Unbinding the Book

A few short months ago I was involved in the creation of a truly inspiring project. The idea, redefine the book and redefine who can author can be. A partnership with Uk creative studio Jotta, an open call for submissions, A LOT of work done by a team of people, both in the United States and the UK, and the plan began to take form. The process continues as I write this.

The final showdown will come in the form of an exhibition at White Chapel in London. I will not be there, but others from Blurb will, and the Jotta team will be in attendance as well. What is the point of all this? Simple. Improvise, adapt, overcome, inspire and share. Yes, I’m stealing the first part of that from the Marine Corps, but it rings true here as well.
James Cuddy and Roma Levin, UK designers and artists.
When this entire program started we held events in London, New York and San Francisco, and basically invited a range of brilliant artists/speakers to show us what they do and why they do it. Audiences were stunned that Blurb would do something like this. To pay for a series of events that were to inspire people to stop thinking like the clock reads 1975 and begin to see the idea of a book in new ways.

This is one of the reasons why I love working for this company. We do stuff like this. “Don’t think…FEEEEEEL,” is what Bruce Lee said. I totally agree. One of the biggest mistakes I see photographers making is creating books they think they are supposed to make and not those they might WANT to make. Something different. Something strange. Something that causes a viewer to pause and consider. This is a GOOD thing especially in an age when “bite size” is the description is the term used to describe our attention span.

As you will see, the folks who are contributing here are artists. This was not a photography book program, this was about redefining something that has an integral and storied place in the history of our species. The contributors work with language, imagery, motion, sound and light. In short, they have come up with some incredible pieces.

I’ve included links to several of the stories written about this project, in a variety of languages, so pick your poison. I’ve also included several portraits I made of the speakers who presented at the launch events. Stay tuned for this material to be released on the Unbinding the Book site.





Blurb – Unbinding the Book from jotta on Vimeo.

DIY: By the Numbers, Cleveland Museum of Art Show Update

For those of you making books, how cool is this? Just got this from Sheri at the museum in regard to the current DIY show revolving around photography books. How about this space and exhibition?

Just wanted to say nice job to the museum staff and congrats to the photographers and books chosen for the show. Pretty cool to think you can craft an “innocent” book on your own and end up in a place and space like this. I also think this looks like a very welcoming show. Come in, sit down, get your hands on the art. I am a huge fan of this modern approach to accessible artwork.

Philipp Scholz Rittermann: Emperor’s River

As many of you know, I go to a lot of exhibitions, but rarely do I get to go to one that is literally one mile away from my house. Two days ago I was fortunate enough to receive a call from long-time friend Philipp Scholz Rittermann inviting me to a tour of his exhibition at the Doyle Arts Pavilion at Orange Coast College. I have known Philipp since my Kodak days, but we typically go for long stretches with zero contact and then suddenly run into each other all the time.

Here is a little official news about Philipp and the show.

“Emperor’s River” represents a multi-year project Sholz Ritterman conducted in China. Large scale photographs from the exhibit were recently on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego.

The photographer’s work is included in more than 100 public, private and corporate collections, from MoMA, New York to the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, France. Scholz Rittermann exhibits in national, and international venues, and he was honored with a mid-career survey at the Museum of Photographic Arts San Diego, which published the monograph “Navigating by Light”.

Scholz Rittermann has been teaching photography for more than 30 years in the United States and abroad. He is represented by Scott Nichols Gallery, San Francisco.

Allow me to translate. Philipp has his act together. He is a serious guy. I don’t mean his personality is serious because he is always smiling and laughing, but his career, his work, his planning and his ideas are very well structured, thought out and complete. I’d heard about this project long ago, and I’ve seen countless stories regarding China, but knowing Philipp as long as I have I knew his project would be different, and it is. My personal experience with China is limited. I’ve made two trips to Hong Kong and one short trip into Southern China, but my overall impression can be summed up in one word: overwhelming. So what I love about Philipp’s work and this particular project is that he managed to reduce the incredible scale of China into something I can get my head around. He did this by using the anchor of the Grand Canal as as viscous artery that winds it’s way through the soul of China and the cerebral cortex of the viewer. We see layer after layer of apartment buildings. We see hyper-modern, futuristic convention centers and seafood markets that stretch endlessly into the inky Chinese night. A world with thousands of years of history is being brought up to modern speed in a remarkably short period of time. We wonder when the dust will settle and the answer we see in Philipp’s photographs is perhaps “never.”

But there is more to this story. Philipp’s technique is to a photograph a scene with a multitude of exposures and compositions then stitch them seamlessly together. The result is an image incredibly rich in information, detail and exposure. And, to top it off, many of the images were done handheld! Images required days, sometimes weeks, to composite. Philipp’s prints are large but not crazily so, and after a brief overview I found myself being pulled in, FAR in to each and every print. I found myself studying and being completely content with tiny portions of each print. Ultimately, what I enjoy the most about Philipp’s show is that the images remind me how much of an enigma China really is. I’m left with so many questions. I find myself wondering how this China story will end. Good photography doesn’t always answer every question. Good photograph also creates mystery, and that is how I feel about Philipp’s work.

Soul Rebel: David Burnett

Went to the David Burnett opening last night at Mr. Musichead Gallery in Los Angeles. Drove up with long time photographer friend and Wisconsin cheese-eating native Paul Gero who happens to be a friend of Burnett. I’d never been to this particular gallery before, and I’m glad I made the trip. In addition to Burnett’s work, which was centered on a project about Jamaican superstar Bob Marley, the gallery had a range of other imagery and artwork. There was a Hunter Thompson piece by Al Satterwhite that I was lusting after.

But I digress. For anyone who out there who loves documentary photography, editorial photography, political photography or photojournalism, David Burnett is a name you MUST know. A friend recently described him as “The Michael Jordan of photojournalism,” which I think is a accurate description. Burnett is a good photographer and has been good for a long, long while. Constantly reinventing himself, his genre, he continues to produce work that actually influences not only those around him but the actual industry in which he works. Not many folks I can say this about. Plus, he is just a cool guy. Always a smile, always a joke.

The project being exhibited, “Soul Rebel” depicts an intimate look at reggae superstar Marley. This project reflects what time, access and someone with a point of view can accomplish when given the chance. Living as close to Hollywood as I do, and knowing a fair number of photographers who cover the entertainment world, I wish I could take this book around to all of them, and their agents, and agencies and magazine editors and art directors and say “Look at this.” “This is what is possible with time and access.” The book, which I bought for my brother and nephew(a secret but neither read my blog), depicts a relaxed and mercurial Marley, at home and seemingly at peace. The work feels personal, very personal, and reminds me of other bodies of rock and roll work by the likes of Claxton and “back in the day” photographers that had relationships with these music stars, as opposed to the modern method of the five-minute portrait. When I see Burnett’s images I feel like I begin to know what the real Bob Marley was like. Quiet, reflective, lover of weed and soccer. I see Marley with his guard down, relaxing with friends in Kingston, on the road with the band and performing, dreadlocks backlit and glowing, face twisted in lyric.

When I see these images it feels to me like I’m being given a look at a secret world, but I’m being given this look by someone considered a friend to those in the images. I can’t tell you how important this is, and how critical this is to getting images that are a true reflection of someone, something or somewhere. I could tell you more about Burnett, the “Photographer of the Year” award, the “Robert Capa” award, the co-founder of Contact Press and the years he covered Vietnam, but I’m going to stop there. I want you to work at this and go discover him on your own. Trust me, it’s worth it.

The Mexican Suitcase

If you were not able to see this show at ICP in New York, or buy the book, then this is a must. Just think Robert Capa, the Spanish Civil War, a lost suitcase, a discovery of said suitcase all these years later…..and then you begin to understand this story. There were other players involved here as well, legendary figures, but Capa, for those of you who don’t know, is as influential as any photographer in the history of photography. This goes beyond his images. I know this might sound odd, but I think Capa influenced photographers, and still does, in ways that go way beyond the actual photographs. Capa was an ideal. His attitude, approach, physicality, and flair are emulated by generations of photographers, whether they want to admit it or not. When it comes to romanticizing the photojournalist…all roads lead to Capa.