so many questions about ‘reading’ that it is hard to know where to start or whether I should even be attempting to answer them – for starters, each recording is just over 20 minutes – am I taking shortcuts by spending less time with the book? The two sides – should I read the book one time with each? Sides A and B – reminding me perhaps to flip the book – start one at one end and one at another? Should headphones be used? How important are these recordings? The must be downloaded from a link so they automatically remove us from an isolating experience with the book.

Ron-Jude_LAGO_06

I appreciate some of these questions are stupid, the use of the audio is of course open to interpretation, but some discussion surely must be present. Not least for me because my burning question from the Lago experience is – what is it? The experience I had in reading and listening was greater than the parts – but it was also disruptive as I navigated the book and sometimes skipped sections of audio on the computer. I wonder why this isn’t a photofilm, and then I wonder whether a photofilm would have held attention for the time the book does.

I found this a really exciting project and one which I really hope will generate some lively discussion both from readers and from those involved in the publication itself.

The Box of Dummies in Alicante!

The Box of Dummies, which has been touring for over 6 months now, will be in Alicante on April 8th with the Photobook Club Alicante and the Photobook Club Granada at the Contemporary Art Museum of Alicante. If you can get to the meeting you will be able to get your hands on these great prospective works and if not – check out the website with video flick-throughs.

foto2

Thanks to José Carlos Robles and Carlos Aguilera who are organising the event for the details and the images of previous meetings shown below…

 

PLACE : MACA  (Contemporary Art Museum of Alicante)
Date: April , 8.
Hour: 18:30 p.m.

You can check the latest news in our web in this link.

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The Natural Collection at the Monash Gallery of Art

I am really excited to announce that the Photobook Club’s ‘Natural Collection’ which now includes over 40 books, will be heading to the Monash Gallery of Art in Australia to be displayed as part of the ‘Light Reading’ exhibition and in conjunction with Photobook Melbourne.

nat_col_montage1The show, which celebrates the relationship between reading and photography will run until 1st March 2015. The Natural Collection will be available to see (and touch and read!) from mid January onwards but an exact date will be posted shortly.

Untitled-1

Thanks to all who have submitted work so far to the collection, to co-curator Lucy Johnson who I have worked on this project with and to Stephanie Richter of the Monash Gallery for the collection invitation.

Before more information is available, here are a few images from the collection…

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natcoltab1

Natural Collection: http://collection.photobookclub.org/ 

Light Reading Exhibition: http://www.mga.org.au/exhibition/view/exhibition/173 

Photobook Melbourne Festival: http://photobookmelbourne.org/ 

A ‘Report From the Field’ in Aperture’s PBR 007

I was asked recently to provide a report from the field for the Fall issue of Aperture’s ‘Photobook Review’. The report sits alongside the likes of Larissa Leclair, Markus Schaden and Rebecca Senf and talks mostly about the need to expand our community to greater benefit a wider audience.

PBR_007

The newspaper is available with a subscription to Aperture magazine but can also be found at a good number of bookshops and galleries and likely if you went to Paris – you already ave a copy. If you can’t get hold of a copy and would like to read the report, just drop me a mail. 

– Matt

#PhotoBookDay Eve

It is #PhotoBookDay eve and all over the world people are preparing to celebrate with books tomorrow, in fact only hours away for the meetings in Australia.

Remember to check out all the fantastic offers available at bookshops as well as seeing where the nearest meetings are to you by heading over to the website.

If you aren’t near a meeting but still want to share the booklove…

  • Post a #PhotoBookDaySelfie on social media: an image with you and your current favourite photobook.

  • Discuss your love of photobooks via the twitter hashtag #PhotoBookDay

  • Donate a self-published photobook or photozine to your nearest public library or school library. Where we can we will publish a list of public libraries accepting donations this day.

  • Buy a photobook. Many bookshops and publishers will make special discounts for the day. We’ll publish a list of them.

And lastly before retiring to bed in preparation for this joyous day, a big welcome to the Photobook Club Lima organised by Eneka Fernandez who will hold their inaugural meetup tomorrow to coincide with #PhotoBookDay. You can find out more here.

– Matt

The Photographers Playbook

The Photographers Playbook, published by Aperture and edited by Jason Fulford and Gregory Halpern has just arrived on the doormat and I thought it worth a post.

306 assignments from well respected photographic educators, professionals and artists plus myself. The assignments vary from reflective exercises to shopping lists, technical amendments and more traditional photographic tasks. There is much in here and certainly not just for the student – I really hope this book and it’s assignments are used widely and shared often, perhaps there needs to be a space to share reflections and outcomes?

You can find the book on Aperure’s site here.