Sunday, October 7, 2007

Four Self Published Books

It should be obvious by now that I think that books are the best way to experience photography. No other medium is treated better and with more respect than photographs in the book form. Paintings are best experienced on walls but are often reproduced too small in books. Sculpture is best in person as reproductions sacrifice the whole concept of a three dimensional work. Film…what?…a giant flipbook?

First off, a book is so intimate. You cradle it in your hands and turn the pages, experiencing the work at your personal pace. You can touch the art so to speak. Because of this tangible aspect, you have a different relationship to the photos. In a gallery, no matter how comfortable you may be in those environments, there is a subtle but very real influence to move through an exhibit faster than you may naturally want to. Either because of what I consider a somewhat stifling environment or due to the presence of other people, we do not linger as much while on our feet than we do in the comfort of our homes in a chair with a book. Our peripheral vision also plays a strong part in influencing our speed through galleries or museums. Seeing the next image on the wall out of the corner of your eye can distract you to “moving on” more rapidly. In a book, the page acts as a barrier, you do not know what is coming until you turn the page. Books also seem to be more effective at adding punctuation into the mix through their design and layout.

So how do artists get their books published? Some are able to find publishers. For Alec Soth, the strength of his work in a handmade volume of Sleeping by the Mississippi found a great reception at the Santa Fe Review and within a year he had his first book with Steidl. Someone like Jessica Backhaus actually spent several days at the Frankfurt book fair showing her portfolio around to every publisher who was interested in photography and found a comfortable home with the publisher Kehrer. Some spend years trying to find the outlet into publishing and never find it, and in some very rare cases, the publishers come searching out the artist.

Lastly, you have people like Lee Friedlander who make the decision to go DIY and start their own publishing company. This last example is a fine way to retain complete control but it is also the way that risks personal financial loss if the book does not find its audience. Boxes of books stored under your bed, in closets, garages, and in parents basements I can imagine have a funny way of constantly reminding you of that loss. The aspect that keeps most artists from pursuing self-publishing is, how do you distribute the book to your audience, or more importantly, how do you let them know it exists at all?

This posting is about people who have taken the reigns and made the decision to do the work themselves. These are four titles that you probably will not know about or have even heard of. And although all of which are fine examples of photographers who have taken the initiative to risk expense and the possibility that they will not find their audience, they also made the decision to limit the amount of books they have printed so they comfortably avoid the issue of storage.

The first is a book that was created using one of the few available online publishing companies like Shared Ink and I discovered it in Brooklyn’s independent bookseller Spoonbill and Sugartown on Bedford Avenue. Patrick O’Hare’s Slipstream is a fine book of twenty landscape photographs made between 2003 and 2006.

Patrick is a quiet photographer who chooses to point his camera at landscapes found up and down the East coast from his New York base. He is a photographer who finds a certain amount of ironic beauty in the landscape but his images, unlike much of what is done in similar territory, is not burdened by only being ironic. Most photographers tend to approach this territory with a cold detachment and what is refreshing about O’Hare is his ability to look and infuse his images with warmth, tenderness, sadness and the joy of simply looking. He is pointing to show what we have made, how we have treated it and how it will be constantly changing. There is a fine amount of melancholy to these pictures. It isn’t depressing but like the title may imply, we are going to be carried along and what we are shown along the way may not always be pleasant but O’Hare tinges it with beauty.

Truthfully, when I saw the book on the shelf, I judged it by the cover thinking Oh…I know what this is going to be but I was so pleasantly surprised by his craft and approach that I was compelled to not only buy the book but to contact him to find out more about who he is. Like his photographs, Patrick is quiet and unassuming. He photographs and seems more interested in where the photographs take him than the attention that may result from creating this book. He is at work creating another book using this same print on demand technology from a new body of work that is about things disappearing or becoming invisible called Learning to Vanish.

Slipstream was made in an edition of 100 signed and numbered copies. A special edition that comes with a signed and numbered 8 by 10 inch C-print on Crystal Archive Paper is also available.

For inquiries and copies of Slipstream, contact him through his website

The next book is by a photographer most of you will already know. Ed Grazda has previously published three books of his work through the publishing houses Powerhouse and Der Alltag which was Walter Keller’s house before SCALO (r.i.p.). This new special edition artist’s book by Ed will come as a surprise for those that know his work. For twenty years he had been photographing in Afghanistan since 1980 and the two books published on the subject are more personal road diary than what we may currently expect from photojournalism in that part of the world. This book is his first that departs from politics, conflict or religion but it is still a road trip of sorts.

Called American Color Slides, he utilizes the print-on-demand technology of the Apple i-book to present 15 photographs that were originally made in the American Southwest from the late 1960’s to the late 1970’s. Playing on the title of Walker Evans American Photographs, American Color Slides is a road trip through the desolate southwest where the roadside architecture either fights for your attention or ignores you with its plain functionality.

Opening with a shot of the long road ahead (complete with a cross in the pavement cracks that lets you know God is with you) he takes us into the dust and white hot sun of Nevada, Arizona, Texas and New Mexico. Due to the consistency of the light and the blueness of the sky, it could seem at first that all of the photos were made on the same day, giving the impression of a series of stills grabbed from the car’s open window. The viewer is placed in the passenger side seat and our minds are kept off the heat by watching the passing landscape.

This is a book that is partly about the less than subtle infringement of color within that landscape. Red is the attention grabbing hue in most of these photographs. In one image, a woman in red walks from a gasoline station and would stand out in complete contrast if not for the Coors and Gulf signs that share the exact same redness and fight for our attention. The signage on storefronts and roadside advertisements is also bright red as is the Chevy parked under a sliver of deep shadow.

For a man who has worked in black and white for the past thirty years, Grazda is quite good exploring in his early years with color film. His choice of material for these images was rolls of Kodachrome and Agfachrome which is specified in each caption as to which was used. This a book that laments both a past era within a landscape which is slow to change while using a technology that this book could serve as an equal memorial.

American Color Slides is published in an edition of 50 signed and numbered copies and like the original edition of Evans’s American Photographs, it wouldn’t have been complete without an errata slip gracing the title page. There is also a very limited edition of ten copies that will come with an 8 by 10 inch print. This the first in a series of books that Ed is creating of images culled from his vast slide archive.

For information on acquiring copies of American Color Slides call Eye Studio at (212) 242-1593.
(Afghanistan Diary 1992-2000)
(New York Masjid)

Enough of this print-on-demand technology, the next two photographers decided to actually take the plunge and have their books printed traditionally with ink on a press. Both of which oddly enough arrived from Australia.

The first is a small book of black and white photographs from Sean Davey called Pidgin. Pidgin is a different kind of road trip. It is a road trip mostly taken at night by a group of friends as they navigate, or more likely stagger through a landscape of drinking, driving and the pursuit of the next good time. The promise of that next good time is often obliterated by a haze of blur that leaves one with a slightly nauseated “contact” hangover. The power of these 48 images is that left over feeling of slight sickness attributed to trying to drink away that feeling of what it is to be on the cusp of adult life and being unsure of what the future holds.

The title Pidgin means a language that is simplified and adapted so that small groups can communicate. Being that this wordless book is from Australia, that title probably has more of a cultural subtext than viewers in other countries may be privy to. To me, it refers to the language of friends and how they come to understand one another. It is a personal communication that creates distinctions between insiders and outsiders. This book allows us to tag along, but what is transpiring between the participants is real and we can only observe and grasp what we can translate.

Sean Davey funded a very small run of this book of which he had only 50 signed copies printed. The book is very cleanly designed with one photo to each right-hand page. There is no text at all. This is a book that challenges the viewer to make up their own mind about what is being presented.

Sean can be contacted at but there may not be any copies of this book still available.

The last book, Wounded, is from the photographer Jesse Marlow and it is probably the riskiest, most expensive to produce of all four of these featured books. Jesse is a photographer who is carrying forth the fine tradition of so-called street photography. His book Wounded may be the only book of these four that has been seen in public light as it had enjoyed a bit of distribution here in the States.

Wounded is an often hilarious collection of black and white images of the walking wounded. Jesse has apparently been drawn to looking out for the bandaged, the limping, and the bleeding for sometime as the page previous to the first image attests: 39 people were injured in the making of this book.

Now I usually don’t like books that seem to be so cleanly wrapped up (excuse the pun) in an idea or illustration of that idea but this book is too charming to dismiss on those simplistic grounds. First, Jesse is great at juggling information on the fly. For anyone who has spent a lot of time trying to be in the right place at the right time and be facing in the right direction (and then find the exact place to stand and vantage point) will know that these accomplishments are no small feat. And although mainly a humorist, Jesse’s running commentary on the variety of infirmities also allows our frailty to be under examination once the laughs subside. Many of the bandages become glowing beacons of our resilience and the fact that all of these images were made in public attests to that fact. Though hobbled, people continue to go about their business although a bit more slowly and carefully.

The added charm of Wounded is in its packaging. The book comes housed in a slipcase that mimics the texture of a plaster cast. I have the regular edition of the book but have heard that there is a limited edition that actually has to be cracked out of its cast enclosure. The book was published by Sling Shot Press in 2005 and is in an edition of 1000 copies.

Copies are available through More information and work from Jesse can be found at