Category Archives: Photography

The Trojan Horse of Art?

 

This post is part of an ongoing series of discussion based on my reading of No Longer Innocent – Book Art in America 1960-1980 by Betty Bright.

In the introduction, Ms. Bright refers to Walter Hamady’s idea that artists’ books are “the Trojan Horse” of art. That books, a familiar, comfortable and trustworthy media, have the opportunity to be approachable, and at the same time controversial, in a way that another media might not.

What do you think? Have you made artists’ books that look pretty on the outside but have shocking content on the inside? Or artists’ books that appear to be about one thing but actually cover a more difficult topic?

I agree with Mr. Hamady’s idea that artists’ books are the trojan horse of art and I often use that convention in my own artists’ books. Sometimes my content is thought-provoking, such as in Virtual/Reality where beautiful landscape photographs are paired with poetry questioning our social trend towards experiencing everything through a screen and, sometimes the content is shocking.

For my BFA show, which was largely about violence against women, I made a set of books where each page of each book has a news story from that day about violence against women. January 1, January 2, etc. I paired them with images on alternating pages and, most importantly, I’ve bound them in a traditional post binding with a beautiful floral cover. (Which ironically a reviewer didn’t get – they said the covers should have been plain.) The first impression is a pretty book. As the viewer begins to read the stories it is shocking, sad and physically draining. But the books underscore the reality that violence is happening against women every single day. And, by making them pretty on the outside, people were more willing to approach (even though the content of the rest of the show hinted at what might be inside). Interestingly enough, I never saw anyone leave a book part way through. Although it was exhausting, the viewers stayed with each book, every page, until the end. Many of them looked at all three books or three months of stories. Did the book format encourage this? Was the trojan horse aspect of pretty cover and difficult content the reason for the success of the books? Did the images I put in after each story give the viewer enough of  a rest to soldier on to the next? Here are some sample pages from one of the books, Paying for what was not her doing (January 2010):

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What format decisions have you made to help a reader handle a difficult topic? Are your books subversive in some way? What do you think of Mr. Hamady’s idea?

~Ginger

www.gingerburrell.com

Learning about What Has Come Before: Book Art in America

When I was at San Jose State University, some of my favorite classes were art history. I know. Snooze. But I had the gift of three amazing professors who love art history and made me  love it, too.

Dr. Max Grossman’s enthusiasm for art history was a defining moment for me. What seemed dry and drudgery became interesting, even compelling. In his Medieval to Renaissance class, Dr. Grossman talked about the art and artists as if he had been there. His knowledge of the backstories of great works of art made them come alive and had a lasting effect. Now at museums I recognize work we talked about, I understand its place in the history of art, and its significance to work that followed. I’ve become a better consumer of art because I’m more educated.

Dr. Dore Bowen‘s class Contemporary Art: The Thing sounds like a good name for a horror flick. Instead it was a thought-provoking journey through the art world from Duchamp’s Fountain to Jeff Koon’s Puppy and far beyond. And, while I didn’t always like the art (or even agree that it is art), I did learn to really think. Not just about the visual impact, but also about the intent of the artist, the social and cultural context when the art was made, and the influence of that art on all that follows. This class also led to two of my artists’ books, Rocks and You’ve Come a Long Way Baby.

Brian Taylor‘s History of Photography changed everything for me. I’ve loved photography since I was a little girl (I have the “heads cut off” photos to prove it) but, until this class, I had no idea about the incredible artistic range of this medium I thought I was good at.  As I learned about Anna Atkins, Edward Steichen, Imogen Cunningham,  Jerry Uelsmann, Alexander Rodchenko and too many others to name here, I realized that I knew nothing about photography and that I need to begin again. This class also led to new work including The Heaven Project and Ode to Anna Atkins.

Why have I spent four paragraphs reminiscing about art history classes? This rather long-winded introduction leads me to my current foray into art history, reading No Longer Innocent: Book Art In America 1960-1980 by Betty Bright. I’ve had this book on my shelf for quite some time but I’d never actually opened it. One day I realized how much I was missing the reading and discussions from school and decided that this book would be a good start. I know a lot now about the histories of painting, sculpture, photography, but what do I really know about the history of my own media, book arts? So here goes, a self-directed art history class about book arts. I suspect, as the above mentioned classes changed how I view and make art, this book will also have an impact. I invite you to read along with me and join the discussion.

~Ginger

www.gingerburrell.com

Tools I Can’t Live Without: Kutrimmer

Hands down the most expensive, and also the most useful, tool in my studio is my Kutrimmer. I first used one of these wonders at the San Francisco Center for the Book and, after cutting Davey Board by hand for a bit, I went right out and found myself one.

(If you’ve ever spent hours cutting Davey Board with a craft knife  or box cutter you know what I’m talking about here. I know, the key is multiple long and shallow cuts. One layer at a time. Patience. Patience. Patience. But there was more than one time that my patience ran out and I ended up with the knife getting stuck into the board or into me. Ouch.)

My first Kutrimmer was used and I found it on eBay. It needed a bit of a tune up, but served me well for several years. You know how people remember their first car? Well my first Kutrimmer was a model 1038. I could cut Davey Board as thick as it comes with one cut. It cut through a stack of Rives BFK like butter.

But, alas, I had to trim everything first. With a cutting length of only 14 3/4″, Davey Board sheets had to be cut in four pieces and Rives BFK had to be cut in half. I dreamed of the day I could put large sheets of paper right through it.

So, after years of service, I said thank you and goodbye to my 1038 and bought my current Kutrimmer, a model 1071. Wow! I can put a 22 x 30  sheet of Rives BFK (or several sheets) right into that 1071 and come out with a stack of paper cut into just the right sizes. I still have to trim the Davey Board sheets once before they fit, but I decided on the 1071 because it can still be lifted by a normal human (or two) and it can sit on a table. The next level of Kutrimmer comes as a table and I just don’t have room in my studio.

I bought my Kutrimmer from MyBinding.com (I have no association with them) because they had free shipping and the best price. Even better, when the finger guard came cracked, they got a brand new part shipped out lickety split. Any company with excellent customer service is a company I’ll recommend again and again.

My new Kutrimmer has a cutting length of 28 1/2″. Ooooh. Really. I spent the other day turning 50 sheets of Rives BFK into 300 sheets for Virtual/Reality and One Second of Time and, afterwards, when I was gazing at that lovely stack of beautiful, deckle edged, paper… Well, let’s just say it was as good as chocolate without the calories.

I certainly use other cutting tools and I’ll share those in other posts, but in the meantime, how do you cut your paper? Your Davey Board?

~Ginger

www.gingerburrell.com