Tag Archives: 1950s

Paris transsexuals in the 60s: photos by Christer Strömholm


Jacky, place Blanche, 1961.
From the photobook “Les Amies de Place Blanche” © Christer Strömholm

Originally published in 1983, Les Amies de Place Blanche focuses on the transsexual community living around the Place Blanche district of Paris in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The book established Christer Strömholm’s reputation as one of the leading European photographers of the twentieth century.

The exquisite new version of the book includes the original essays by Strömholm and publisher Johan Ehrenberg as well as newly commissioned texts by Jacky and Nana, two of the women who feature in many photographs in the book. The introduction is by Hélène Hazera, a leading French journalist, actress, director, and television producer who is also a transsexual.


Gina & Nana, place Blanche, 1963.
From the photobook “Les Amies de Place Blanche” © Christer Strömholm

See a high-resolution slideshow of these and more images, and read the book review with very touching and sensitive quotes from Strömholm, in the latest issue of Lens Culture.

Christer Strömholm’s work from this series is featured in an exhibition at International Center for Photography in New York City from May 18 – September 2, 2012.


Left: Soraya & Sonia, Hôtel Pierrots, 1962. Right: Cynthia, Hôtel Idéal, 1966.
From the photobook “Les Amies de Place Blanche” © Christer Strömholm

Daido Moriyama And the Cultural Landscape of Post-War Japan

Youth culture, through revolt, unabashedly asks us to question and confront our historical and cultural traditions. In post-war Japan, the explosion of the taiyozoku or sun tribe—a term for the youth sub-culture that emerged in the 1950s—was seen by the older, conservative generations as crude and violent. Flooded with new imagery from the West, there was a break in the connection to the past and thus a rejection of traditional values. Affected by the nouvelle vague Western youth and media, the taiyozoku were pictured as promiscuous and nihilistic, throwing their cares to the wind.

Arriving in Tokyo in 1961, Daido Moriyama began photographing the seedy streets of Shinjuku, a ward ravaged during the war. Although the Shinjuku of today is best known as the economic and commercial center of Tokyo, it still retains a revolutionary spirit that started in its post-war bars and red-light district. Moriyama’s high-contrast, gritty depictions capture the energy native to the neighborhood, creating a visual history of Tokyo’s youth throughout one of its most combustible phases in history. It is this power that shapes Moriyama’s work, creating an unfolding visual testament to the cultural landscape of post-war Japan.

A new exhibition pays tribute to Moriyama’s four decade relationship with Shinjuku, which serves as a photographic act of memory and desire. In Fracture: Daido Moriyama, opening at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on April 7, these notions are explored through a selection of prints and books, as well as recent color work. Moriyama began his career in Tokyo assisting the photographer Eikoh Hosoe. Hosoe was a member of the influential artist collective VIVO, which served to capture the significant cultural and structural changes within Japanese society. In line with this method of working, Moriyama began to roam the streets of Shinjuku and, since the early 1960s, has been witness to the ever-changing and expanding post-WWII landscape—a fractured, strange world that oscillates between time and space, reality and fiction.

Fracture: Daido Moriyama is on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art from April 7 through July 31.

Distorted Smile: Weegee’s Mona Lisa

Arthur Fellig, better known as Weegee, made a name for himself as a crime photographer in New York in the 1930s and 1940s, creating gritty scenes of the horrors of urban life.

After ditching his career as a photojournalist, Weegee moved to Los Angeles in 1947. It was in California that he began experimenting with distorted images, photographing celebrities, news clippings and even scenes from television. Though he produced distorted images of a wide range of subjects from presidents to movie stars, Weegee turned his surrealist lens on the classical world’s most famous painting, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, in the late 1950sHis photographic homages to the da Vinci masterpiece feature one with an elongated forehead, one with a square face and another image with two sets of eyes. In one picture, the photographer even manages to flip her enigmatic smile upside down.

Recently, the Prado in Madrid confirmed its copy of the masterpiece was painted by one of Leonardo da Vinci’s students in the master’s studio at the same time da Vinci was working on his own Mona Lisa. “The copy invites you to see it with new eyes,” says Prado curator Miguel Falomir of the museum’s version, which features vibrantly restored colors and definition.

While there are no shortage of homages to the da Vinci masterpiece, Weegee’s surrealist interpretations of the Mona Lisa are beautiful and unique in their own right. They also invite the viewer to revisit the iconic painting with ‘new eyes’—but hopefully not two sets of them.

Deconstructing Constructions: James Casebere’s Works 1975-2010

American artist James Casebere has been photographing dioramic constructions of human civilization since 1975. His tableaus—scenes from places both fictional and real—respond to current events and are the subject of a new book called Works 1975-2010, which chronicles highlights from his 35-year career.

Over the years, Casebere’s images have expanded and redefined to show his exploration of aesthetic technical challenges. “Photography resonates with me because it manipulates our perception of the world around us,” he says. “I am interested in photography as a means of persuasion, of propaganda and constructing histories. I am interested in how photography creates and reconstructs reality.”

Born in Lansing, Michigan in 1953, Casebere grew up during the era of television’s rise to becoming America’s prominent medium for creating images and manifesting visual culture. Referencing the sets of sitcoms of the 1950s and 1960s, Casebere’s early career focused on disseminating and questioning the domestic household and addressing the growing dysfunctions of the ideal American home. Though the scenes that he constructs and then photographs are often similar to the environment of his native Lansing, the images are not anecdotal. This absence of a personal narrative is a strategy Casebere still continues in his work today.

Among Casebere’s most well-known work are his images of the interiors of detainment cells and prisons, such as Prison Cell With Skylight, 1993. “I was thinking a lot about the Enlightenment era and the way that different cultural institutions were created in the late 18th and early 19th century. One of the developments was the prison,” he says. “I wanted to investigate innovations of the whole system…I was trying to critically look at the whole process of incarceration as cultural-historical phenomena.”

Color became more focal and the construction of sets more filled with detail in the work that follows the prison images. Casabere began capturing interior rooms beginning in the mid-90s, with images like Converging Hallways from Left, 1997. ”When I was working on prisons, I was really dealing with a subject that involved deprivation and denial,” he says. “When I moved to the interior spaces, they were less obviously models—they were more convincing. The images are printed quite large, and when viewing them in a gallery, they really become something one can walk into. There was confusion about what is real and what isn’t…There came a moment when I decided to break down the wall, visually— to do things with color, light and texture— literally, to break down the walls, the construction of the models.”

At times, Casebere’s work seems to be indicative of future events. Images that Casebere created from 2006 through 2007, seemed to almost foreshadow this year’s Arab Spring, addressing issues that were boiling in the Middle East for a long time. The images depict the Middle East from a place of brewing conflict, but also a place where people lead normal lives. “I was really trying to create a different impression entirely. Tripoli, 2007, the image that I photographed is actually a recreation of Tripoli in Lebanon,” he says. “Shortly after I made that image, there was a battle at a refugee camp, where the Lebanese army surrounded the village and drove them out.”

Casebere’s latest series of images, each work titled a numerical variation of Landscape with Houses (Dutchess County, NY), reveals his return to focusing on the domestic, a move influenced in part by the advent of the mortgage crisis. But this time around, the artist brought color and dramatic lighting into the work. “I was really working with the lights, recreating morning light, afternoon light, evening light, twilight, moonlight, all kinds of light to exhaust the possibilities and color,” he says. The latest image in the series, however, depicts the idyllic suburban houses with a catastrophic, albeit humorously cartoonish, fire burning in the background. “The fire is metaphoric of the sense of crisis of living in the home, the loss of the American dream,” Casebere says. “I emphasize and criticize [the fact] that we’re caught in a cyclical lifestyle that is destructive and self-destructive.”

Works 1975 – 2010, was published this month by Damiani and distributed by D.A.P.

A little bit about my process for Ochava Solstice

On sunny days, I’ve been busy working on my project Ochava Solstice. I thought I’d write a little bit about how I’ve been going about it recently. Here’s a picture of me shortly before taking a picture for the series.

Me about to shoot an Ochava

The building in question is on the north-facing corner of Marcos Paz and Asunción in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Villa Devoto. Here’s a gratuitous close-up of the image on the ground glass. Since I’m standing in the shade and the building is in the sun, I don’t need to use a darkcloth.

Image on the ground glass of the building with the ochava shadow

For all the camera geeks out there, I’m shooting this series on a Busch Pressman Model D. It’s a press camera from the 1950s similar to a Speed Graphic. The main difference is that the back rotates, letting me shoot vertically, which I do a lot. I’m using a 210mm lens which is slightly telephoto for the 4×5 format.

I had already scouted out this building online. When I first started this project I’d look for these buildings on foot. At first these triangular shadows were just something I noticed in my walks around the city and I’d snap them with my digital camera. Once I got serious about the project, I returned to those same buildings with my 4×5 and a tripod, and waited for the moment when the shadow is exactly in the middle.

The buildings in the series are functional apartment buildings from the 1960s that just happen to cast a triangular shadow. It’s not intentional. It’s the result of a law requiring corner buildings to have a diagonal cut on the ground floor [known as the “ochava”] combined with real estate developers’ desire to maximize square footage [or meterage, I suppose].

Apartment buildings from this era are everywhere in Buenos Aires but ones suitable for my project can be hard to find. They have to face the sun and not be in another building’s shadow. There’s almost always a kiosko on the ground floor or something else “wrong” with the building. In finding the ones I’ve taken so far, I’ve scoured a number of neighborhoods, on foot, in great detail. Recently, in the name of efficiency, I’ve taken to using the Mapa Interactivo run by the city government. It’s less efficient than Google Street View [which doesn’t exist here yet], but still faster than walking around. In the map, you zoom in on a block, click on a plot of land, and it shows you a photo from several years ago. Here’s the photo of this particular building I found on the site.

Marcos Paz & Asuncion

As I’m navigating the site, I confine my search to neighborhoods where I think I’m likely to find buildings like the one above [not too urban, not too suburban]. I only click on the street corners that face north, towards the sun [remember we’re in the southern hemisphere]. To keep track of my progress, I’ve been marking up a map with little dots:

Map I'm using to check off street corners (the black dots)

Of all those little dots on the map above only two were buildings suitable for my project. It’s a bit like panning for gold.

Meanwhile in my apartment I’ve taped up the contact prints of Ochavas I’ve already shot in order to track my progress. Here are the ones I did last year:

2010 Ochavas

And here are the Ochavas I’ve done so far in 2011

2011 Ochavas (so far)

My goal is to reach 50. It’s a bit arbitrary but I want to show a large number of these shadows and 50 seems like a good number. I’ve got around 40 so far. There are a number of good buildings I’ve already scouted out but I need to wait a few months for the sun to get higher in the sky.

Buenos Aires is totally flat and built on a grid, although it’s actually several different grids. The grids don’t all face the same way. The time of a particular corner’s “solstice” is determined by its cardinal orientation. The height of the shadow is determined by the time of year, with summer casting longer shadows. [Curious tidbit: maps in Buenos Aires don’t all face north. There’s at least three different orientations commonly used when depicting the city.]

Most of the street corners in my project so far are north-facing corners taken in winter [June & July]. A few are east or west-facing corners taken in the summer morning or afternoon, respectively. The arc of the sun is much higher in summer so the window of time when the sun is at the right position to cast an appropriately sized shadow is shorter. I drew this diagram below to explain this to a friend, although I’m not sure it makes the concept any clearer.

Porteño Calendar

I’ve previously compared these triangular shadows to the serpent-like shadow that appears on Chichen Itza at the equinox. It seems that I’ve now drawn up a sort of Aztec-like calendar for Buenos Aires. There are no geographical references in Buenos Aires. The river is distant and cut-off from the main part of the city and there are no mountains to provide a reference point. Walking around the grid of the city can sometimes feel like being lost in a kind of labyrinth. If I’m beginning to lose that sense of being lost it’s only because I’ve now memorized good chunks of that grid, recreating it mentally in my head to orient myself. These street corner photographs are like totems of my wonderings around Buenos Aires.

I’m now scouring [online] the very edges of the city, places I’ve yet to reach during my 3+ years of walking around the city. Obviously I only shoot this series on sunny days. If it’s cloudy I work on other stuff. Partially cloudy days are a real source of frustration because I never know if I should risk spending an 90 minutes on a bus to reach the neighborhood only to have a cloud erase the shadow at the critical time. There’s only about a two minute window when the triangle appears visually to be in the middle.

For this building the day was in fact partially cloudy but they were very low and moving fast in the stiff wind. Arriving at the corner early I sat in the sun as the day was very cold. I shot this video below which shows the shadow disappearing as a quick cloud passes by:

I was fortunate that day in that by the time the shadow reached its midpoint the clouds had departed. Here’s a snapshot of the contact sheet I just got back from the lab. One more corner to cross off the list.

Contact sheet of Marcos Paz & Asuncion Ochava

I’ve also written more about this project in these two blog posts; Ochava Solstice and Ochava Solstice – Things that Go Wrong.

Conversations about Photobooks: Lesley Martin


Aperture has long been a – maybe the – beacon of American photobook publishing. It’s pretty much impossible to talk about photobooks without at some stage running into a book that was done by Aperture. Lesley Martin, Publisher of the Aperture Book Program, has worked on a huge number of those books, often pushing the envelope in unexpected directions. A few weeks ago, I sat down with Lesley to talk about Aperture and about the history and future of photobooks. (more)

Jörg Colberg: Aperture produced some of the most important photobooks of the last decades. Looking back at the history of photobook making and considering the recent explosion of independent photobook making, how has Aperture’s position as a publisher changed?

Lesley Martin: Well, we’re in the process of figuring that out ourselves, especially now that Chris Boot, who brings with him a whole wealth of other experiences–both in publishing and in other areas of the photo world–having recently joined us. It’s true, though, that the publishing landscape today operates within a completely different universe than it did when Aperture was first founded in the early 1950s with the magazine, and in 1964 when the first book was published (Edward Weston’s Flame of Recognition.).

Certainly one of the biggest shifts is that for decades, Aperture was one of the very few publishers in the US who specialized in publishing photography. There are so many now–an increasingly growing number of photobook makers and publishers–not just in the U.S. but internationally.

I’d like also like to think that Aperture has always evolved in relation to the changes at large within the photographic community itself. In the last, let’s say, seven years we’ve really tried hard to calibrate what we do in relation to what photographers are doing. It’s important that what we do reflects and responds to the concerns of contemporary photography.

For a long time, the form and design of the typical Aperture book, was pretty static as well, and I’d like to think we’ve been successful in taking ourselves off “default” in thinking about book formats and design as well. I always use the 1972 Diane Arbus monograph as the perfect manifestation of that earlier, classic form. It’s elegant, it’s simple, it’s beautiful, and it’s very much of its time, thanks to the superb, minimalist design of Marvin Israel. It features a blank page on the left, a single image on the right; blank page, image–as though you’re looking at a matted print, in the white box of a gallery space. That form became somewhat of the default mode for Aperture’s books, too–perhaps for American photobooks as a whole. And while I think this is a form that still has its value (I still use it myself sometimes), it’s not suitable for every body of work, and in particular, it’s not always suitable for the diversity found in photography today.

A couple of examples: Richard Misrach’s On the Beach, where the form of the book was really driven by the photographer’s practice of presenting the work at a very large scale. This type of scale had not really been part of the vocabulary of Aperture publishing in the past, so it was really interesting and important to me to figure out a way to respond to that. Hans Eijkelboom’s Paris-New York-Shanghai book is another one where the form of the traditional photobook really had to stretch to match the working practice of the photographer, as did Christian Marclay’s Shuffle (which is essentially a deck of photocards). Each of them evolved in collaborative dialogue with the photographer, the designer, and myself as editor and publisher–but each took the photographer’s practice as the starting point and inspiration.

JC: Does that mean that when you work on a book you now work more closely with the photographers and designers when making a book?

LM: My personal approach has always been to work very closely with the photographer and the designer. Some photographers will start with a portfolio of prints, others with a book dummy. When I worked with Joel Meyerowitz on Legacy, we started out with hundreds upon hundreds of little 4-by-6 prints. The project began for him as a visual archive of New York City’s parks, so the material was still in that form more or less. We worked from those, through a fairly traditional process–the development of the concept, the selection of the images, the sequence of those images, and working with the designer to implement the framework for the overall concept. Of course, Joel is so experienced and so aware of how a sequence can carry the viewer through a body of work–it was a genuine pleasure and an education for me to go through that process from start to finish with him. Increasingly, however, people come to the table with a fully conceptualized maquette and feel they just need help to produce what they’ve already put together. I’m happy working in either mode, so long as there is a strong guiding concept that I agree with and feel is right for the work–and so long as the expectations have been made clear on both sides before the process begins. Regardless of what the starting point is, however, I think it’s important to recognize publishing as a collaborative process between the photographer, designer, editor and ultimately, the printing press. Personally, I like the dialogue that takes place around book making. I like to speak to people who know what they want, who are informed by the history of the photobook, and I think that this is possible more so than ever before.

JC: There are more publishers now, which makes your position as a publisher a little bit harder. But there are also many more people interested in photobooks, which makes it easier…

LM: I haven’t figured it out–maybe you can help me create a mathematical equation to help explain the proper algorithm of photobook aficionado to sales. Our print runs remain fairly small for most books. Traditionally, the average print run has been 3,000 copies, but there is increasingly a place for smaller print runs of 2,000 or 1,000 copies, or even fewer. So the mystery to me is that the photobook audience has become more educated, more interested, more connected to the idea of the photobook–yet for the most part, sales are not shooting through the roof to a corresponding degree.

JC: I guess the numbers are offsetting each other.

LM: Yeah, probably, because you have many more choices. So if you have a budget of $50 or $60 a month to spend on photobooks you don’t have to go to just Aperture. You can go to J&L, or you can go to Charles Lane Press. You can go to Fw: and order something from the Netherlands–you can go to your site, The Independent Photobook and order something there from Japan. I think that that is very positive in some regard, because it’s creating this amazing cross-pollination of ideas, about what the photobook is, what it can be, how photographers work with it. As somebody who makes books and loves and appreciates what it takes for a book to come to life, I’m really inspired by all this creativity.

On the other hand, this is the question we’re wrestling with right now: How does Aperture–in its role as a foundation concerned with excellence across the field of photography, as well as one publisher among many–engage with this expanding world of indie publishing? How do we support this unique mode of cultural production– bookmaking? How can we facilitate a better understanding of the form? The word connoisseurship has both negative and positive connotations, but I think it’s appropriate at this time in the medium to say that there is a developing connoisseurship: How do we facilitate that? How do we help build that? How do we provide a better platform for smaller publishers who are out there? How do we shape the conversation about the history (and future!) of photography in print?

Well, for one, we publish books like The Japanese Photobook of the 1960s and 70s; the U.S. edition of Chris Boot’s Things as they Are, which is about magazine publishing; and forthcoming this fall, The Latin American Photobook by Horacio Fernandez. We’ve held panels at the New York Photo Festival, at the New School, and at LACMA, about independent publishing; we’ve hosted launches and book signings for other publishers. Also, we have the curated collection, which is a small area on our website and in the bookstore that features independently published books–like Joachim Schmid’s book series or the Chinese artist Jiang Jian’s very cool boxed set, Archive. (We have a hiatus on new titles at the moment, but this will pick up again in the Fall). It’s a little bit of a micro-distribution channel. ‘But these are baby steps; we’ve been moving slowly but surely in this direction–“curating” the photobook world, in essence. Mind you, this conversation is still very fresh and in development, but it’s an area that both Chris and I are very much interested in exploring.

JC: That might be something we’ll be seeing at some stage?!

LM: Yeah. There are a couple of things up our sleeves that I can’t get into detail about just yet, but I will say that among other ideas, I’m very interested in how one properly exhibits and displays a book. The exhibition of books has always been a funny thing–it’s a little counter to the idea of a personal encounter with a book, but there can be interesting ways to do it. I just met with somebody before you got here who showed me a really cool book dummy that would be great to exhibit somehow. These objects are really inspirational and they are useful for people to see. They’re useful for students, useful for bookmakers. But in general, I’m really interested in Aperture becoming more of a space–and a vehicle–for fostering a stronger, more engaged connection between our audience and photobooks and the ideas presented in them.

JC: Thinking a little bit about the future, what about ebooks? Are you thinking about that? What is a photobook as an ebook? An electronic photobook, what could that even be?

LM: We are just starting to play with those ideas. The first step is very obvious–it’s about words. Like, for example–Words Without Pictures, which is available now as our first e-Pub on iTunes. Essays about photography can be very easily disseminated as both “p-book “(a physical book) and in the e-pub form. We’ve already started to toy with how we can best keep collections of writing about photography in print. It’s actually very hard to do in a cost effective way. It’s a pretty niche market. A number of people who had traditionally published this sort of writing have stopped. (University of New Mexico Press, for example, was a publisher who used to publish a lot of writing on photography.)

But how we deal with images that traditionally accompany those essays or images and visual media in general is something we haven’t worked out, yet, although we are starting to experiment with and to think about. Melissa Harris, who is editor-in-chief of the magazine, is really researching that area right now. How do you make something that’s a little bit more of a multimedia experience of a photographer’s work? That’s clearly going to come together in some interesting way sometime soon. So we’re starting to play, but it’s slow going right now.

JC: You could easily imagine that some books will become available as applications on the iPad or some tablet computer.

LM: Sure–even now there are some very badly presented apps for “photobooks”, but they are more or less PDFs available for download. You can’t deny, though, that there can be something very pleasurable about the backlit screen, right? You use that as your medium for the blog, of course. And I see more and more portfolios on the iPad. If that’s the way people are thinking about the presentation of the work then at some point that’s bound to gel into something interesting.

Frankly at this point, it’s also true that one of the most interesting areas of photography is how images are being used as a sort of social glue–this is not something that is easily encapsulated in the traditional book format! So I’m looking, I’m watching. On my Twitter feed, my tag line is “Print passionate and digi-curious.” I really am curious where the digital is going. Ultimately, at the end of the day, I’m a print person. Where those two things are going to coincide is an interesting future.

And by the way – not all of the solutions are about ePubs. Digital technology is impacting publishing in all sorts of ways. Right now we have set up a few of our essay titles so that they can very easily go to short-run digital printing instead of traditional offset–so instead of having to go back to press every single time with 3,000 or 2,000 copies (which is where the economy of scale has traditionally started to make sense) we can micromanage the inventory. We can print 200 copies or 50 copies, and it’s actually doable without making the unit cost insane. That’s step one. Plus, we have done a few experiments with print-on-demand, we’ve done a limited-edition artist book with Gary Schneider, we’re doing a limited-edition artist book with Zoe Crusher. As long as we’re keeping quality and excellence as our leading criteria in working with photographers, in working with bodies of work, I don’t think we have to be too traditionally minded.

JC: In an earlier conversation about photobooks, Alice Rose George mentioned that a lot of photobooks might eventually end up on the iPad, as maybe a $10 edition. But there would be a book edition, but you would have to pay extra, for the actual, physical object.

LM: Yeah. That’s clearly already one model that traditional publishing is exploring. You can buy both the epub and the physical book. But I really believe that you have to find the right form for the photobook and its print incarnation–and the electronic version. You can’t just be throwing everything online in some crazy digital form just because you can.

I’m also interested in whether there is an interest in creating a digital reference library of the great classics of photographic literature? Is it valuable or is it just further divorcing us from this idea of the nature of print as the primary vehicle for photography?

The Photographic Universe conference that was just held over the last couple of days had a lot of interesting and surprising comments by people, coming down either for or against printed material. Richard Benson, for example saying “Forget about it. Everything that is happening now in the digital realm is better.” Literally, he said “It’s all better.” I was really shocked to hear that. He had been part of the renaissance of print, after photogravure became extinct. Richard Benson–who was Paul Strand’s printer, by the way–was one of the first to really push toward the highest quality duotone and then later, four-colour separation processes, using technology to make that process better and better. He was someone who contributed to the possibilities of a beautiful duotone on the offset-printed page, but now he’s saying to forget about all that. Maybe indigo printing, used for on demand, will do it. It isn’t there yet, but you can achieve really high quality results and its only getting better all the time! So this shift is going to happen, whether we like it or not.

JC: Let’s maybe go back to the actual printed book. When you think back, you’ve produced a lot of books. It must be hundreds.

LM: I’ve not personally edited more than a hundred … I know I’ve personally edited or shepherded at least seventy-five books over the past fifteen-years. It’s been a long time since I counted.

JC: I have this following silly question. Which of those books surprised you in terms of maybe how well they did, or how they were received? I think you probably have an idea when you make a book what you try to achieve. There must have been some surprises.

LM: There is Richard Misrach On the Beach. Our marketing staff and distributors were nervous about the size–it doesn’t easily fit on the shelves of Barnes&Noble. I knew it was going to be great as an object and was the right form for that work, but would it sell? Maybe we would produce this huge thing, and no one will buy it? It would be a huge folly. We actually dropped our print run by almost 1,000 copies. We were worried that we were going to be sitting on this book. And it sold out in four months. That’s one example.

But there are other ways of evaluating success, too, outside of the marketplace. Christian Marclay’s Shuffle, for example. Christian Marclay is much more of a visual artist in the larger art world–he’s best known for his video and sculptures but he is really attached to photography, too. I’m really interested in the way he uses photography as a visual sketchbook of sorts. We did this deck of cards with him where we took a collection of images he had shot with his cell phone and digital camera. It’s not “great photography” in the traditional sense of it, but super interesting in as much as it serves an artist’s concept really, really well. He wanted to create documentation of where sound was made visual in the landscape, meaning signage with graphic, musical notes or t-shirts or tattoos. The end result was supposed to be a deck of cards that he could give to experimental musicians, and they would improvise and play to that deck of cards. It was really fun and a great project; it wasn’t printed in huge quantities- about 2,000 copies. But it was acquired by MoMA as part of their collection (not just their bookstore!), as an important part of an artist’s practice. And it was in the exhibition at the Whitney. So that’s another type of success I am proud of. But has it sold tremendously well? No.

Actually, what I’m always surprised by more are the books that don’t sell.

JC: I guess I shouldn’t ask about those books because it wouldn’t be fair to say “Well, this book didn’t sell…”

LM: I’ll use a safe example, not a living artist. How’s that?


LM: We did a catalogue raisonne of Claude Cahun’s work. Everything that she ever produced (Don’t Kiss Me). It’s historic work, with a little bit of a cult following, and our distributors were very enthusiastic about it We were very enthusiastic about it, too. We printed more than we should have, and it just hasn’t sold. It hasn’t sold half of what we printed. Historic work, everything you’d ever want to know about the artist, the decisive work about her and her work, but somehow it just didn’t go. There’s no crystal ball.

JC: There’s no crystal ball. That must make it hard to publish books, because there’s always that tremendous risk hanging over you?

LM: Yeah. We’re professional gamblers. You can mitigate the risk in smart ways, though. More and more we have to figure out how to do that, because it’s just not sustainable if you’re always risking the house on every single book.

JC: So maybe as a large part of this: What are your favourite photobooks, and why do you love them? What makes a good photobook for you?

LM: There are a lot of different ways to address that question. I’ll start by talking about some of my favourites, because it’s a good way of illustrating what I think makes a good photobook–the most dramatic manifestations of “a good photobook.”

Juan Fontcuberta’s Sputnik is one of my favourites, for example. It looks like a Russian textbook about astronauts. It’s the story of a cosmonaut, one of the first men to be shot into space. But somehow, he just disappeared, and the Russian space agency was so embarrassed to have “lost” him that they wrote him out of history, going back to any picture of him, even as a child, or later in life, standing with the great leaders. This is all a fiction, mind you, elaborately produced by Joan Fontcuberta. In all the pictures of this astronaut, Joan is the protagonist. It’s a combination of archival footage, archival space shots, archival Russian history, shots that he has put himself in and then removed, since he’s been erased, so you see the before and after. The whole object is really cool, it has glow-in-the-dark endpapers!! The design decisions, the decisions about how the text would function–you would never know that it is total fiction. It’s a perfect melding-together of a concept, of the design decisions, of the form of the book, of the intention of the book. That to me is a really beautiful thing.

That can be done in very simple ways. Chien-Chi Chang’s The Chain is another book that I love. It’s very simple, beautifully produced (I think it’s 600 line screen printing). It’s an accordion fold. It’s a documentation of a particular practice in a Chinese mental health clinic, in which these men are literally hand-cuffed together, tied together, as a way of providing care for one another. Just the fact that you can unfold it: they’re all linked together. It’s very basic, but it’s nice when the little details underline the intentions of the photographer. Simple but elegant.

Of course, there are the great Japanese photobooks. I love Eikoh Hosoe’s Kamataichi, because it takes such a unique form. We re-issued it twice, first as a facsimile, and just recently as a trade edition. The facsimile is really astounding. You pick it up, open it, and it appears that every page is blue. But really, its that every single page is a gatefold that has to be opened to be experienced. You really have to engage. It’s a performance. It is a documentation of a performance. I like those very athletic photobooks.

I think the key is – no matter how extravagant or restrained in its design or production, so long as the photography is excellent in its own way and the concept and the form are well-considered and thoughtfully executed, I’m likely to be interested to some degree.

William Eggleston: Before Colour

1000 Words is offering its readers discounted copies of William Eggleston´s Before Colour, courtesy of Steidl. To order your copy please contact tim(at)1000wordsmag(dot)com.

Please see below for more details:

William Eggleston
Before Colour


All images © Eggleston Artistic Trust

A few years ago in the archives of the William Eggleston Artistic Trust in Memphis, a box was found containing Eggleston’s earliest photography – remarkably in black and white. The photos were subsequently exhibited at Cheim & Read gallery in New York and sold. This book reunites these photos in their entirety, and shows the artistic beginnings of a pioneer of contemporary photography.

In the late 1950s Eggleston began photographing suburban Memphis using high-speed 35 mm black and white film, developing the style and motifs that would come to shape his pivotal colour work including diners, supermarkets, domestic interiors and people engaged in seemingly trivial and banal situations. Now, fifty years later, all the plates in Before Colour have been scanned from vintage prints developed by Eggleston in his own darkroom. In the mid 1960s Eggleston discovered colour film and was quickly satisfied with the results: “And by God, it worked. Just overnight.” Eggleston then abandoned black and white photography, but its fundamental influence on his practice is undeniable.

Edited by Chris Burnside, John Cheim, Howard Read, Thomas Weski together with the Eggleston Artistic Trust
With an Essay by Dave Hickey
152 Quadratone plates
200 pages
22.5 cm x 25.5 cm
Hardcover, with yellow imitation leather, with a tipped in photo
ISBN: 978-3-86930-122-8

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