The International Center of Photography’s Triennial, A Different Kind of Order, includes a spectacular installation of photographic artists’ publications, curated by my friend and colleague, Matthew Carson. His desk at the ICP Library, where he works as a librarian and archivist extraordinaire, is several feet from my own, so, I thought I might ask him about the show…
LS: What was motivation behind including a photobook installation in this years ICP Triennial?
MC: Artists’ photobooks are extremely relevant right now, for the last five or so years they have enjoyed an increasing popularity. The making of books is very much part of a photo based artists process and practice. The ICP triennial A Different Kind of Order is a show that is truly about the now of contemporary art and artists’ photobooks are very much part of the now. They had to be included.
LS What lead to the decision to house the exhibition in a specially built 3-story metal structure?
MC: With any group exhibition in a relatively small space (the ICP gallery is not the largest) there is always a lot of competition for art real estate. The curators and the architects worked together to maximize the spaces available. The three tiered scaffold for the photographic artists’ books is built in a new space that wasn’t there before for other ICP shows. Essentially it was a smart use of space. The books are showcased at the center of the gallery on a very sublime scaffold. It’s fun and it works. I like to think of it as being a book shanty town. It will be a shame to see it go.
LS: How were the self-published and independently published photobooks included in the installation selected?
MC: They cover the time period of roughly the last 3 years – although a few are from 2009. The photobooks are a core sample of what is happening in the photobook self-publishing and independently publishing world as of now. We selected photobooks that reflected the types of materials that are being made by bookmakers from newsprint to print-on-demand to the more hand-crafted. The selection is a core sample of the extraordinary photobooks to show to the museum going audience. The uninitiated museum going audience is a little different to the knowledgeable crowd that attends the book fairs and zine festivals. We wanted to reach out to this new audience while maintaining as much of the feel of the former. Hence the photobooks on the scaffold can be handled, touched and sniffed. Accessibility is vital for making sense of these photobooks. A vitrine showing a particular page spread is essentially meaningless for these photobooks. In terms of content we were looking to include books that were highly experimental and the book installation is very much about a Library as photobook laboratory.
LS: For the purpose of the exhibition, how did you define “photobook”?
MC: Photographic Artists’ Books is the term we used for the installation. The term I prefer is photographic artists’ publications. I feel that photographic artists’ publications is a broader definition and a more accurate description. Artists’ publications includes the hand-made and hand-sewn and craftily made, but also the POD (print-on-demand), the small press, the zine and the newsprint, etc. That said we went broad and we didn’t get hung up on the definition of the materials we were talking about. When you see them it is easy to know them as being something more distinct to that of the more mainstream photobook.