The PhotoBook Journal

December 7, 2017

The PhotoBook Journal interview – John Gossage

Filed under: Photo Book Discussions — Tags: , — Doug Stockdale @ 11:35 am

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John Gossage, San Diego, 2017 copyright Douglas Stockdale

I have been following John Gossage’s photographic book publication career for some time and when I noted that he would be at the Medium Festival in San Diego, it seemed like a really great time to discuss his book making and publishing background. We have traded messages off and on for years, but this was the first opportunity we had to actually meet-up. We found a corner of the café of the Lafayette Hotel to talk about his experience and background which resulted in a really free-wheeling discussion, as one memory triggered another (and not all of which is included, especially as we talked a little gossip and Gossage shared some very personal experiences). He has been the photographer or co-author of 36 photobooks, with the next to be released shortly by Steidl; Looking up Ben James – A Fable (Martin Parr is his subject).

DS (Douglas Stockdale): Tell us about growing up and what brought you to photography?

JG (John Gossage): After leaving school at 16 (maybe I was asked to leave?), I was lucky to be living in NYC and able to meet other professional photographers. I found that I was more visually oriented and photography just connected with me. These were the days before someone would be called a Fine Art Photographer, at this time photographers had their commercial work and maybe a personal project on the side.

I was fortunate to be adopted by Lisette Model for her private photography workshop classes. She had a minimum age for her students and when she looked at me, she said; just how old are you? When I told her, she gave that wonderful smile of hers with a twinkle in her eye, she said with her thick accent; that will do.

Another NYC opportunity I had was hanging out at the Magnum photography offices. I became the unofficial mascot of Magnum picking up a lot of “grunt” projects that the other photographers really did not want to photograph. I was very happy to have the Magnum photographers receive a dull project that nobody really wanted to photograph and they decide to “give it to the kid”. That paid for a lot of camera equipment and then some. I was doing really well for just being a kid of 17.

During this time I had W. Eugene Smith teach me how to print. I would pay Smith 10 bucks for an hour printing lesson and that usually turned into four hours of printing.

DS: What brought you in to book making? In particular, what led you to your second book, The Pond?

JG: When starting in photography in NYC, there were plenty of photobooks to look at. I have an affinity to photobooks. My first photobook was Eugene Atget, which was an assignment by Lisette Model that inspired me to purchase the book, but I did not really get it until much later and when I did, then it really connected. I also bought Robert Frank’s The Americans. In the early 1960’s I could still buy a 1930’s Atget book that is like new for ten bucks. I knew I wanted to do a book project and I wanted to develop a narrative landscape.

The turning point came when I realized that photographs in a sequence is a myth, a fiction. This allowed me to include photographs that I made in Berlin to complete the narrative about a “pond” that I had come across while in Maryland. I had self-published The Pond with two friends and for the first edition Aperture was the distributor. Later for the Aperture edition, I was able to add four photographs as we had run out of money for the first edition and we could not include these.

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DS: In addition to publishing with Steidl, you have your own imprint, Loosestrife Editions, how did that come about?

JG: In 1987 I published Stadt des Schwarz and Katie Schlumberger had supported this publication, she had mentioned that her favorite flower was the Loosestrife, thus we chose this as the name of the imprint (publisher). Later when I was in the process of self-publishing another new book, we decided that since I had already used that name for an imprint, why not stick with it?

DS: What do you think is the future for photobooks?

JG: Currently there are too many mediocre photobooks out there. You can look at them once and you’re done; nothing draws you back. I am looking for photographers who put themselves into a book and I can learn from. Right now I am constantly inspired by the photobooks of Roe Ethridge.

DS: What do you look for and consider when developing a new photobook?

JG: Gerry Badger has stated that the magic number for a great photo book is including 68 photographs. I am now working a photobook that will contain 68 photographs.

DS: Do you have advice for photographers thinking about creating a photobook?

JG: The photographs are the most important aspect of a book, thus make the work (photographs) that can stand as singular images. Don’t depend on transformational images to help make connections. Then create the context with the photographs. Don’t expect a great book design to save the photographs.

Likewise, making photobook should be treated as a hobby and understand that the book distribution (selling) is the devil.

DS: What are some of your proudest achievements?

JG: Never got caught! (big smile) If you are not from New York City, you might not know that this is used by the connected wise-guys (wink-wink)

DS: What is some unexpected that we don’t know about you?

JG: I was on the New York State Championship Bowling team while in High School.

DS Any last thoughts as we close?

JG: Yeah, let’s go for a walk. I have a new mirrorless Hasselblad (X1D with XCD 45mm f/3.5 lens) that I want to test. It does not have a normal lens yet, my favorite focal length, but I am interested in seeing how it does while walking the local neighborhood.

DS: John, Excellent and thanks again for this opportunity to discuss your interesting artistic and book making practice. Let’s go. (Stage right; out the front door of the Lafayette Hotel into San Diego’s North Park side streets)

Biography

Review of John Gossage’s photobook: Thirty-two Inch Ruler, Map of Babylon and One Day – Ten Photographers

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October 16, 2017

The PhotoBook Journal interview – Alejandro Cartagena

Filed under: Photo Book Discussions — Tags: , , , — Doug Stockdale @ 4:07 pm

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Alejandro Cartagena, Los Angeles, 2017 Douglas Stockdale

Alejandro Cartagena first jumped on my photobook radar when I obtained his Suburbia Mexicana, a monograph that was published jointly by Daylight Books and Photolucida in recognition of Cartagena’s Critical Mass submission award in 2009. Suburbia Mexicana is an interesting mashup of portraits, urban landscape and developing urban sprawl, a condition that does not appear to bode well for this region in Mexico. Following this photobook was his self-published Carpoolers in 2014, Before the War in 2015, Rivers of Power (Rios de Poder) in 2016 and now his 2017 publication A Guide to Infrastructure and Corruption in conjunction with The Velvet Cell (Eanna de Freine) imprint. Each of these photobooks were very creative and exhibited a lot of thoughtful consideration in the design, layout and production. We had just missed each other a couple of years ago while he was in LA for his exhibition at Kopeikin Gallery, but I was able to recently catch up with this busy photographer and self-publisher for his follow-on exhibition at Kopeikin Gallery in Los Angeles. What follows is a photobook discussion that was as fascinating as it was a bit overdue.

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DS Tell us about your growing up and what brought you to photography and in particular, book making?

AC I’ve lived in Mexico since 1990 but before that I lived in Dominican Republic in a small industrial town were everybody worked for the sugar factory. Here in Mexico I´ve lived in another industrial town called Monterrey, which is just two hours south of the US-Texas border. I started in photography after 10 years in the service industry. I just didn´t want to work in hotels and restaurants anymore and started taking random photography workshops and I found something there that really got to me and so I quit and 12 years later here I am. Books became something important right at the beginning. I felt lost at first and photobooks made me see a way you can make photographs into these cohesive projects. At first I wasn´t doing or focusing on doing books but then a workshop with Paul Graham made understand how the book could be the work, the piece you work for. So that shifted things in my projects and made me see how the images are more like words and phrases that complied add up to something unique. Not storytelling per se but photography telling; beauty, contradictions, wholes, incomplete narratives, suggestions and gut.

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DS Can you tell us about your bookmaking process? I know from our conversation today in talking about the next edition of Carpoolers, that this is evolving process.

AC Well yes it is always changing. It always start with the project, the idea. What is it that I want to suggest viewers read from these images and how can I combine design, pictures, typography, paper, sequence to approximate that notion and sometimes even imply a political stance on the subject matter. When I was in grad school, the process of doing a research thesis really made me think of process and how things accumulate to become something new. So I bring that to my bookmaking in that I am assuring the viewer that all parts of the book combine harmoniously to suggest and offer an understanding of the subject mater. Everything is backed up or is referenced and so the books feel complete and in dialogue with the history of photography, design ideas, the state of things in the world and with other photobooks and materials used in the past. I also try to bring in things that are alien to photography or the project itself, sometimes through design or through text. I feel that creates contrast and a self questioning of the object. It’s a bit of vulnerability that offers an edge the wholeness of the book.

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DS What do you look for and consider when developing a new photobook?

AC I think the most important thing is that it should feel like the project works in that form (book). If the making the project into a book has no other meaning than just to publish a group of images and I can´t justify to myself why this sequence, size, set of the images and object make a bigger point than the images by themselves then I don´t pursue the possibility of the book. Sometimes it is in the sequencing stage or in the physical dummies were I realize that it´s not working, so I stop.

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DS As a workshop leader for photobooks development, do you have advice for photographers thinking about creating a photobook?

AC Buy photobooks. Live with them and try to understand why that object exists. Try to crack down the decisions made to make it the way it is. Question everything you see. That process I think opens up possibilities and parallels to your work. Once you find those things you like and feel you understand, maybe it is time to think of your work as a book.

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DS What are some of your proudest achievements?

AC Just being able to do a book. To create a wave in the way we citizens see the world that can counterbalance the main narratives coming from those in power.

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DS What is some unexpected that we don’t know about you?

AC I´ve worked since I was 10. First selling oranges and grapefruit from my family’s orchard in DR. I then worked cleaning shit in pig dens when I was 12. I sold skateboards when I moved to Mexico. I sold clocks in a flea market for two years.  I´ve worked as a construction worker, a gardener, waiter, hotel manager, and a restaurant manager and in McDonalds.

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DS Any last thoughts as we close?

AC What a crazy year this has been.

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DS Alejandro, thank you for this opportunity to discuss your interesting artistic practice.

Bio: Alejandro Cartagena, Mexican (b. 1977, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic) lives and works in Monterrey, Mexico. His projects employ landscape and portraiture as a means to examine social, urban and environmental issues. Cartagena’s work has been exhibited internationally in more than 50 group and individual exhibitions in spaces including the the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in Paris and the CCCB in Barcelona, and his work is in the collections of several museums including the San Francisco MOMA, the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, the Portland Museum of Art, The West Collection, the Coppel collection, the FEMSA collection, Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the George Eastman House and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and among others.

Alejandro is a self-publisher and co-editor and has created several award winning titles including Santa Barbara Shame on US, Skinnerboox, 2017, A Guide to Infrastructure and Corruption, The velvet Cell, 2017, Rivers of Power, Newwer, 2016, Santa Barbara return Jobs to US, Skinnerboox, 2016, Headshots, Self-published, 2015, Before the War, Self-published, 2015, Carpoolers, Self-published with support of FONCA Grant, 2014, Suburbia Mexicana, Daylight/ Photolucida 2010. Some of his books are in the Yale University Library, the Tate Britain, and the 10×10 Photobooks book collections among others.

Cartagena has received several awards including the international Photolucida Critical Mass Book Award, the Street Photography Award in London Photo Festival, the Lente Latino Award in Chile, the Premio IILA-FotoGrafia Award in Rome and the Salon de la Fotografia of Fototeca de Nuevo Leon in Mexico among others. He has been named an International Discoveries of the FotoFest festival, a FOAM magazine TALENT and an Emerging photographer of PDN magazine. He has also been a finalist for the Aperture Portfolio Award and has been nominated for the Santa Fe Photography Prize, the Prix Pictet Prize, the Photoespaña Descubrimientos Award and the FOAM Paul Huff Award. His work has been published internationally in magazines and newspapers such as Newsweek, Nowness, Domus, the Financial Times, The New York Times, Le Monde, Stern, PDN, The New Yorker, and Wallpaper among others. He is represented by Patricia Conde gallery.

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