Blog: Inspiration Between the Lines

Q & A with 10x10 Photobooks

Grounded in community, collaboration, inclusion and diversity, 10x10 Photobooks’ mission is to create awareness and engage the global photobook community through the appreciation, dissemination and understanding of photobooks. The core team—Co-founders Olga Yatskevich and Russet Lederman, and Dolly Meieran, Director of Salons—works with a host of volunteers, researchers and collaborators to work their magic: publishing, photobooks salons, reading rooms and an active Instagram account. 

Since 10x10 Photobooks’ 2012 launch with a Reading Room dedicated to rare Japanese photobooks at the NY Art Book Fair, the response from the photobook community has been massive. To date, 10x10 Photobooks has: completed four international traveling photobook Reading Rooms featuring work by Japanese, American, contemporary Latin American, and women authors; hosted numerous intimate, informal photobook salons; published comprehensive ‘books-on-books’ anthologies; and is currently unleashing a series of live photobook salons on Instagram. Read on to find out more.

10x10 Photobooks publication How We See: Photobooks by Women

DUGGAL ART SCENE: It seems like as soon as social distancing and stay at home orders went in place in New York City, a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 10x10 #InstaSALONS were launched? Was that something you already had in mind, or simply an in-the-moment response to the crisis? What has surprised you about the online salon environment? Are there any similarities between your in-person salons and the virtual format?

DOLLY: One of the things I find most surprising is how forgiving people are in light of the low-tech nature of the INSTAsalons. Whether the audio cuts out, or the signal suddenly drops and the picture turns into a bunch of blurry pixels, people hang on and remain engaged with the presenters, asking questions and commenting. 

Another pleasant surprise is how well a tactile object can be shared and represented on a platform like Instagram Live. Our presenters have been very adept at describing while showing the specific materials, papers and techniques they’ve chosen to use in their books: soft velvet for a spine, metallic stamping on a cover, stitched binding, particular inks for rich blacks, or vellum pages with text overlaying photos as in a photo album. And, of course, the medium easily accommodates sharing the visual components of layout, typeface and sequence. By design, our INSTAsalons are informal—as are our in-person salons—to encourage viewers and attendees to engage with the presenters and one another. This, in turn, fosters a sense of community, which is integral to 10x10’s mission.

INSTAsalon with Foam Magazine

INSTAsalon with Roger Eberhard

DUGGAL ART SCENE: In your view, what are some unique elements that the experience of a photobook offers viewers as opposed to an exhibition? How do those qualities contribute to the larger context of photography as an ecosystem that includes books, exhibitions, social media, photojournalism, family photos, etc.?

RUSSET: Photobooks hold a distinctive place in the photography ecosystem. Unlike an exhibition, which is a passive viewing experience, a book is an object that requires an active engagement. It must be picked up and held as one turns the pages to interact with it. It is composed of many elements that include content, design, sequencing, among others. Within its basic format of a cover containing pages, there are a wide range of approaches. 10x10 Photobooks was set up to support the global photobook community, and in that regard, we embrace the full range of qualities found in photobook publishing. 

In our reading rooms, which are traveling hands-on exhibitions of a collection of 100 or more books selected by a group of photobook experts around a theme, the books cover all aspects of contemporary photobook publishing. We are quite aware that it can be a subjective selection, but one that also encompasses a wide range of approaches to photobook-making. Since we are always inviting others from the photobook world to act as “experts” in selecting books for our reading rooms, publications or Instagram takeovers, the perspectives presented are never just the principal team members of 10x10. We are strongly committed to providing a pluralistic and inclusive view of the photobook world. 

For our in-person salons and the INSTAsalons on Instagram, the entire 10x10 team selects the guests who are invited to share books. We try very hard to reach beyond local NYC photobook-makers, publishers, collectors and curators to include people from around the world. Our goal is to share as wide a range of practitioners as possible. Recently, our INSTAsalon guests have included Giulia Zorzi, a bookshop owner in Milan; Justyna Mielnikiewicz, a photojournalist in Tbilisi, Georgia; Elisa Medde, an editor in Amsterdam and Mariama Attah, a curator in Liverpool; and Charlie Engman and his mother Kathleen McCain Engman. Right now, our current Instagram takeover is Lukas Birk, who is sharing books published in the last two years in Myanmar with his @myanmarphotoarchive

As the INSTAsalons progress, we are learning how to use this platform to share with an even broader audience. Some of the INSTAsalons are single guests, and others are two people in conversation. Right now, the platform is imperfect, but I see this somewhat awkward period with Instagram as the golden age of live streaming. We will probably look back on it with the same nostalgia we have for 8-track or other early technologies —seeing the charm in its imperfections.

Reading Room at New York Public Library 

DUGGAL ART SCENE: What are some of the qualities that 10x10 Photobooks finds most intriguing in a photobook? Is there a process or a set of parameters you work with when selecting photobooks to feature?

RUSSET: Unlike exhibition catalogues, photobooks are not supplemental materials to prints. Many times, a photographer begins his or her creative process with a book in mind, as opposed to a gallery or museum exhibition. This is especially true in Japan, where galleries are a recent phenomenon and the book has been the primary means for a photographer to share his or her work. 

Photobooks have the distinct ability to tell a story or create a narrative that also involves a text/image relationship and sequencing. It is often a more intimate and private experience to view photography in book format with time to pause, reverse course or return to a particular section again. It is simultaneously a time-based experience and not. The design and structure of a book can also be particular to the type of photography within; photobooks with a fine art sensibility often use inventive design that may be more experimental, while books by a photojournalist may opt for a more traditional storytelling format. What is very valuable right now with an explosion of photobook publishing is all the dizzying array of approaches being used in photobook design, production and distribution. Currently, at large art and photobook fairs such as the New York Art Book Fair, visitors can find everything from classic coffee table books to indie zines. All approaches are viable, and it really depends on the content and the intent of the creator as to what format is appropriate for a book project.

DOLLY: [What Russet spells out] is really the driving force for selections for the salons and the INSTAsalons. And perhaps there’s a bit of the underdog to our choices as well. We do try to provide a level playing field that makes room for lesser-known projects and publishers, along with less traditional methods of storytelling. But that doesn’t negate the inclusion of catalogue-type photobooks, which are valuable for disseminating work or providing a fresh perspective—especially if for significant exhibitions that may have had limited access (whether geographic or financial). 

We hope to introduce people to something they may not have found or even sought out on their own, and by doing so expand the conversation not only about the book object itself, but also the subjects and issues that books and book projects present. It’s very easy—and I think we’re all guilty of this to some extent—to fall into one’s own little photo world bubble. For this reason, we try very hard to reach beyond the most obvious choices when setting our programming. 10x10 Salons, the virtual ones even more so than the in-person salons, are open to all and seek to share a wide range of photobooks, photobook projects and collections. One of our goals is to push all of us to discover something unexpected.

10x10 Photobooks publication CLAP: Contemporary Latin American Photobooks 2000-2016 

DUGGAL ART SCENE: Lastly, what are a few of your favorite photobooks and why? What is the most daring photobook you’ve come across? And, the most classic? 

OLGA: The most recent photobook that I found particularly exciting was A les 8 al bar Eusebi by Salvi Danés. It focuses on an infamous Barcelona prison and Eusebi, the bar next door, and while this subject might already sound intriguing, it is Danés’s execution that makes this project particularly exciting. This book is a clever and thoughtfully produced object that immerses us in a disorienting atmosphere of suspense and surveillance. One of my favorite finds is Mitopoemas Yanomam by Claudia Andujar (1978). Andujar asked Yanomami to make drawings of habitat, creatures and objects from their life (this was the first time they used pencil and paper); she also asked them to give a verbal description. The result is a series of poems and myths, mixed with photographs by Andujar, printed on a transparent acetate paper in black and white. 

RUSSET: I have had a longstanding interest in photobooks from Japan, so my personal favorites tend to come from that part of the world. A favorite classic, which is also an extremely experimental book, is Kikuji Kawada’ Chizu (The Map) (1965). I’m also very drawn to Tamiko Nishimura’s Shikishima (1973), a road trip book that was done by a very talented female photographer who is finally getting recognition more than 45 years after she released her original book — there is a facsimile reprint on the market, which is helping bring recognition to Nishimura’s work. A current contemporary favorite is Miho Kajioka’s Where did the peacocks go (2018). It is a quiet book that has the mark of the hand. I find it very poetic.

DOLLY: It seems almost wrong to single out one photobook over another. Living in a small space I am disciplined (sort-of) about only buying those books that I can happily return to again and again, so I have many favorites. I gravitate toward photobooks in which the text is practically an image as well, an integral piece of the whole such as Taryn Simon’s Paperwork and the Will of Capital (2016), or Sophie Calle’s Take Care of Yourself (2007), or Santu Mofokeng’s The Black Photo Album (2013), which is incredibly experimental when you consider the context from which it arose; asking deceptively simple questions of the viewer as they are viewing portraits of pre-apartheid Black South Africans. It’s a wonderful luxury and privilege to be able to take the time to read their words and pictures outside of a gallery setting. Susan Meiselas’s Carnival Strippers (1976) probably redefined what it means to be a “classic.”

Visit www.10x10photobooks.orgfor the #INSTAsalon Instagram schedule and to find out more about 10x10 Photobooks.

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